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As NCAA Tournament Arrives In North Texas, Rating The Final Four Teams

Gus Contreras
This weekend, about 80,000 folks are expected to fill AT&T Stadium in Arlington for the North Texas Final Four.

Fans from Florida, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Kentucky are cashing in frequent flyer miles, nailing down hotels, scrounging for tickets and heading to North Texas for the NCAA men’s Final Four, which starts Saturday. NPR’s sports correspondent, Tom Goldman, is coming, with 80,000 or so of his closest friends. KERA’s vice president of news, Rick Holter, talked with him.

Interview Highlights: Tom Goldman on …

... North Texas hosting its first Final Four in 30 years – at the humongous AT&T Stadium: "It reminds me of that scene in 'Hoosier' where the underdog team shows up in Indianapolis for the state tournament and they’re looking all wide-eyed at the arena and Gene Hackman measures the height of the basket and says ‘Boys, it’s the same height as back home.’ Well, you know what I think: Playing in front of 85,000 people and under that massive jumbotron in Jerry’s World – it’s not quite like back home for these teams. [The players might feel] a few nerves at first."

... on all of the amazing games during this year’s tournament: "Each game -- I guess Florida-Dayton wasn’t the greatest -- but each game got better and better and better. Wisconsin-Arizona went into overtime [one of several games that ended in overtime.] The Connecticut-Michigan State game was capped off by I think was the best game of the whole tournament – Kentucky beating Michigan. If you saw the game, which was won on a last-second three-point shot, it wasn’t a matter of the teams making mistakes. We always like to use the boxing metaphor: It was punch and counterpunch, both teams playing well."

... on what to watch from the final four teams this weekend:

Florida: “It’s senior heavy. … A lot of these guys have worked themselves up from the bench to become starters. Great coach, Billy Donovan.”

Connecticut: “[Coach] Kevin Ollie has done a wonderful job coaching. Last year, [the team wasn’t] making academic progress and [it was banned from post-season play.] He kept the team together and convinced Shabazz Napier to stay.”

Kentucky: “One-word answer: Wow. The freshmen's run has been nothing short of amazing. They are maturing before our very eyes. And we saw another step toward maturity in their game against Michigan.”

Wisconsin: “Bo Ryan, the head coach, has never been to the Final Four. He always went to the Final Four with his father – his dad died in August. The day that Wisconsin qualified for the Final Four would have been Bill Ryan’s father’s 90th birthday. We all got choked up about that. On the court, Frank Kaminsky – he’s 7 feet tall. He’s an absolute terminator offensively. He can hit the three-point shot … and he can put the ball on the floor and drive. He's going to be a very very tough guy to guard even for this phenomenal, miraculous Kentucky team."