It’s super-scintillating. It’s sensational. It’s madness. March Madness, that is. And it’s going to be awesome, baby.
It’s once again time to fill out brackets, grab the remote, load up on snacks and settle in to watch the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
In our crazy world where everyone is always arguing about everything, where there is so much discord and hatefulness, it’s nice to have things like sports to unite us. We might disagree on favorite teams, but we can all get behind the human stories and poignant moments the tournament always provides. Last year, who didn’t fall in love with Jean Dolores Smith, aka “Sister Jean,” the then-98-year-old chaplain for the Loyola-Chicago team? Sister Jean was courtside for every game and was clearly beloved by each member of the team. She cheered them all the way to the Final Four and became a national celebrity in the process. Unfortunately, the team didn’t make the tournament this year, but chances are, we’ll find something or someone we can all get behind.
I freely admit to not typically being a big basketball fan, but I take my March Madness seriously. Call me a fair-weather fan if you will, but my plan works: basically ignore all the basketball my husband obsessively watches all season, use crazy (and secret, I might add) methods to pick my winners and then await one of two outcomes, because I go big or go home. I either win (like last year, when I won an undisclosed amount of money and fabulous prizes) or I finish at the bottom of the barrel (which is likely to happen this year after last year’s dominating performance). There’s usually no in-between.
I’ve been joining basketball pools since the mid-90s when I realized that I wouldn’t see my boyfriend (now husband) for much of the month of March if I didn’t participate — it gave me a rooting interest. I’m only mildly sorry to admit that the trash-talking with fellow competitors is my favorite part. I still brag about big wins I’ve picked over the years, such as the huge upset win Valparaiso University pulled off in 1998’s tournament — “The Shot” is still iconic and replayed in every NCAA highlight reel. Then there was Xavier’s upset of Duke a couple of years ago; and yes, that was nearly 20 years between the two. I just keep bragging about a huge win until I have another. (I’m obnoxious like that; just ask my husband.)
It may be frustrating to true fans when people like me do well in our brackets, but that’s the nature of the game and precisely why it’s exciting: Anything can happen. Favored teams lose, dark horses gallop through to the Final Four and there’s almost always a Cinderella team that fits into that magical glass slipper. As the overall depth and strength of the NCAA grows, lower-ranked teams have a better chance of advancing through the tournament, creating more competitive match-ups and better chances for upsets. Last year, we saw the first-ever win by a 16-seed over a 1-seed when the University of Virginia fell to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. The 16-1 matchups are often close at least through most of the game and it’s not unheard of for 15-seeds to beat 2-seeds. Part of the thrill lies in the “what ifs.”
This year, our Tennessee Volunteers made the tournament, bringing some local excitement to the table. (ETSU has made a few tournament appearances over the years, most recently in 2017.) In a good position as a 2-seed, the Vols will face Colgate on Friday. After a less-than-stellar performance in the SEC final on Sunday, hopefully they’re ready to step up their game when it counts most.
At my house, we will spend the better part of four days watching every game, checking the standings in our various pools, riding the wave of wins and losses and never losing hope, because it’s not over until it’s over. Then we’ll do it all again next weekend, just with fewer games. Sometimes, the bracket winners are determined before the final game, but sometimes it comes down to the very last second. My kids enjoy making their picks and sometimes do well, even though they don’t know a buzzer beater from a buzzard.
And that’s the beauty of it — there’s something for everyone: joys, sorrows, close calls, raw emotion, incredible talent and the thrill of the game. We can put other things aside and enjoy the delightful distraction of sports, a little friendly competition and maybe even bragging rights.
And there’s one thing we can all agree on: GO VOLS!
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother, community activist and writer for National Federation of Republican Women. Reach her at [email protected]