As College Basketball Prepares To Crown Men's Champion, Scandal Looms Over Program

Apr 2, 2018
Originally published on April 2, 2018 7:59 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Tonight in San Antonio, the Men's Division One College Basketball Final will decide the next champion. This game has been framed as the best team, that would be Villanova, versus the hottest team, that would be Michigan. It's been a fun tournament, lots of upsets, lots of last-second victories. Same with the women's Final Four where Notre Dame won because of a shot of a lifetime at the last possible moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM AMIN: Ogunbowale for the win. Good. Arike Ogunbowale wins the national championship for Notre Dame.

KELLY: We're joined now by NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman to talk college hoops. Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: How are you, Mary Louise?

KELLY: I am well, thank you. So I'm going to talk men's basketball with you in a second but first, I mean, that ender to the women's game. Some people are calling this the greatest Final Four ever. What do you think?

GOLDMAN: I would say so. It was tremendous. You know, two semifinal games both decided in overtime. And as we just heard, Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale, who by the way, according to the Notre Dame women's basketball website, her name in her father's native Nigeria, her first name Arike means something to see and to cherish. I think that's pretty apt.

KELLY: She lived up to it, yeah.

GOLDMAN: She went from a really good player to a legend with that shot and a shot a couple of days earlier to take down mighty UConn in the semifinals. And Mary Louise, it wasn't just the endings to these games. We saw great basketball played throughout by great athletes and coached by great coaches.

KELLY: Well, here's my question, Tom. The hope, I assume, is that this will contribute to building up the women's game going forward.

GOLDMAN: Well, and that's a very good question. You know, we are seeing an evolution. We've had now three different champions in three years. UConn, for the time being, has lost its stranglehold on the women's game. And, you know, that's great in that the best players in high school won't think they can only sign with UConn if they want to win a title. So there should be more sharing of the talent wealth. But, you know, before the Final Four, which had all the number one seeds, the Elite Eight round wasn't hugely competitive.

The average margin of victory in those elite eight games was 22 points. So you still don't have the depth throughout the women's bracket. But, you know, the last couple of years, we've gone from UConn and everyone else to now several strong teams and everyone else. And that's moving in the right direction. And fans of the women's game hope this past weekend's Final Four built an even stronger foundation for growth.

KELLY: All right. So the men's Final Four, not quite so exciting yet. But what are we watching for tonight at this Villanova-Michigan matchup?

GOLDMAN: Well, you have Villanova, the champions from two years ago, and a team that dominated a very strong Kansas team in the semifinals on Saturday. Villanova is an offensive juggernaut. In that semifinal game, the Wildcats made 18 three-point shots, and that set a new Final Four record. It will be a real challenge for Michigan's defense, which is quite good and in fact one of the nation's best at defending against the three-point shot. So that'll be an interesting dynamic to watch.

KELLY: Tom, before we let you go, quick update on this huge scandal that was hanging over the game as the tournament got underway, this FBI investigation. Where does that stand?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, an FBI investigation revealing possible widespread recruiting violations in some of the nation's most prominent men's basketball programs. And in fact, now that the tournament's going to end after tonight, there still could be investigations of some of the teams we've just enjoyed watching.

KELLY: Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Mary Louise.

KELLY: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.