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Saturday Sports: March Madness begins; men's FIFA World Cup expands format

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And I wait all week to say, and now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: March Madness and the juggernaut that is Fairleigh Dickinson, the World Baseball Classic soon crowns a champion and the men's FIFA World Cup expands. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now from Sacramento. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Thank you for having me from Sacramento.

SIMON: Sixty-three to 58 - Fairleigh Dickinson Knights over the Purdue Boilermakers. Stunning, wasn't it?

GOLDMAN: It was. It was, Scott. It was stunning and really annoying to those people whose brackets were destroyed by the Knights beating top-seeded Purdue - ahem. But kudos to FDU. Just the second time in men's...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...Tournament history that a 16-seed beat a 1-seed. Scott, a literal...

SIMON: The Harvard women defeated Stanford in 1998 too.

GOLDMAN: Oh, thank you. OK.

SIMON: I just thought I'd mention that, but go ahead. Yes.

GOLDMAN: I'm very impressed. Well, I said the men's tournament, OK? So...

SIMON: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. But go ahead, please. You're the expert.

GOLDMAN: Scott, this was a literal David versus Goliath matchup. Fairleigh Dickinson, the shortest team in the tournament - average height, 6'1" - they beat the team with the second tallest player in the tourney, Purdue's 7-foot-4 starting center, Zach Edey. The Knights swarmed Edey, neutralized him down the stretch. Purdue's other players really got tight, seemed very aware of their seed and all the expectations that come with being a No. 1. Other big first-round upsets - Furman over Virginia, then one I got to see here in Sacramento, Princeton over Arizona, which shredded President Biden's bracket and many others who took Arizona all the way. We'll see how Furman and Princeton follow up their surprise wins with second-round games today.

SIMON: Women's tournament - can anyone beat South Carolina?

GOLDMAN: Well, Norfolk State sure couldn't. They lost by 32 to South Carolina. The women's overall No. 1 seed, the Gamecocks are the team to beat - defending champions, led by reigning player of the year, Aliyah Boston. They got a great head coach in Dawn Staley, who wasn't happy with the way South Carolina played yesterday. Evidently that's how you stay great - finding fault in...

SIMON: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: ...A 32-point win. Couldn't find fault, though, with Iowa guard Caitlin Clark yesterday. She had 26 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds in the Hawkeyes' 52-point first-round win over Southeast Louisiana. She's one of the stars of the tournament - off to a great start.

SIMON: World Baseball Classic championship on Tuesday. Can anyone beat Japan?

GOLDMAN: Well, it's going to be a challenge. Japan's been really impressive, deep and talented. Japan plays a surprising Mexico team in the semis. And then Cuba is waiting in the other semifinal for the winner of today's USA versus Venezuela game. The WBC has been a hit, Scott. There's been record-setting attendance, TV viewership, but one bad moment that might resonate - earlier in the week when Puerto Rico beat the Dominican Republic during the celebration, pitcher Edwin Diaz, New York Mets All-Star closer tore ligaments in his knee - out for the upcoming MLB season. Bad for the WBC because the risk of injury has kept a number of star players away from the World Baseball Classic. Now teams can point to unfortunate Edwin Diaz is Exhibit A.

SIMON: We'll just note in passing that FIFA has announced they're expanding from 32 to 48 teams when the World Cup comes to North America in 2026. I'm sure that'll make the level of play much higher, right?

GOLDMAN: Wrong. Hopefully it won't water down things too much.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman - thanks so much.

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

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.