STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
OK. The field is set for the NCAA Division One men's basketball tournament. Top seeds include Kansas, Louisville, Indiana and Gonzaga. The team previously known for its heroic upsets in the NCAA tournament is now one of the teams to beat. NPR's Mike Pesca is here to discuss the selections. Mike, good morning.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.
INSKEEP: How'd Gonzaga do it?
PESCA: I know, right? You read those other teams, and it's, like, perennial power, perennial power, perennial power, Jesuit school from Spokane.
PESCA: But they're awesome. They're really good. They have only two losses. They famously burst onto the scene with a series of upsets in 1999. They really haven't been out of the tournament since then, and they have a great player named Kelly Olynyk. And, you know, for several games, even though we think of Gonzaga as an upstart having a great season, he's going to be the best player on the court. He's going to be the guy who gets drafted highest in the NBA. It's a huge advantage. And they play well as a team. Now, a little later, I might be picking against them as an upset, but they definitely deserve a number one seed.
INSKEEP: Well, you know, they have that risk now. They could be the ones who are upset by Southern University there in the first round. You never know. You never know.
PESCA: The Jaguars? Maybe. It's never happened, a 16 beating a one.
INSKEEP: They certainly are not going to be upset by Kentucky, which did not make the show.
PESCA: Yes. And it wasn't really that unusual unless you stop paying attention to basketball after Kentucky won last year and they were ranked in the top five in the preseason. But they had injuries, and they had a down year and other snubs. Now, when we talk about snubs, I think when the field was only 64 teams, there were more plausible cases to be made that certain teams really should have been in.
And I don't want to offend the fans of, say, the Tennessee Vols, who had a good resume, but there were other teams with equally good resumes, like Middle Tennessee State or St. Mary's. These were teams that got into the tournament. And big SEC teams like Tennessee, like Alabama, like Kentucky, as you mentioned, they were left out. In fact, those three teams, one of them has been in tournament every year since 1974.
INSKEEP: So you're feeling OK about the field, then?
PESCA: Yeah. I think that with the number of teams in the field and how the conference championships work this year, which is that the teams that would have earned an at-large bid often wound up winning their championships. We have pretty much justice in who's in the field, as far as where they're seeded. I don't always understand it, but, you know, let's not let perfection be the enemy of a really entertaining tournament.
INSKEEP: Well, their coach is saying that this year they feel like the seeds don't matter very much, because the teams are so evenly matched. There's no blindingly obvious favorite. Are there any upset teams you would - or potential upset teams you would point us to?
PESCA: Well, certainly. I mean, UCLA is a six team, and they're not even favored in their first round game against Minnesota. And let's look at Gonzaga for a second because Pittsburgh - which could get them in a second round if Pittsburgh beats Wichita State. Pittsburgh is sort of unfathomably low-seeded as an eight seed. I don't quite get that. There was some sort of, I guess, discrimination against Pittsburgh that I can't quite factor in.
So that's the sort of thing - even though Gonzaga's the one and Pittsburgh's the two - that could certainly happen. Another really interesting matchup that could happen in the second round is North Carolina, if they beat Villanova, might play Kansas. And Bill Self of Kansas, the coach, and Roy Williams of North Carolina, the coach there, you know, former colleagues, and there's so much history between them, it could be a great match up. Maybe Kansas won't get out of their early rounds.
INSKEEP: Just a couple of seconds, here, Mike Pesca, but as you fill out your brackets -surely just for fun, and not for money - do you look forward to any potential gains down the line?
PESCA: Oh, Bellemont, Arizona. This is a first-round game. Bellemont takes - let me look at the stats - 431 three-pointers a game. No, it's not quite that much.
PESCA: But Arizona doesn't quite defend the three. This game could be in the 90s, and there's even a first round game on Tuesday with LIU that could be an excellent game, too.
INSKEEP: You can hear the excitement in the voice of Mike Pesca. Mike, thanks very much.
PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.