Ah, tournament time. There’s a certain feeling about the atmosphere to me, a certain je ne sais quoi, so to speak, that makes March Madness different from any other event. Think of me as some kind of basketball Nicolas Cage, with a cork board of brackets surrounding me trying to figure out what they mean. I’m going to try to explain what tournament time means to me, even if I’m not quite sure myself.
It all started when I was a kid, hyperactive and glued to the television at all times. I was already a bit of an information hound (too many game shows), so when March came around and there were all these numbers being broadcast, it was almost like a video game, another hobby dear to my heart. This kind of sensory overload was the best sensation, with games on seemingly every channel. I could flip from CBS to TBS to TNT to some other channel I had never heard of and there would be another tournament game going on. There was always some new sensation to chase. Would this year be the year that a 16 defeated a one? Can this superstar from a mid-major program drag his team to victory kicking and screaming?
As I got older, I started to really dive into the arcana of stats. I learned what RPI and defensive efficiency were. It was a grand puzzle, and if I could put together all the pieces, I could pick a perfect bracket. I was obsessed at this time with the bracket structure and, more importantly, being right about something. Picking the perfect bracket, ah, now there’s a pipe dream. No matter how many stats you look at, or for how long, you are never going to know enough to sniff out every potential upset. Even if you could, why would you want to? Doesn’t that suck the fun out of March? To answer my own rhetorical questions, money and no.
I’ve neglected to talk about the sport itself. Compared to the NBA, which can often feel like players aren’t giving it their all, college basketball explodes with emotion. The screen comes alive. There are bench players slapping the floor and swinging towels around, fans screaming and chewing their nails when their team is down. At the end of each game, at least one guy is crying, face down on the hardwood. The game feels like it truly matters, because inside the television everyone cares so deeply. The announcers, our guides down this basketball Styx, convey to us that this journey takes so much of a toll on everyone. From the bracket’s release to its conclusion, it is most assuredly a wild ride that tugs at the heartstrings and racks the brain.
March is the month for these players where everything comes to its rightful conclusion. Every team is on equal footing now, and there is only one rule. Just win baby. I’ll be in my cave examining the 7-10 matchups this year and hoping for a Butler miracle.