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What you need to know about the women's side of March Madness

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The women's side of March Madness continues to claim the spotlight. In Portland, the NCAA confirmed that the three-point line at opposite ends of the basketball court were mismatched. Later this week, the Final Four will face each other, and before they do, let's catch up on everything that's been happening in the NCAA Women's Tournament. ESPN reporter Michael Voepel, good to have you back.

MICHAEL VOEPEL: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Well, let me ask about the situation in Portland. The NCAA's statement said head coaches for Texas and North Carolina State were notified of the error, decided to play the game anyway. This was after four other games had already been played on the court with mismatched three-point lines. How big a deal is a discrepancy like this one at the Moda Center?

VOEPEL: I think it's embarrassing for the NCAA. That's probably the biggest thing. You know, they're trying to figure out how this kind of an error could happen.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

VOEPEL: The provider of the court ultimately is responsible for it, but the fact that it wasn't noticed or it wasn't brought to the attention of people who could do something about it until after four games was played really doesn't look good for the NCAA. So there's going to be questions asked about the quality control of things on the women's side. And that's probably the bigger question because this hasn't been the only thing, you know, that's happened. Obviously, there was the issue with the University of Utah sent to a hotel and a city where they didn't feel safe in for the actions of some people in that city. So the NCAA has some questions to answer and some questions they really should have to face after this tournament.

SHAPIRO: Tonight LSU will face Iowa, a rematch of the most watched women's basketball game ever, last year's finals. Do you think it's bad bracketing that they are meeting so early?

VOEPEL: Yes. I think the NCAA selection committee should have thought this out better. Is it necessarily wrong completely from the bracket? No. You can make an argument for it. But was it the best possible matchup or could they have swapped some matchups so that these two teams that, as you said, drew this gigantic audience last year, didn't have to meet before the Final Four? I wish the NCAA had done that. I think a lot of people would like to see these two teams meet in the Final Four. But as it turns out, it's going to be tonight. And it's going to be a blockbuster.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. What are you watching for from Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark, the stars of LSU and Iowa?

VOEPEL: I think a lot of it is going to be how good their teammates play. I mean, both these players are star players. I think they'll both have good games tonight. It's the teammates around them. The interesting thing is Iowa was the higher seed, but most people see LSU, which won the national championship last year, as the favorite in this game. So Iowa goes in a little bit of an underdog actually, even though they're a No. 1 seed. That doesn't happen often. But I think we're going to watch to see whose supporting cast ends up playing the best game tonight, and that'll be the team that goes to the Final Four.

SHAPIRO: What do you make of the fact that the women's tournament has basically eclipsed the men's this year?

VOEPEL: I think a big part is that you know the names of the players. I mean, the men, obviously, one of the tough things is for college men's basketball is the best players go on to the NBA so fast. You don't get attached to them. You don't know their stories. You don't know their names sometimes. That's not the case with the women's game. We've been able to watch Caitlin Clark now for four seasons, so people know who she is. They've watched her story develop. And I think from a storytelling standpoint, the women do have that advantage.

SHAPIRO: That's ESPN reporter Michael Voepel. Thank you.

VOEPEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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.