Yes, March Madness is upon us. For those of you in a persistent vegetative state, I’m referring to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. It starts this week and it is one of the special joys in my sports-viewing life.
The first thing I should state is that this first week of games is the best part of the whole 3-week tournament. A starting field of 64 teams is winnowed down to the Sweet 16 through the first two rounds. The games in the first week take place in 8 different cities all over the country and it is a giddy delight to watch the CBS coverage flitting from city to city, game to game, covering the action. There are always upsets, incredible finishes, compelling story lines, and more honest emotion that you’ll find in an entire season of the NBA. There are also players from nowhere on teams from nowhere representing schools from nowhere getting a chance to play on a national stage for perhaps the only time in their lives. It is a veritable banquet of multi-dimensional delicacies.
My own rooting interests come in several forms. First, I always look for the teams from my home state of Michigan. This year, that means I’ll be following Michigan State University, which begins the tournament by playing Marquette University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As I see it, whoever wins that game will likely be slaughtered by the University of North Carolina in the second round. But I will remain hopeful!
Next, I look for teams from the Big 10 conference. In addition to MSU, that means I also have Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Indiana to keep track of, as they were all selected to be in the tournament this year. All I will say about my prediction for the Big 10 is that I think Ohio State and Wisconsin are the only two with a realistic shot of going far in the tournament, although Michigan State’s coach, Tom Izzo, has an illustrious record of doing well in tournaments, so we’ll just have to see what happens.
The other type of team I will follow and root for are what you might call “discovery” teams – that is, teams I couldn’t even tell you about as I write this, but which I will discover and adopt in the course of watching the tournament. Maybe I’ll see someone I like on the team, or I’ll find them entertaining or sympathetic, or maybe I’ll just like the cut of their jib. Hey, there are no rules here; I’ll let you know who catches my fancy.
I want to mention here that I don’t gamble on the tournament. I mention it, first of all, because I know this is one of the most gambling-intensive sporting events of the entire year. Almost every office or club has a tournament pool of some sort, and for several years I put down my money and tried my hand at calling the tournament outcome before I learned my lesson. My reason for not participating is pretty simple: it lessens my enjoyment of the tournament. I figure that the chances of my winning the pool are small enough that I can’t get too excited about my potential for winning. But the real problem for me is that it constrains my rooting options. I naturally feel compelled to root for the teams I’ve bet on, and I really prefer to let my rooting options shift as they will, leaving me open for those “discovery” teams I referred to. Also, while I may be convinced, as I said earlier, that North Carolina would trounce Michigan State, I have no interest in rooting for them to do so. Neither do I have any interest in betting my money on a team I actually don’t think will win. So I prefer to remain true to my hedonistic nature and conduct myself in a manner that maximizes my enjoyment of this grand event.
It will all come to a dramatic finish on April 2nd in Atlanta, when the champion will be crowned. Until then, I hope to catch as much of the action as I can, between and among my two jobs and assorted commitments. Happy bracketing to you all!