We’re within the last half day of hours before the first real tip-offs of the NCAA tournament.
Yeah, I know VCU made a great run a couple years ago from out of a “play-in” game, but who cares about “play-in” games. I call them “play-in” games, not “the first round”… why? Because, screw “play-in” games, that’s why.
No, this morning is when the holiest of college basketball weekends start, when everything goes to hell in thousands of man-made brackets nationwide. Millions of dollars will be lost, millions of dreams of being serenaded by Luther Vandross in early April will be squashed , but it is highly likely that in the face of all that very few people will be sad from now until Sunday night.
Why? Because basketball will be played in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening, it will bump David Letterman past midnight and bump “Killer Karaoke” off TruTv entirely… why? Because, screw “Killer Karaoke,” that’s why. We have a national champion to decide.
There’s no further need to wax poetic about the brilliance of March Madness — if you’re reading this you likely know what’s up — but it is impossible not to, it simply is the grandest way to decide a champion in sports. This tournament is a monster made of amateur idealism, insistent marketing, gambling and example after example of triumph of the human spirit mixed with soul crushing defeat, the kind to define many a basketball player’s young life.
If you’re into any of those things (and we all are at some point in our lives) then you’re into the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. This is why so many people who don’t know a Blue Devil from a Red Devil, who don’t know Jabari Parker from Jalil from Whodini have filled out brackets and will follow the excess of emotion and highlight reels to emerge from this weekend.
Every year, as this weekend unfolds around us, we come across true American greatness — a way for us to wriggle out of work, to stay up too late, to get bogged down in useless trivia and to live or die emotionally by the results of financially exploited late teenagers who represent institutions that left us woefully unprepared for the real world while at the same time bestowing us with a decade’s worth of debt to the federal government (if we’re lucky).
So with whom does it make the most sense to align with beyond those teams who you have an irrational or unnatural connection to?
It’s likely your rooting system makes no sense — team colors, animal vs. human mascots, party school rankings, none of that matters. Nor does it matter how up you are on Ken Pomeroy or the BPI — just blow up the brackets x5000, get bucket naked and fling your bare extremities towards each region in an impromptu game of NCAA twister and you can possibly have a leg up at getting a billi from the Oracle of Omaha.
I am a native and current resident of the state of Illinois, which means that I have no rooting interests in this tournament and I was damned for thinking that either U of I or NU or (God help us) DePaul would change that. But no matter how much of a wasteland your native land is in the sport of college basketball, the tournament is there, its arms are open, it is forgiving of your civic obligations and it looks the other way when your alma mater (SIU) dovetails while a conference rival shoots to untold heights.
I wanted to pick Wichita State to win in one of my three brackets, but I just couldn’t, I’m not that much of a believer in miracles. The Shockers did make two of my elite eights and one of my Final Fours, they also earned the name for two of my brackets, via a slick line from the rapper Sean Price.
We should be proud that Wichita State exists, they’ll prove to us one of two things by the end of this month — either that faith without works is dead or that faith plus work allows you to live forever.
We should feel lucky that everyone and their President is picking Michigan State to win, because they will fail and that will prove, as Charles Barkley so succinctly puts it, that only God is an expert.
In the one bracket I’m not embarassed to reveal to the public, my Final Four is Florida, Creighton, Wichita St. and Michigan St — Sparty because I’m craven and scared of being wrong because of spite, CU and WSU because I’m sentimental and highly envious due to my college years in Carbondale (and it will tickle me to see those two meet in the Final Four when they should have met in St. Louis for the Missouri Valley Conference title again this season) and UF because I think they have more talent plus experience than anyone in the tournament and if Tom Izzo is the best coach in the tournament, Billy Donovan is probably the second best at this moment.
No unclothed parts were used to make those picks but that doesn’t make them any more unreliable. If you sought me out for redemption in your bracket, then you’se a fool. Don’t be a fool for me, be a fool for this tournament. Time after time, it is always worth it.
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