What does it mean for something to be “the best”? Quite simply, it has to be better than all of the competition. Seems easy enough, but deciding the best way to determine a champion for any sport or league, now that’s splitting hairs for us sports fanatics. If you’re a huge baseball fan you might favor the World Series (like myself); a big hockey fan might favor the Stanley Cup Playoffs or an NFL fan might prefer the NFL playoffs, but the thing is, March Madness is the pinnacle; March Madness is it. Even though baseball is my favorite sport, if I had to decide between watching the MLB playoffs and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, I would choose the Tournament without hesitation. There is no doubting that it’s special, but why? Why does the NCAA Tournament appeal to the biggest baseball, football, soccer and hockey fans? Why does it appeal to the people who don’t know the difference between a fumble and a thimble, a basket or a brisket, a bullpen or a ballpoint pen?
Because, like a murder mystery, it’s extremely unpredictable. March Madness is the most exciting event in all of sports because ANYTHING can happen. I mean anything. Florida Gulf Coast University went to the Sweet Sixteen? Wichita State is in the Final Four? Do you know where Florida Gulf Coast is (don’t say “Dunk City”)? It’s in Fort Myers (for those of you who were wondering.)
There is a reason that the president picks a bracket and ESPN shows a segment on it. There is a reason that even the weakest sports fans fill out bracket sheets (and these fans’ brackets are usually the ones end up best). There is a reason that a DePaul professer projected there was a 1 in 9,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s one in nine quintillion, 18 zeros) chance of having a perfect bracket. That is why March is special, it’s unpredictable, it’s your team, the upset and your pick; anything can happen.
Anything you say? Anything can happen? Surely some things are impossible, right? No. (Well yes, a sixteenth seed has never beaten a one seed in the men’s tournament, but aside from that, anything can happen.) Florida Gulf Coast beat Georgetown this year and reached the Sweet Sixteen before losing to Florida. Nine-seed Witchita State knocked off number-one-seed Gonzaga before reaching the Final Four. Fourteen-seed Harvard knocked off three-seed New Mexico. Davidson lost to Marquette on the final shot, and then Marquette reached the Elite Eight. No team that makes it to the tournament can be taken lightly.
My bracket’s busted, your bracket’s busted, everyone’s bracket is busted. Not only because of these colossal upsets, but because of the four versus one upsets, the four-five upsets, all of the little upsets that ruin brackets every year. Although the Final Four lineup is not crazy (aside from Wichita State), who out there picked the Final Four correctly? Say aye! No one? Louisville wasn’t a shocker, and one might have picked Michigan to make it, or Syracuse. But both, all three, all four? Extremely doubtful.
Then there’s the tendency to choose “your team” to make some noise in the Tournament. This again decreases your chances in your bracket. Your biased opinions usually come back to bite you. But with a 68 team field, “your team” has a good chance of making it into the Tourney. Even if they are a hopeless 16-seed, the dance is the dance (and not long from now I bet that hopeless team will knock off a one-seed). Wichita State fans were glad they made it into the tournament, and they would have been happy to just beat Pitt — low-expectations indeed. Then, once they won a game, they were satisfied. Smart fans knew that they were soon going to be out, but all hopeful fans still had hope. All of those fans knew that they were lying to themselves, yet they hung on to their hope.
Wichita State then played number-one seed Gonzaga. And as the game went along, Wichita State players realized it was possible. They prayed they would pull it out; then that prayer turned into a prayer that they wouldn’t choke. Then with ten-seconds left they slapped themselves, made sure it wasn’t a dream, checked the scoreboard, and celebrated. Their thoughts were all about that moment and they weren’t thinking at all about their next game, but when the next game arrived, Wichita State players began to realize that they could go all the way. This time they were playing 13-seeded La Salle. They were favored, and they won. They were now one-win away from the Final Four. “They had a great run,” most fans thought as they headed into their game versus two-seeded Ohio State. Then, Wichita State dominated. Crushed ’em. Ohio State clawed back at the end leaving the Wichita State faithful on the edge of their seats, but Wichita State held on for the victory. Wichita State had earned a spot in the Final Four. Yes, I said it. Reread if you have to. This is the part where the Wichita State fan finishes telling his friends about his awesome dream. When he wakes up. When someone says, “April Fools!” But no, this is reality, or should I say this is Madness, March Madness.
