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Weekend Winners Move On To NCAA's Sweet 16


Well, we've reached the Sweet 16 in men's college basketball. And that happened after quite a weekend. There were close games; some top seeds fell, including Gonzaga and Georgetown, and a new Cinderella has arrived on stage.

NPR's Mike Pesca has been following all the madness and he's on the line with us. And, Mike, four words: Florida Gulf Coast University.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Yeah, speaking of 16, that's how old that school is. But the FGCU Eagles have certainly proved to be...

GREENE: Champs. They're doing it. Yeah, 15 seed. I mean first...

PESCA: Fifteen seed...

GREENE: I mean, first to win two games in this tournament, right?

PESCA: That's right and here's the amazing thing. OK, well, first of all, the tournament is a great spectacle. If I told you - if I told even a really big college basketball fan - that...

GREENE: That I am.


PESCA: OK. That San Diego State and Florida Gulf Coast were playing and I told you that two months ago, you'd say...

GREENE: You're nuts.

PESCA: Yeah, maybe there's a rerun of "The Golden Girls" on or something.


PESCA: Not a compelling game, but because of the environment it was fantastic. And so, I think one of the reasons that Florida Gulf Coast has been able to do what they've done - and they've impressed and they've been so athletic, and they've out-rebounded and dunked all the supposedly physically superior teams - is because there's this phrase that the coaches use to say: let's not bow out. They always say - Larry Eustachy of Colorado State emphasized this. A lot of coaches say, you know, we're not just happy to be here.

And I always heard that phrase as emphasizing the don't be happy to be here, be serious - put your game faces on. But I think what Florida Gulf Coast did is they've attached the word "just" in that phrase. They're not just happy to be here but they're certainly happy to be here. And they have shooting contest from half court to end their drills. And they're playing with such exuberance that it doesn't seem to have dawned on them that they haven't - that they aren't supposed to dunk all over their opponents.

GREENE: They're having fun.

PESCA: Exactly and so are we.

GREENE: Yeah, so are we.


GREENE: Well, I mean there are some - speaking of fun - some really great close games. But I wanted to ask you about that - the last second game-winning shot by Ohio State's Aaron Craft against Iowa State, that there was a real controversy leading up to that moment.

PESCA: Well, yeah. Because beforehand, Aaron Craft who does everything on offense and defense, so he's the protagonist, he's the antagonist - sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. He missed a lot of good free throws. He slid over on defense and drew a charge that was debated to a fare thee well, the forensics of where his ankle was. It just shows that he's a player who gets involved in every play. And he comes down and calmly shoots the three that wins the game for Ohio State.

Last tournament there were no buzzer beaters. And now, that technically wasn't a buzzer beater. This year, there've been three shots within the final seconds and that makes for an exciting tournament, too.

GREENE: A case of a good, well-known player getting the call his way sometimes, maybe?

PESCA: No, I think that you could debate if he was in position or not. But it's sort of unfair to look at this TV tape in a way that referees couldn't. And it's some sort of unfair to look at a guy's ankle hovering over a line and say, well, it was clearly hovering, when in the split second moment it just appeared to the referees he got in position. And that's how basketball has always been played. If you make an impression on the referees, you're in position, and a charge took that basket the other way.

GREENE: OK, we have a little time left. You actually made a prediction: Minnesota over UCLA. I mean you are making some good predictions this week.

PESCA: Well, I sort of advised...

GREENE: Five and that would be a good idea to take that pick.

PESCA: Yeah, right.

GREENE: So who's intimidating at this point? What are your predictions this week, as we...

PESCA: Well, we haven't mentioned La Salle. And it's the first time not only that a 15 has won two games, there's a 15 seed, a 13 seed, a 12 seed in the tournament. And of all of these seeds in the double digits, I think perhaps La Salle has a shot to advance. And then as I also look at the teams that seem strong, Louisville, of course, just so active with their defense.

But I would say of all the teams are top-seeds, Florida State seems to have the clearest path to the Final Four. That's said, you had to fill your brackets in already. You can do nothing with what I've just said.


GREENE: There you have it. NPR's Mike Pesca, thanks Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Mike Pesca
Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.