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NCAA March Madness Earns Its Name With Chaotic Start

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

On to March Madness - in the men's Division 1 college basketball tournament, seven seed Oregon beat No. 2 seed Iowa in the second round. It was the latest upset in an opening weekend full of surprises, including a forfeit due to the coronavirus. Joining me now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

Welcome back, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: How are you, Audie?

CORNISH: Good. Fans always love to see upsets, especially in this tournament. Is this loss for Iowa surprising?

GOLDMAN: Well, Oregon looked really good, so it wasn't. But if you just consider the numbers of higher seeds losing to lower seeds, it is surprising. According to the NCAA, Oregon's win over Iowa marked the 12th upset of the tournament, with upset defined as a win by a team seeded five spots lower than their opponent. The record for an entire tournament is 13. This tournament has 12, and we're still in the second round.

CORNISH: Why do you think that this might be happening?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, the number of upsets are impressive. But remember; seeding is not an exact science. Basically, going into the tournament, you had a trio of really strong teams - Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan. And so far, they've won pretty handily. After them, you had maybe 15 other teams that could have an impact, and you're seeing that. There are a ton of good players and teams out there, even on lower seeded teams, so it's ultimately not surprising. You've got a lot of roiling going on right now.

CORNISH: Are there any big storylines that are happening in this year's men's tournament?

GOLDMAN: Oh, absolutely. I don't have time for all of them. Here are a few. Never, ever underestimate Syracuse and its head coach, Jim Boeheim, and the stifling zone defense he has his teams play. Syracuse is an 11 seed, and they've beaten two higher seeds and frustrated them with that defense. And the Orange are in the Sweet 16. Another takeaway; don't badmouth the Pac-12 this year, Audie, if you were planning on it. Much maligned - the much-maligned conference has Oregon, Oregon State, USC and UCLA still alive. And finally, here goes Loyola, Chicago again. The team that made a surprise run to the final four in 2018 is back. They look really strong after thwacking No. 1 seed Illinois. Also back is now 101-year-old longtime team chaplain Sister Jean, who is inspiring the Ramblers with her support and her pregame prayers.

CORNISH: Coronavirus is the backdrop to all of this, and I understand it's already forced out Virginia Commonwealth's men's team. Can you talk about what more you've learned there?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, VCU players were devastated after they had to withdraw before their opening game against Oregon on Saturday. Before the tournament started, the NCAA said a team needed only five eligible healthy players to play, which VCU says it had. But county health officials in Indiana, where the entire tournament's being played as a way to reduce travel and the spread of the virus - those health officials felt they were seeing a spread with VCU with positive test results in the week leading up to Saturday's game.

CORNISH: The women are playing all their games in Texas. What's standing out in that tournament so far?

GOLDMAN: Well, all the higher seeds - seeded teams won yesterday, including the four No. 1 seeds. This is different from the men. There's a lot more depth in the men's field, although today we are starting to see a little more unpredictability. No. 11 seeded BYU beat No. 6 Rutgers. And a bigger upset - No. 13 Wright State beat No. 4 Arkansas, so the madness is starting to happen with the women too.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, can we talk about Elgin Baylor? He died at the age of 86, one of the greatest players.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, an 11-time NBA All-Star - 14 seasons with the Lakers in Minneapolis and then LA, eight times in the NBA finals. But he never won a title. Those are the numbers, Audie. But when I think of Elgin Baylor as a player, I think of flight. Every NBA fan in the post-Michael-Jordan world thinks of players flying through the air. Elgin Baylor was one of the first in the NBA noted for his ability to elevate and hang in mid-air as part of his amazing arsenal of basketball skills.

CORNISH: Thank you for that note. That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.