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Everything is bigger as Texas hosts men's and women's NCAA Tournament Championships


All eyes are on Texas as the Final Four for both men's and women's basketball take center stage in Houston and Dallas this weekend. After weeks of bracket-busting, jubilation and heartache, only one team can cut down the nets and raise a championship banner. Nicole Auerbach has been guiding us through the madness that is the NCAA tournament. She's a senior writer with The Athletic and joins us now from Dallas, where she's covering the women's Final Four. Nicole Auerbach, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

NICOLE AUERBACH: Yeah, thanks for having me.

FLORIDO: Well, the women's tournament kicks off tonight featuring LSU and Virginia Tech. Who has the advantage in this matchup, and how do you see that game playing out?

AUERBACH: Both teams, to get here, it's been a twisting road. LSU is ahead of schedule in Kim Mulkey's second season. We knew she was a great coach at Baylor, won national championships, but to do it this soon in Baton Rouge has been really impressive. And even she has admitted that she did not have some sort of blueprint that said, you will do this in Year 2. And they're ahead of schedule against a team, Virginia Tech, that has never been to the Final Four in the women's game. And Kenny Brooks has steadily built this program, and they have a point guard in Georgia Amoore who is exactly the type of guard you need this time of year. I think I would give the edge to Virginia Tech just because I think they've just been so consistently and fundamentally sound for so long.

FLORIDO: Well, two of the four teams you predicted making the Final Four on the women's side are squaring off tonight in this star-studded nightcap between Iowa versus South Carolina. Iowa's Caitlin Clark has been the star player of the tournament so far. She's known for her long-distance 3-point shot averaging 26ft. She's leading her team against South Carolina, which has one of the best defenses in the tournament. Are they still your pick to win?

AUERBACH: I still think the Gamecocks are most likely going to win these next two games, go back to back, have a perfect season here. But Iowa is such an intriguing matchup. And it's not just because you have Aliyah Boston on South Carolina, who was the national player of the year last year, and then Caitlin Clark, this year's national player of the year. It is going to set records in terms of viewership and interest. And I think that's totally deserved. And I myself cannot wait to watch this game.

FLORIDO: Let's turn to the men's tournament. The Final Four starts tomorrow, featuring three teams that have never made it this far before. And that hasn't happened since 1970. What is exciting about these two matchups on the men's side?

AUERBACH: So a lot of this is new and exciting and interesting. And FAU, the team that's a nine seed, doesn't want to be called a Cinderella because they believe that they're good enough to be here and good enough to keep winning, and that's compelling. All of these teams are compelling. I love that we've been celebrating Jim Larranaga, the Miami head coach who punched his ticket to the Final Four on the - to the day 17 years after he did the same thing with George Mason in one of the all-time great Cinderella runs. And then you also have UConn, a team that is now the presumptive favorite. But being a favorite in this tournament hasn't meant very much because we've seen so many upsets in the early rounds. But UConn, the last two times they made it to the Final Four, they went on and won the whole thing. And then you have San Diego State, a team that plays really in such an ugly way, right? Like, we don't want to watch this team play. It's not like we're looking and saying, this is so beautiful, this is so aesthetically pleasing, but it's a way that wins and that works for them. Hopefully we'll get games just as good as we have had them the rest of the month.

FLORIDO: So who's it going to be? Who's going to take the title?

AUERBACH: I think it is going to be UConn. And I hesitate to say that because they are the favorite. And we have seen a lot of favorites lose throughout the last couple of weeks of March Madness, but they have been steamrolling their competition. I just don't see them letting up. I think that they have the best talent, the best players. So I'm going to go with the Huskies, although like I said, you don't want to trust my bracket in general. So I don't know that you want to trust my national championship pick at this point, either.

FLORIDO: All right. Nicole Auerbach, senior writer with The Athletic. Thank you so much.

AUERBACH: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.