Most years, I follow college basketball more closely than I do pro basketball. Doing so actually increases my admiration for the pro game. The college game is much more emotional and compelling, and therefore much more fun to watch, but if I’ve been watching a lot of college ball and I tune in to a pro game, I am knocked out by the skill level of the pros. The pro game, though, is plagued by several things: Many a player will simply dog it if they’re losing or unhappy, making me wonder why I’m spending my time watching someone who doesn’t even want to be out there. The NBA also suffers from a sameness of players and teams. The college game, on the other hand, showcases a wide variety of skill levels, body types, playing styles, and coaching styles.
The NCAA tournament is much more special, for several reasons. First and most obviously, it is a winner-take-all championship with extensive media coverage and fan interest, so every game is ferociously contested. Yes, there are some blowouts, especially in the early rounds. This year, we saw #1 seed UCLA demolish Mississippi Valley State by a score of 70-29. Cripes! If Miss. Valley State were a race horse, they’d have taken it out back and shot it. But even in losing a blowout, you will rarely see a tournament team give up until perhaps the very closing seconds. And it’s still a whole lot better than tuning in to a regular-season game between, say, Enormous State University and Southwestern Montana School of Design (Butte Campus), where the mismatch is clear, the outcome never in doubt, and the stakes not nearly so high.
This tournament is also the focus of an enormous amount of gambling, mostly in the form of office betting pools. I have entered a few of them over the years, but I gave them up some time ago. My decision wasn’t because of any sort of moral stance against gambling, or any fear of participating in a theoretically illegal activity. It was actually a choice made to facilitate my own basic hedonism. That is, I found that I enjoy the tournament a lot more when I don’t have money riding on it. Besides, I gamble quite enough of my money on the state lottery, so if the Luck Fairy decides to touch me with her magic wand, I would much rather she did so on the Lotto than on the NCAA tournament.
As I write this, the final games to determine the Sweet 16 are being completed. My general rooting rules go like this: First, root for the Michigan schools – gotta be loyal to the homeland! Toward that end, I am happy to report that Michigan State is still alive in the tournament. Second, root for the Big 10 schools. In that regard, we have 2 schools still going: MSU and Wisconsin. Third, adopt a team along the way. At this point, I’d have to nominate Stanford. All I can say is that I like the cut of their jib.
If you’re following the tournament, I hope your team is doing well. If you’ve got money riding on it, I wish you luck, ’cause you’re gonna need it!