An ode to the greatest month in sports.
by Doobie Okon
The Super Bowl and my birthday. That’s about it for February. Because besides that, the weather is still awful and we’re only in the middle of the NBA and NHL seasons. Football is done and we haven’t even reached spring training yet, although pitchers and catchers reporting certainly is a sign of the beautiful month to come.
It’s only fitting that the worst month in sports is followed by the greatest and maddest. March, of course, hosts the exciting stretch runs of the NBA and NHL toward their respective postseasons while the baseball preseason kicks off in gorgeous Florida and Arizona.
But the real question is, what would March be without the field of 65? If you’re a true sports fanatic, you know once that calendar turns, tourney time is right around the corner and all the predictions, upsets, buzzer-beaters, heartbreak and Cinderellas that come with it.
What’s even better is that even if you aren’t a fanatic, there’s room for anyone to enjoy the Dance. How often has a sports ignoramus or a girl with no knowledge of college basketball won your pool simply because they got lucky with their picks? Sure, it’s annoying, but it’s the charm of this phenomenal tournament. The nation is enthralled, no matter where a person hails from.
Teams from literally all over the country have a chance to make the field, and even win it. In the professional leagues, people from the likes of Wyoming, Kentucky, Montana, Arkansas, Idaho and many other pro-less states don’t get a chance to represent and root for their hometowns, and that’s why March Madness is so special. The NCAA truly represents the entire United States.
It’s an accomplishment in itself to even make the Tournament. Hell, in my senior year about a year ago, my Binghamton Bearcats finally got over the hump and won the America East conference to receive an automatic bid. And yes, I know about all the controversy surrounding Binghamton’s team, but that’s not the point. We stormed the court, cut down the nets, gained school pride and passion that had never been seen before in Binghamton, NY. We chanted ‘we’re going dancing! We’re going dancing!’ all day and all night. It was amazing and will always go down as one of my all-time sports memories. Anyone whose school or favorite team has ever made the tourney, especially for the first time, knows the feeling I speak of.
March Madness is just as much about the non-power conferences as it is the power ones. We start to follow schools we’ve never even heard of before, like an Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Murray State or Sam Houston State among many others. We realize competitive basketball is being played all over the country, not just in Kansas and Kentucky, and those small-time college players and squads get a chance to shine on national television.
Your Valparaisos, Creightons, Bucknells and so many others have implanted themselves in the memories and legend of the tournament by making impossible shots and improbable runs in past years. Every so often, we get a chance to witness a team like the 2006 George Mason Patriots, a mid-major 11th seed, take a miracle ride to the Final Four or beyond, knocking off the nation’s best along the way. Every so often, a squad like the ’85 Villanova Wildcats, an 8th seed, even goes as far as winning the national championship against a team widely regarded as the best in Georgetown.
The more 12, 13, 14, 15 seed upsets we see, the more hope we feel that one day the nation will watch a 16 upset a top seed. Will it ever happen? I don’t know, and many think not, but the law of averages tells me that one day it has to. Wow, what a scene that will be…can you imagine?
And once the first couple rounds are done and most of the weaker teams are weeded out, then some of the most intense basketball is played as we work through the Sweet 16 to the Elite Eight and, of course, to the Final Four. The vast majority of national champions and Final Four teams indeed do come from the power conferences, but it’s never easy to predict exactly which teams will reach this pinnacle. The reason? Simple. The tourney doesn’t reward talent, but heart, concentration and effort. Some of the strongest teams fall by the wayside to others who just want it more.
You must play at an extremely high level and focus for six games, and that’s why it’s feasible for so many teams to actually have a chance at the title, since talent plays second fiddle to those other intangibles any team can possess. Tourney teams don’t get a chance to thoroughly scout their opponents, so they have to rely on just playing the best basketball they can against whoever they happen to match up against. It’s the most complex tournament to play and even harder to predict. But if it was easy, then we just wouldn’t care as much. We wouldn’t take time to fill out multiple brackets and participate in a number of pools, whether it be in the office, with your friends or family or just a random one online.
Rarely is the tourney ever considered boring. Sure, some years might be a little more disappointing than others since people love to see a large number of upsets and Cinderellas. But in each tournament, you’re guaranteed entertainment, at least some close games and a few underdogs, and of course ‘One Shining Moment’ as the championship game comes to a close. And from the start of this current Dance, it doesn’t seem like a shortage of upsets will be the problem.
Bottomline: There’s no better way to kick off Spring than the NCAA Tournament. It gives us so much other postseasons cannot, and I can’t imagine a day will come when its popularity will be challenged. So, as you follow your brackets and root for your local teams and other schools you didn’t even know existed last week, just remember to appreciate that you’re watching the sport of basketball at its finest.
Thank god the middle of March has arrived. It’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the greatest time of the year in sports. After all, who doesn’t love to dance?