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Saturday Sports: March Madness, Ichiro Suzuki


Now it's time for sports.


SIMON: And I put on my sports doofus voice to tell you the first round of March Madness is over for the men - almost for the women. Top seeds have made it through. Meanwhile, the real Mr. Baseball has retired as Major League season opens in Japan. But don't worry, BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music, is still with us. Howard Bryant of ESPN and ESPN The Magazine joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Hey, Scott. How are you doing?

SIMON: Fine, thank you. NCAA biggest upset so far in the men's tournament - No. 13 seed, UC Irvine, upended No. 4, Kansas State, 70-64. What have you seen in the first couple days (unintelligible)?

BRYANT: Well, I like that win by Irvine. It was their first-ever tournament win, so those are always fun. I think that when you get to the tournament now, you sort of recognize that because of the dilution in the game, because so many of the great players come in one and done, you're not going to have those four-year champions anymore, those really good powerful three-year teams that - it really is an upset-driven tournament. Seven, tens are no longer - and those are toss-ups - eight, nines are toss-ups.

And now all of a sudden, when you start getting the four seeds losing, there aren't that many teams that are safe in those first round matchups. And so the good news, obviously, if you're - if you believe in your bracket - is that the one seeds all came through pretty well.

But as you start getting into the second round, there aren't any real dominant teams outside of Duke. Duke is the best team when they have a full complement, when they've been healthy, when Zion Williamson has been there. Together, they've lost one game. They lost to Gonzaga. Other than that, they - they're pretty dynamite. But...

SIMON: To forestall email, it's Gonzaga.

BRYANT: Is it Gonzaga? Oh, the Zags. That's (unintelligible).

SIMON: Gonzaga.

BRYANT: Oh, my goodness.

SIMON: We hear it all the time.

BRYANT: Do I have to say it like that, though?

SIMON: Well, you can just say Gonzaga.

BRYANT: Just Gonzaga.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: But not - I can't do the Scott Simon voice. So - and North Carolina is a good team. Michigan is a good team. I kind of like Houston. I haven't heard about them for a really long time. They're three seed. So it's going to be Duke for now. But, you know, once again, you get to the tournament, anything's possible.

SIMON: Women's tournament - UConn, Texas A&M, Louisville have all gone into the second round. What are you going to be watching?

BRYANT: I'm going to be watching Mississippi State. They've gone to the final the last two years. They've lost - once heartbreakingly last year to Notre Dame. They lost the year before, as well. I think that those - when you have those teams that are knocking on the door, you know, they won last night by I think 57 points. And so I'm watching them. Obviously, UConn being the great UConn - 11-time champion that they've been. And they're a two seed. They...


BRYANT: ...Get upended by...

SIMON: I'm not used to that.

BRYANT: No one's used to that. It hasn't happened since 2006. And at the end of the day, when they get to the final, they don't lose. They've never lost when they've gotten to the championship game. But I like the fact that you've got four, five, six teams that are that are really good. People talk about college basketball - women's college basketball - being all UConn all the time. But Mississippi State's a great team. Notre Dame's a defending champion. And, you know, Baylor is a great team. This is as good and as much parity as we've had in some time. It's good stuff.

SIMON: Finally, Major League Baseball season opened over - under the Tokyo Dome. One of the great ballplayers of all times - 45 years old - retired.

BRYANT: Forty-five.

SIMON: And he's one of the great ballplayers in both the United States and Japan.

BRYANT: Yeah. Ichiro Suzuki - and just Ichiro, that's all we need to know him by...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...He's one of those one-namers (ph) - really phenomenal player and just a dynamic player. I remember Ichiro came in - when he came in with Seattle in 2001. I was covering the Oakland A's. So we got to see Ichiro numerous times. And he won the MVP and the rookie of the year that year. And they won 116 games. And so it's a really sort of interesting thing when you're watching his style. We always talk about being kids and copying batting stances and everything else. He's that dynamic a guy. People are...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Going to remember him for a long time - 3,000 hits, 4,300 hits across both countries. He's as good as it gets - maybe the best hitter of all time.

SIMON: Yeah. I agree. And the real Mr. Baseball, a great spirit in the game. Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOUBAB'S "BAMANA NIYA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.