I wonder how many of you are home “sick” today, getting some beer and wings to watch the first round of the NCAA Tournament (if you are, I deeply envy you), the best two days in sports all year. Why the best? Because it is the one sporting event where you honestly don’t have to care who the teams are- you learn more than you ever wanted to know about Wofford, San Diego State, and Murray State. You just want to see that #13 seed take down the #4, or see how many of the ubiquitous 12-5 upsets there are this season. You are either trying to start your bracket off strong, or just root for the teams you like. It is entirely different from the regular season, when you are jockeying for position- every game is life or death, and the players (for the most part) seem to play like it.
However, the excitement, wave of new teams and new information, and the drama of the tournament can lend it to some unhealthy habits, and I wanted to take a moment to help you check yourself to make sure you get the most out of March Madness. Here are some of my simple suggestions- you may not like them and you may not agree- to make this First Round weekend as fun as it can be for you and those you’re with.
1) Don’t take your bracket too seriously: For a while I stopped filling out brackets altogether because I became too married to seeing my teams advance and didn’t enjoy the upsets (or lack thereof) that can make the tournament so exciting. There is an amazing #14 vs. #3 game going on, and I see a guy next to me biting his nails because he had the #3 seed going to the Final Four. Rather than taking joy in the moment he got caught up in trying to win the pool or whatever he is doing. I suggest you put together your bracket and let it sit- it’s all a crap shoot anyway. Which leads me too…
2) Don’t be “The Stat Guy”: You know what I’m talking about. The guy who tries to break down every single matchup using a series of statistical tools that are only pulled out this time of year. I don’t care if the 7th man on Richmond’s rotation has 2.2 rebounds per game more than his counterpart on St. Mary’s, and I don’t think it will decide who wins. Not only is it annoying to others and stressful for you, but it doesn’t work. The person who wins is almost always that person who decides what mascot they like the best or goes by team name, or just goes with what feels right for them. Those people always seem to win the pool, and they also seem to follow rule #1 quite a bit better.
3) One bracket only, people: This one is more for me having to put up with multi-bracket people. I can’t stand that guy who says, “Yeah, I had New Mexico State over Michigan State and Sam Houston State over Baylor.” That might be true, but only because he has 7 different brackets with a host of different combinations. I don’t want to know what you had on “one of your brackets.” I’d love to make 2 brackets, each of which had the opposite result of the opening round matchups and say I called every one, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s like putting money on both teams in the Super Bowl- you either commit or you don’t. Besides, enjoy the upset, don’t worry about who called it.
4) There is always someone to root for: Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Maryland, Morgan State, Georgetown (if you like DC) and any other teams you have a soft affinity for get knocked out in the first round (or second round). When in doubt, I try to switch my attention to, in this order, A) the lowest seed remaining, B) the mid-major conference teams that get no attention otherwise, and C) any other team I have never heard of or know nothing about. It adds an element of intrigue and keeps the Cinderella dream alive for some team out there- it’s not as good as your favorite team going deep in the tourney, but it’s not far off.
I hope these arbitrary guidelines help give you some direction as you attempt to get the most out of today and tomorrow’s NCAA action, and for the rest of the tournament. The organized chaos of March Madness is too good to get mired in anything else. Oh yea, and go Terps!