Then there’s my team: Harvard. “Harvard.” When you read the word, Harvard, what do you think? (Whatever you think, I know it’s not basketball.) Well, I’m a huge Harvard Basketball fan (I missed only two home games during the 2012-13 season) and they had a great year. (For their standards at least.) They won the Ivy League title and went to the dance. Successful season, enough said. We’re satisfied. We can go home now. Then on Selection Sunday, Harvard Basketball received an expected tough draw. Harvard fans hoped they would upset a tough New Mexico team; heck, we hoped the broadcasters would mention them on TV. Then they did. I’m paraphrasing, but ESPN broadcaster Doug Gottlieb said, “Look at this New Mexico-Harvard matchup….” Harvard fans watching the selection show were on the edge of their seats to hear about a potential upset “… because I like New Mexico goin’ to the Final Four!” Great. Just great. Then Greg Anthony added, “You’re right, Doug, that New Mexico team is one that could give Ohio State troubles out of that region.” Well guess what — they didn’t. Harvard didn’t give them that chance.
I remember watching the game. I was in a ratty hotel room. My family and I were on our way back from vacation. We were staying in an airport hotel and we had a 5:00 am flight, requiring a 3:00 am wake up. Well the obvious plan was to go to bed early, get a good rest, sleep on the plane and be done with it. But there was a catch. Harvard had the late game that night: 9:57 pm EST. Just our luck. I knew some way, somehow I needed to see the game. Lights were out by 8:30 pm, but my dad stayed up to watch and he agreed to wake me up for the second half. He shook me awake at 11:00 pm. I groggily walked to the bathroom, then while slipping on a clean shirt, I realized something: it was not time to catch our flight, the Harvard game was on!
I rushed into the other room. My dad gave me the rundown: “Harvard has been winning the whole game and it looks like we have a shot.” A shot. Even then it was just a shot, but it was all we needed to wake ourselves up and get pumped. We had to keep it down, because we were in a room filled with three sleeping kids, and a few hours earlier, my mom had strictly forbidden my dad from waking me up.
New Mexico and Harvard traded blows for much of the second half. With every Harvard basket, we high-fived as quietly as possible. We chatted silently about the game and Harvard, and then by the five-minute mark, all three kids were awake, sitting up in bed asking questions about the game, even cheering loudly occasionally. This resulted in a resounding, “SHHHHH!!” The moment when New Mexico called a timeout in the final few minutes was when I knew; it wasn’t over, but I knew Harvard had more than just a shot. This was it. We were electric, or about electric as you can be at half-past 12. Then there was a minute left, Harvard hit a shot! YES! Now they had much more than just “a shot;” now we were going to win.
When then the final buzzer sounded, freshman point guard Siyani Chambers jumped for joy and slammed the ball on the ground. He was ecstatic. Though just a freshman, he was the team leader. He was all-Ivy first team and Ivy League rookie of the year. This was the second time I had ever seen him smile (the first being when he posed for a picture with my sisters). They had done it. We hugged and cheered (not worrying about disturbing others as the people in the hotel room above us were partying). I walked back to the other room and whispered to my mom that Harvard had won. She was happy too (being the Harvard grad in the family). She whispered, “Really? That’s awesome!” I climbed into to bed and was awoken two hours later.Five hours of sleep, one amazing upset, so worth it!
That is why March Madness is the pinnacle. Because of the fans, the brackets and the upsets. Because all sports fans are fans of March Madness. Even people who can’t tell a basket from a bracelet are fans of March Madness.That is what makes March special. That is why March Madness continues to excite people around the world every year.
This year was crazy, but the craziness isn’t over. Stay tuned for more this weekend as Syracuse and Michigan square off and Wichita State and Louisville take the floor against one another. Then on Monday night a champ will be crowned. This why “March” is rarely used in a sentence without the word “madness” following it. This is it, this is March Madness, it doesn’t get much better than this.