March Madness


As I’m sitting down to write this column there’s a group of The Garden Island’s employees huddled staring at a wall of brackets. Richard Stein, our Web manager, walks to the wall with a pair of highlighters, one green, the other orange. He takes the cap off of the green highlighter and makes 18 strokes through the name Kentucky. One orange stroke causes a few giggles among the TGI staff.

They laugh because the bracket with the orange highlight, designating a wrong pick in our office’s NCAA basketball tournament bracket challenge, chose the 16th seeded Western Kentucky Hilltopers to topple the top-ranked Wildcats — a feat that hasn’t been done in tournament history.

“Hey,” one employ interjects, “Syracuse almost lost to NC-Asheville, it could have happened.”

It’s 3 p.m. on Thursday and the Madness has begun.

There isn’t a sporting event in the world quite like March Madness. The proof is the people staring at our wall right now. There’s me obviously, I’m the sports guy. But there are others — those who don’t know a thing a thing about basketball — that are up there dissecting the bracket. Ali Vandergon, TGI’s special sections editor, is ecstatic because she picked VCU to upset Wichita State.

“I picked them because I know soooo much about basketball,” Vandergon says before admitting she didn’t watch a single game this season.

That’s the beauty of this tournament. It unites sports junkies and the those that know nothing about the game. By filling out a simple bracket, someone who doesn’t have any interest in a game can all of a sudden root and cheer like they’ve been a lifelong fan.

Those who don’t follow basketball too closely use various methods in filling out their brackets. Some go with the favored team. Others are upset heavy. Stein said he used a more radical method in filling out his.

“I like to imagine which mascot would win,” Stein said. “For instance, characters with guns will often win out over animals. But spiritual entities like a Blue Devil are harder to predict.”

Stein’s final pick somewhat contradicts his method, with Kentucky, the top-ranked team in the country, residing as his projected champion.

“Given all that, it is hard to pick against Kentucky’s dual threat Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb,” Stein says. “And don’t forget player of the  year candidate freshman Anthony Davis.”

Sounds to me like somebody knows more than he’s letting on.

All this basketball talk today really enforces my belief that the biggest travesty in sports is the college football bowl system. College football is already one of the biggest industries on the planet, and yes, millions of people watch the bowl games as it is. But just think how much better the months of December and January would be if there was a college football playoff. I’m a much bigger football fan than I am basketball, but when it comes to the post season I can tell you I’ve watched about five March Madness games today and I watched one bowl game — half of the BCS Championship game, and only because I was getting work done on my car and they had it on in the waiting room.

The success behind March Madness is that the format promotes interest. Yeah, chances are a 16 seed isn’t going to beat a No. 1, but they got a darn opportunity to try. Some of the most memorable moments in NCAA basketball history are those of underdogs upsetting high-ranked teams. In football, there’s no opportunity for that if you didn’t win all but one or so of your games, your season is over.

March Madness really is that. It’s mad. I’m mad right now because I had Wichita State going to the sweet 1., Instead , VCU — last year’s Cinderella story — pulled off another upset.

Vandergon’s smiling because she picked VCU because she thinks the coach looks like a nice guy.

Madness indeed.


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