Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Welcome Back March Madness

Of the nearly six million brackets filled out for ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, only two of them correctly picked the Final Four this year. So in other words, welcome back March Madness. Not only did no number one or two seed advance to the Final Four for the first time in the tournament’s history, but also more importantly we have a break from the chalk-laden brackets of the past few years.

Half the fun of March Madness is in the upsets, and more specifically, the ones that you had penciled into your bracket. No one likes that guy in their pool who takes all one seeds in their Final Four, and sadly the past few years such milquetoast behavior has been largely rewarded. Here’s the past four years:

In 2007: We had Florida (1), Ohio State (1), Georgetown (2), and UCLA (2). 

In 2008: Kansas (1), Memphis (1), UCLA (1), and North Carolina (1). 

In 2009: North Carolina (1), Connecticut (1), Michigan State (2), and Villanova (3).

In 2010: Duke (1), West Virginia (2), Butler (5), and Michigan State (5).

It was a four-year period of such soul-crushing unoriginality that even US President Barack Obama was inspired to pick all one seeds in his bracket this year: a misstep that has surely delighted Republicans basketball fans from coast to coast. But perpetual partisan squabbling aside, this year we should give thanks, for it appears the basketball gods were finally listening.

The whole point of a 68-team championship field is to encourage upsets and to promote drama, so when the favorites steamroll through it defeats the purpose. So while this year isn’t exactly an otherworldly showcase of basketball prowess, Kentucky (4), Connecticut (3), Butler (8), and VCU (11) carry a sense of intrigue that should in part make up for the lack of star power.

Yes, the tournament can be gimmicky, and it requires an ample amount of luck to advance – such a Butler’s officiating gift against Pittsburgh. But it’s for the most part fair, and a baptism by fire is required to reach the pinnacle. The same can hardly be said for college basketball’s counterpart. 

Boise State can stroll through an easy schedule on the gridiron and be planted in a top bowl game, while a team like VCU has to earn its stripes on the hardwood against a perennial powerhouse like Kansas.  It’s in this proper spirit of competition that the tournament truly comes alive, and thankfully, at least this year, it has returned to the unpredictability that made it so popular in the first place.

Photo credit: Sports Illustrated

1 comment:

  1. my eyes widened when Kobe rolled his ankle towards the end of the 4th quarter, and I breathed a sigh of relief at the knowledge that the Lakers would be unlikely to catch the Hornets that night with their star injured (but hopefully not too injured, whispered the voice, knowing full well that a healthy Bryant would be necessary to dispatch future foes). So, I will continue pulling for the underdog Hornets, shaking my head in wonder at the desperation of their play, hoping for a Game 7 that comes down to one final possession, one series-deciding shot…and that the Villain will walk away the victor.