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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

John U. Bacon on Tigers' hot start, Red Wings' final push, and NCAA basketball's big weekend

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matt Manning throws against the New York Mets during the fourth inning in the second game of a baseball doubleheader, Thursday, April 4, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)
Noah K. Murray
Detroit Tigers starter Matt Manning pitches against the New York Mets during a game on April 4 in New York. The Tigers won their first five games in 2024. The team hasn't had a winning season since 2016.

The Tigers are off to a hot start.

The Red Wings are fighting to keep their season alive into the playoffs.

And there's a bit of college basketball to be played this weekend.

Michigan Public sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about all that and more from the world of sports.

Doug Tribou: It’s spring, often a time of optimism — justified or otherwise — in sports. But hopeful Tigers fans were rewarded with a five-game winning streak to start the year. The team is now 5-1. The Tigers haven’t had a winning season since 2016. How do you like their chances to get over .500 or even into the playoffs?

John U. Bacon: Well, about five games better than I did about a week ago, so. [Laughs]

Look, it's six games that they played. They play 162 games in a baseball season, so we're looking at very little here. But what you can say is the pitching has been quite good, and they're winning close games. Those are both very good signs.

And hey, a shoutout for my former student Chris Fetter, who is the pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers and doing a great job.

DT: In hockey, the Red Wings have seven games left and they are one of several teams in a really tight race for a wild-card spot in the NHL playoffs. The Wings saved some of their worst hockey for the month of March. They lost 11 games out of 14. Any advice for the team in the home stretch?

"The pitching has been quite good, and they're winning close games. Those are both very good signs."
John U. Bacon on the Tigers' 5-1 start this season

JUB: Don't do that. [Laughs] There's no space for it. There's some computer that calculates their odds at 25% for making it. I think they're better than that, so long as they stop the tail spin. But the last four games they've played quite well, even in losses. Much better defense, close games. They've got seven games left, and they've got two at the end against the lowly Montreal Canadiens, so I think their odds are about 50-50.

DT: In the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the semifinal games in the Final Four will feature North Carolina State vs. Purdue and Connecticut vs. Alabama.

There are a lot of interesting little tidbits in this group. NC State was an 11 seed and that ties the mark for the lowest seed ever to reach a Final Four. And this is the first Final Four ever for Alabama. Also, Purdue ended one big drought and could end another.

JUB: They did. The last time they were in the Final Four was 1980. Doug, I was in high school, and I'm no longer in high school.

DT: [Laughs] Oh?

JUB: Yeah, I know! I gotta throw that one out there to make sure everyone is following me here.

Look, they've got a perennial great basketball team at Purdue. It's a basketball school. And yet, somehow, they always win the Big Ten and they fall short of getting to the Final Four. It's happened many times. So this for them is great. It's also great for the Big Ten because the Big Ten itself has not won the national title since Michigan State won it in 2000. That drought is very hard to explain. So, if you're a Big Ten fan, the Boilermakers are your team.

The Purdue men are in the Final Four for the first time since 1980. The last national champion from the Big Ten was Michigan State in 2000.

DT: And in the women’s tournament, many millions of eyes were on Caitlin Clark and Iowa when they beat Angel Reese and LSU on Monday. The game set a record for women’s college basketball viewership with an average of 12.3 million viewers for the game.

Now in the women’s Final Four, Iowa will take on UConn. South Carolina will face NC State. John, what have you enjoyed most about the women’s tournament this year?

JUB: Man, quite a few things, of course. One is, obviously, Caitlin Clark's great three-point shooting, her intensity, the rivalry with Angel Reese. That could be a Magic Johnson-Larry Bird phenomenon going forward, if they both jump to the WNBA as expected.

But really, Doug, it's just the joy, and the coming-out party, really, for women's college basketball. Now, look, it's been popular before. But this has been an explosion. They've set seven records on seven different networks for viewership this year. And I bet [Friday night] breaks it also. So, you don't see this very often. It's Gretzky in hockey. It's Tiger Woods in golf. Caitlin Clark could be doing for her sport what they did for theirs. And that's pretty cool.

Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Public during the summer of 2023.
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