I absolutely hate March Madness.
Oh, I love picking a bracket, speculating, and checking off games I win. There’s no doubt about it. I absolutely love watching games from noon until midnight. And I love the idea of getting together with a bunch of guys, two televisions, five pizzas, and multiple packs of ice cold Dr. Pepper. The first weekend of games might be my favorite time of the year.
But I absolutely hate March Madness.
One or two days before the tournament begins, there’s the inevitable moment when a bracket is printed off line, and I’ll sit and agonize over picks as if I know what I’m talking about. Bearing in mind that I don’t watch a terribly large amount of college basketball during the year, at least not on the national scale, I at least fake it when I make my picks and choose specific teams. I’ll look over stats, look over records, and select teams based on what I’m told and read. When I’m done, my bracket looks perfect. And I know I’m going to win my pool by picking almost all of the games, the four Final Four teams, and the national champion.
The countdown usually starts right about there. I have no idea, nor does anyone else, how long it takes, but the clock starts ticking. There’s an imaginary clock ticking towards a point when that bracket, which gets loving and attention, dedication and devotion, gets turned into a bloody massacre short only of a garage in Chicago in the 1920s.
I. Hate. March. Madness.
Last year, my bracket went to the toilet early, right on the first day, when I swung and missed on half of the 16 games. It was one of those years where I tried to prognosticate a number of upsets that never happened, and I lost three teams from my Sweet 16 within the first 12 hours of basketball. I limped into the Final Four with two of the teams intact, but both lost and didn’t make the national championship game. I finished somewhere in the middle of the pool, with a respectable showing after getting dominated on the first day.
This year, the first day went remarkably well. For the life of me, I’ll never understand why I thought Wichita State would beat VCU given the Rams’ credentials as a Cinderella from last year (especially when they knocked out more than a few of my teams) or why I had the Shockers in the Sweet 16 (in hindsight, of course). And I swung and missed on a couple of the upsets, with the biggest miss being Davidson over Louisville. Still, the picks shook out pretty good on Day One, and I went 13-for-16.
My biggest thing throughout those misses boiled down to the theory I’ve always kept – you never want to lose teams in the bracket that you have one round further. Meaning you don’t want to lose a Sweet 16 team in the second round because it guarantees a third round loss. Likewise, you don’t want to lose an Elite Eight team in the third round for the same reason. By the time you get to the Sweet 16, you really can’t lose any games because then you’re losing Final Four teams, and if you hit all four, you’re golden.
So I was fairly confident into the second day of the Round of 64. I figured if I could go 13-for-16 again, without losing Sweet 16 teams, I’d be in great position. It felt great, it was a beautiful day out, and I was fast becoming a fan of several schools I never rooted for before.
I hate March Madness.
I went 8-for-16 on the second day. Missouri – out. Duke – out. Michigan – out. That’s one Sweet 16 team (Duke), one Elite Eight team (Michigan), and one Final Four team (Mizzou). Consider my bracket toast.
This is what makes the NCAA Tournament so great. From the time I woke up until the time I ate dinner on Friday was a span of about eight hours. In that time, I went from being a contender to win my pool to being completely and utterly dominated, out of the running and seeing no point to watching the rest of the games the rest of the way except to enjoy the drama and competition.
I know I’m not the only one. When Norfolk State and Lehigh beat Mizzou and Duke, I’m sure there were others in worse positions than me. You find yourself rooting so hard for teams that you have no connection to, then at the buzzer, you stare at the simple piece of paper, with LaserJet ink on it, unwilling to admit the red X is going next to four consecutive rounds for one of the teams. It makes you curse people when you have no idea who they are, and yes, you can have your night derailed and ruined at 6 PM all because some 15 seed decided to go and beat a second seed.
There’s nothing like this in any other sport. The bracket is so final and so unforgiving that scratching teams off becomes almost second nature. You’re forced into it, and there’s no reset button. Every year, there’s one day when your bracket just goes up in smoke, unless you’re the fortunate four or five people that can actually predict these games. But, then again, predicting these games is nearly impossible.
I always point to what happened three years ago as the perfect example of why March Madness is both awesome and awful at the same time. In 2009, I picked just one Final Four team, and I had Villanova out in the Sweet 16. ‘Nova would go on and win the East Regional, hosted in Boston as the ultimate ignominy to my bracket. The only girl in our pool picked all four Final Four teams successfully on the basis that she thought the Villanova uniforms were sexy, and she thought several of the Tar Heels were cute. She’s the same person who probably picked Norfolk State on the basis that there’s a Norfolk, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, my Final Four is shot to crap and she picked a 2-vs-15 game.
I guess that’s how the tournament is supposed to go. It’s supposed to be completely unpredictable, and there’s not supposed to be any rhyme or reason to who wins. That’s what makes this time of year so great. It’s also what makes that sheet of paper the most agonizing piece of paper any of us will handle all year long. And there’s still plenty of time left.