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Mercer, Dayton Break The Brackets


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: And the upsets keep coming in the NCAA tournament. Do they call it March Madness because Coach K at Duke, probably a little mad at the way his Blue Devils played. ESPN.com's Howard Bryant joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Oh, good morning, Scott.

SIMON: So how did Mercer do it, this school from Macon, Georgia. They have a starting five of seniors. I mean, some of these guys might not even be going to the NBA, huh? They're playing college ball. They may not be drafted. How did they beat Duke?

BRYANT: Well, exactly. One, that's what it's all about these days. And dilution has been taking place for years, but this was a phenomenal upset considering that Duke put their pedigree and the fact that they never lose in the first round, and to get beaten by a team like Mercer - however, Mercer is exactly the type of team that would beat a team like Duke because one thing that we know about college basketball these days is that nobody goes to school for four years.

None of these teams stay together. They go one year - the great players go one year and then they go to the NBA. So when you have a team like Butler a couple years ago that went to back-to-back championship games and a team like Mercer now, even though they were a 14th seed, when you're seniors, you've got - you're actually a team.

You've played together for four years, or for pretty good percentage of those years, and so you actually have a continuity and you're actually playing team basketball and it's not just about talent. And that's one of the big reasons why they win. One of the things that we also know is that these numbers do not mean anything. You know, I'm in a soundproof room but it's very quiet here in the U. Mass campus because they were a sixth seed and got beat by an 11 seed.

You've got Stephen F. Austin. They're a 12th seed and they won. But Dayton was an 11 seed and they won. Stanford, Harvard, Tennessee, North Dakota State, these numbers don't mean anything because the greatest players in the game now are going to the NBA. You've got a 68-team field. It's all changing now. So March Madness is playing to the middle, but the brackets - these numbers mean less and less and less every year.

SIMON: Survello, quickly. Dayton has a chance against Syracuse and Harvard has a chance against Michigan State tonight?

BRYANT: Well, I don't want to say that because I picked Michigan State to win the whole thing, which means Harvard's going to win, so. But everyone's got a chance. There's no great teams; there's no one team. Florida is the best team, Wichita State is undefeated, but I would not say that any team is a decided runaway favorite. The last great teams you had in this sport were the two back-to-back Billy Donovan Florida teams.

Those teams were head and shoulders above the rest and it really hasn't happened since.

SIMON: Howard, today's an opening day for Major League Baseball.

BRYANT: No, it isn't. No it is not, Scott, because you obviously aren't paying attention to the time zone. It already took place.

SIMON: Oh, because they're playing in Sydney, Australia.

BRYANT: They're playing in Australia. Exactly.

SIMON: All right. I'm - oh, sorry.

BRYANT: The Los Angeles Dodgers are 1-0. They beat the Arizona Diamondbacks last night, even though everybody else in Major League Baseball is still in spring training. Does this make sense to anybody? Well, they got 40,000 fans last night in Sydney at the Sydney Cricket Grounds, and this is baseball's way of trying to grow the game, so even though most people think it's spring training, baseball has actually already begun, and there's another game tonight, believe it or not.

SIMON: Well, they've flown a long way. They might as well play a couple of games today. And Sydney's an utterly beautiful city and there's some very great - very good ballplayers in Australia.

BRYANT: Very good ballplayers, and that's the whole thing. So on the one hand you've got Ozzie Smith saying, you know, the great Cardinal shortstop, hall of famer, saying baseball - opening day should be a national holiday. And on the other hand, you've got Major League Baseball trying to grow the game internationally by having games played in Japan and having opening day games played in China and now having opening day play in Sydney.

So it's a very interesting balance about the national game and about the international market.

SIMON: Twenty seconds left. Anybody having a better season than Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder?

BRYANT: No. He scored 51 last night and he's having a Michael Jordan 1986 season where he's just scoring and scoring and scoring. The big test for him, of course, is going to be whether or not it translates come Final time. Can anybody beat the Miami Heat and can he stand above LeBron James who's won the last couple championships.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Thanks so much, Howard.

BRYANT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.