The Madness of March

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/24/21

I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t watch college basketball.

Every year around this time, that same thought creeps into my mind.

As fun as the Super Bowl is, with all of its advertising …

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The Madness of March

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Posted

I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t watch college basketball.

Every year around this time, that same thought creeps into my mind.

As fun as the Super Bowl is, with all of its advertising hilarity, halftime theatrics and on-field excitement, it just doesn’t compare.

As thrilling as the Summer Olympics is — I’m not much for the winter version — with its participants from nearly every nation, extravagant opening and closing ceremonies and wide range of off-the-wall events, it just doesn’t compare.

The same goes for the FIFA World Cup, MLB World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Final, Wimbledon and The Masters. To me, they just don’t compare.

March Madness is king, queen, prince, princess, jester, knight — and any other medieval term you can come up with — of the international sports landscape. And you can’t convince me otherwise.

Last Thursday, I woke up to a worrisome thought, my heart skipping a beat as my eyes adjusted to the morning sunlight: the NCAA Tournament starts today — and I forgot to fill out my bracket.

Brackets are a staple of March Madness.

Everyone reading this has likely filled one out at some point in their lives. Maybe it was for an office pool where you chipped in $5 to potentially win a pot of $100, or a friendly competition to see who could have the most accurate bracket out of a group of your buddies.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to filling out a bracket.

If you’re an expert at college basketball, you can carefully fill it out with the knowledge you have of the teams in the tournament.

Or, if you’re not, fill it out by coin flipping each matchup: heads for Florida, tails for Virginia Tech, and so on.

Or fill it out by picking the schools with the best mascots.

Or the best uniforms.

Or the most seven-footers.

Or the best engineering programs.

Or the highest graduation rate.

It doesn’t matter how, just fill it out.

And if you are one of the people who pick the winner of each matchup by studying the teams, doing your homework and using every ounce of knowledge you have about that particular college basketball season to make your selections, I’ve got news for you: you’ll be wrong.

In fact, the best and worst part about filling out brackets and trying to predict the trajectory of the tournament is that you’re always going to be wrong. Every. Single. Time.

And next year, you’ll probably come back for more.

That unpredictability is what makes the tournament so much fun.

It was that lack of unpredictability and drama that made the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament last year due to COVID-19 that much more painful.

So, having not hosted March Madness for two years, there was no question that this year’s first weekend — the rounds of 64 and 32 — would make up for everything we lost.

It sure delivered.

In the men’s round of 64, we saw a total of nine double-digit seeds make it to the Round of 32, including four teams seeded 13 or worse, an NCAA Tournament record.

We saw the pure joy on the faces of No. 15 seed Oral Roberts, which upset No. 2 seed Ohio State (75-72 in OT) and No. 7 seed Florida (81-78) in the South Region to become the second-ever No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16.

We heard the story of Justin Preston, a blogger-turned-basketball-star who led No. 13 Ohio to an upset victory over No. 4 Virginia (62-58) — the defending national champions — in the West Region.

We witnessed plenty of dramatic moments, overtime finishes, Sister Jean prayers, boneheaded plays, upsets, tears, celebrations, storylines and controversies. And it’s only the first weekend. There are still 15 games and four rounds to go. Strap in.

The joy I felt from spending four straight days with wall-to-wall basketball — the only breaks coming from 1 a.m. to 12 p.m., giving me just enough time to sleep, eat breakfast and get ready to do it all over again — was unmatched.

My head may be throbbing from staring at the T.V. for too long. My diet over the last few days may not be up to the standards of any licensed nutritionist. My sleep schedule may be all out of whack.

But all of that is totally worth it. When it’s the season of March Madness, the negative simply cannot outweigh the positive.

You can have your qualms about the NCAA. I sure do.

You’re allowed to criticize it as a governing body, one which greedily profits off of its student-athletes, who aren’t even allowed to let a friend buy them a side of tater tots during a trip to Sonic without putting their eligibility in jeopardy.

You’re allowed to question the gender disparity between men’s and women’s sports and the support they receive. This was most recently exhibited in the drastic difference in size and quality of the weight rooms in the men’s and women’s basketball “bubbles” for the NCAA Tournaments in Indianapolis and San Antonio, respectively.

But boy does the NCAA know how to put on a show. That’s something you just can’t criticize.

As it turned out, when I woke up last Thursday, my worried thoughts were all for naught.

The men’s tournament wouldn’t start for another 27 hours or so, beginning on Friday this year instead of the traditional Thursday.

I made sure to fill out my brackets — two real ones I spent time and energy on, two that I decided entirely by flipping a coin and 21 others that I let ESPN’s Tournament Challenge app fill out randomly for me.

After the Tournament’s first weekend, one of my brackets is better than 60.9% of the 14.7 million brackets submitted through ESPN. The other? Better than just 15.1%. They’re far from perfect.

My brackets may have been busted after day one, but I wouldn’t trade this past weekend — or the next couple — for anything.

Welcome to the Madness.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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