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Hoops fans can now start filling out those March Madness brackets

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Hoops fans can now start filling out those March Madness brackets. The Men and Women's Division I tournaments have revealed which teams have earned a berth in the 68-team tournament so fans can begin wrestling with profound questions, like could Furman really beat Virginia in the first round? NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is here with us with the answers, maybe, Tom?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The answer is yes, but let's move on.

PFEIFFER: All right. So as you know, college basketball fans cherish this time of year. But for fans of Alabama, the celebration might be subdued, even though it has one of the best men's teams in the country. What can you tell us about that?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, according to the men's selection committee, Sacha, Alabama is not just one of the best; it's the best. The Crimson Tide were given the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament - first time as a No. 1 seed. Alabama could win its first tournament title. But this phenomenal run is stained by the shooting death in January of Jamea Harris, a 23-year-old mother of a 5-year-old boy. Three Alabama players were connected to the incident. One was kicked off the team, indicted for murder last week. Two other players were at the scene, including star Brandon Miller. He allegedly delivered the gun used in the shooting.

Now, neither has been charged with anything. They've kept playing, raising questions of the school, the coach, the athletic director - why Miller in particular wasn't suspended during the investigation. It is an enormous elephant in this March Madness room. The NCAA and Alabama officials would rather not talk about it, but it's going to follow the Crimson Tide as they go through the tournament.

PFEIFFER: That is very somber, and it feels tough to pivot back to the rest of the men's tournament after that.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: But I'm still going to ask you, what other teams and players stand out to you?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, the other No. 1 seeds are Purdue, Houston, which is also the city that will host the Final Four, and Kansas. Now, the Jayhawks are the defending champions. They're trying to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since Florida did it about 15 years ago. And, you know, we usually talk about teams dealing with player injuries, but the talk with Kansas is about head coach Bill Self. He was hospitalized last week for an undisclosed illness. In his absence, the Jayhawks lost in their conference tournament, but he's out of the hospital and expected back this week.

PFEIFFER: Let's turn to the women's tournament. South Carolina is back to defend its title. How do the Gamecocks look?

GOLDMAN: Powerful, ready to repeat. And that's why they're the overall No. 1 seed. They are undefeated this season, led by the reigning player of the year, power forward Aliyah Boston. The other No. 1 seeds - Indiana. It's a great offensive team that won the Big Ten regular season title this year. Then Virginia Tech earned its first-ever women's No. 1 seed. And Stanford, a well-known top program, won the title two years ago and is still really good. Now, a few players to watch other than Aliyah Boston - Iowa's Caitlin Clark is a dynamic guard. She's got a good shot at this year's Player of the Year award, Maddy Siegrist of Villanova, the nation's top scorer. And then there's defensive whiz Cameron Brink of Stanford.

PFEIFFER: And, Tom, for people who might not know their way around a bracket like you do, any tips?

GOLDMAN: Well, I'll try. Talking about the men's tournament - No. 1 seeds - pretty good bet to take all the way. In the last 10 men's tournaments, the No. 1 seeds have won the title eight times. Now, a traditional upset in the first round is the 12 seed over the five seed since 1985. That's happened more than 50 times. It's often a good bet. So, you know, have fun. Take the College of Charleston over No. 5, San Diego State. But, Sacha, it's all a guessing game, so happy guessing.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman getting us ready for a little madness in March. Tom, thank you.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNKY DL SONG, "DON'T EVEN TRY IT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
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.