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A men's NCAA Sweet 16 Preview

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And how sweet it is to make it to the second week of the NCAA tournament. This year's Sweet 16 on the men's side features some familiar blue-blood schools, a newcomer here and there and a built-in national championship rematch from last year. If you were channel-hopping to try to keep up with your bracket, there is a very good chance that you heard and saw my next guest, Andy Katz. He will be the sideline reporter in Boston covering the Sweet 16 for TNT sports. Hey there, Andy.

ANDY KATZ: Appreciate it, Mary Louise. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Thank you. Thanks for being with us. I want people listening to know this is not your first NCAA tournament. In fact, you've been covering it since 1992. How is this one measuring up so far?

KATZ: They're all great. And yes, I don't want to date myself, but yes, I've been doing this for 32 years. As always, we have upsets early, and then what usually happens is sort of the cream rises to the top, and the higher seeds usually prevail as we get closer to the Final Four. That's what normally happens. The upsets usually happen in that first weekend.

KELLY: Yeah. And that is what is happening this year, right? Like, the big seeds coming in are still there.

KATZ: Yeah. We did have some brand names drop. I mean, there was probably no bigger upset than Oakland beating Kentucky. Kentucky is the bluest of all blue-bloods. And then, way out west in Spokane, late night, we had Yale - of all schools - knock off Auburn. So those were two of the biggest upsets in that first weekend. But as we get closer, all four No. 1 seeds are still alive, and we have a chance to still have a national championship game between the two teams that have been the most consistent and have dominated the No. 1 spot in the rankings throughout the course of the year in reigning champ UConn and Purdue.

KELLY: Yes, my teenage son has 20 bucks in his high school bracket riding on Purdue. So (laughter) well, I will confess that I'm rooting for them on that one. Talk about one other team that - I gather it is somewhat surprising they've made it this far. North Carolina State - they've won seven games in a row. They barely made it in, and now they're one of the hottest teams still in the tournament?

KATZ: Yeah. One of the beauties of conference championship week is you can play your way in. It is incredibly rare. It has not happened in the ACC before - in that tournament - to win five games in five days because they were such a lower seed, and that's what NC State did and then knocked off Texas Tech in a 6-11. And the way the tournament works - sometimes you get a break. And they didn't have to go against Kentucky. They went against Oakland. Now, they still had to go to overtime, but they beat Oakland, and now they're in the Sweet 16.

KELLY: Any particularly outstanding players - anybody you've particularly got your eye on that maybe you didn't going into the tournament?

KATZ: I have to say, first, we have to start with Zach Edey, who I was expecting to have a dominating performance. He won the national player of the year last year. He's 7'4". He's going to win it again, which has only been done a handful of time and not since the '80s when Ralph Sampson did in the early '80s. And he has been a dominant player.

KELLY: Again, my teenage son endorses and is...

KATZ: Yes.

KELLY: ...He's with Purdue. We should throw in there. Go on.

KATZ: Yes. And so there's been other players that have had their moments. You know, DJ Burns from NC State - he's another big man that has had a great first weekend. We've had singular performances in individual games. Kam Jones from Marquette has played well. I still think it's Zach Edey's player of the year and most outstanding player award to lose, but there could be other players that certainly could go up and grab it, depending upon who makes it to the Final Four and the national championship game.

KELLY: Any predictions for who you see advancing past this weekend to the Final Four?

KATZ: Well, as everyone, like your teenage son, tries to promote their bracket, I didn't have all the upsets early, but I still have three of the four possible Elite Eight matchups and three of the four possible Final Four teams - Kentucky let me down there, like everyone else.

KELLY: (Laughter).

KATZ: And I still have a chance to have UConn versus Purdue, and I'm going to stick with that. And I had UConn over Purdue in the national championship game. And I think if we get that, you know, then we would have a case where the two best teams actually made it to the championship game, which doesn't always happen. Last year - and I'll see this game, you know, here in Boston Thursday night - it was UConn versus San Diego State, and no one projected that to be in the championship game at the beginning of the tournament. That's what we got, and we actually have a rematch of that here in the Sweet 16.

KELLY: Well, Andy Katz, I wish you all the luck with your bracket. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

KATZ: Appreciate it, Mary Louise. Thank you.

KELLY: Andy Katz, bracketology (ph) expert and sideline reporter for TNT sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Gus Contreras
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Mary Louise Kelly
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Jason Fuller
[Copyright 2024 NPR]