Trying to come down with ‘March Madness’

By Dan Falloon, sports reporter
I’ve done just about anything to try to catch a little bit of “March Madness.”
I’ve taken part in “bracketology” sessions trying to pick winning teams in the annual NCAA Div. I basketball tournament from the opening round right through to the championship final.
I’ve quarantined myself into rooms where hoops fever was rampant. But in the end, I was infected with nothing more than a passing, “Hey, No. 11 seed George Mason made it to the Final Four. That’s pretty cool, I guess.”
That’s basically the equivalent of locking yourself in a room of 50 people with full-blown coughs and colds—and coming out with just the sniffles.
I figure that this is going to be the year I make it work.
It has before.
Even though European premier leagues and the Champions League had never piqued my interest, I plunked down and was absorbed into soccer’s World Cup in 2006, and golly, I’m already starting to amp up for this summer’s tournament in South Africa when it kicks off June 11.
The knock-out format in the World Cup begins after group play, and those do-or-die games provide for some thrilling moments.
But those games begin on Day 1 of the NCAA tournament. If a No. 4 takes a few minutes off against a No. 13, the favourite’s season could collapse in a matter of a few hours.
All right, with that I think I’ve managed to get myself a little more psyched to make a legitimate commitment to the tournament.
Being a vocal supporter of underdogs everywhere, I kick myself for missing a crazy, meaningful upset that was totally within my power to see—and that’s going to have to be my “raison d’etre” during this year’s tournament.
Since 2005, there have been seven first-round matches where a team ranked 13th or lower defeated its higher-seeded opponent, including three in the past two years.
These seem to be fantastic games, and I hope to appreciate them.
I want to will myself into becoming hopelessly delirious with a three-week fever like many people seemed to catch with the Winter Olympics (I was warm to the touch, but nothing a drink of water couldn’t cool).
The tournament started yesterday with the “play-in” game—where the overall No. 65 seed plays the overall No. 64 seed for the final slot in one of the tournament’s four regions.
Why the NCAA has this special game for only one region is beyond me, and like most things associated with the NCAA, the rationale behind creating the “play-in” game in 2001 seems unnecessarily complicated.
But going into the tournament with an open mind, it’s something I hope I can get past, which I hadn’t been able to do with other NCAA quirks in the past.
For example, how the Bowl College Series is able to determine a national champion in college football is another total mystery. It either seems to be set up by a formula understood by only the world’s finest mathematical minds, or is picked by the random spin of a wheel by former “NHL on TSN” prognosticator Maggie the Monkey, who, in her defence, retired with a 40-35 record in predicting the results of post-season series.
With the association’s goofiness in mind, I’m sure I turned on an NCAA game and exclaimed, “A No. 2 seed is playing a No. 2 seed? Impossible!” and flipped it off.
I later found out the simple explanation that it was just a matter of the No. 2 seed from one region playing the No. 2 from another region, which I, thankfully, could grasp in my advancing age.
One-size-fits-all NCAA bias aside, I also generally have failed to be enthralled with televised basketball. As I’ve mentioned in this space before, I’ve found the NBA just can’t seem to capture the same drama in a close game that the NHL generally is able to generate.
In hockey, a late penalty can be lethal. In basketball, it’s a part of the game plan.
But I’ve seen some fantastic live basketball. As an aspiring sportswriter, I covered the University of Winnipeg Wesmen for two years, and there were some barnburners down at the Duckworth Centre—often against the cross-town rival University of Manitoba Bisons.
Even just a couple of weeks ago, the NWOSSAA showdown between the Muskie senior boys’ basketball team and the Churchill Trojans of Thunder Bay provided some quality basketball. In fact, Game 3, won by the Trojans with no time left on the clock, quite possibly was the most entertaining basketball game I’ve ever seen.
The time-outs I’ve railed against in the sport are less jarring when you’re in the gymnasium, feeding off the energy of the fans and not watching the same moronic Tim Hortons commercial for the 15th time of the telecast.
I’m going to have to live and die at the mercy of the broadcasters and their sponsors, and I’ll have to be okay with that. I’ll tough it out.
Perhaps my problem is that I tend to turn on games in the fourth quarter, so my perception for the flow of the game likely is skewed by that. In that case, knowing when the games start is obviously key.
I can slip seamlessly into a hockey game in the third period, or a curling match in the ninth end, but it just doesn’t seem to work for basketball.
So I will flip on the television and find a game ready to tip off, and I vow to watch as much of the first round as possible in the hopes of an upset. And at the very least, find a plucky mid-range seed, perhaps a No. 7 or No. 9, to follow for their lifespan in the tournament.
That shouldn’t be difficult. The first round provides an all-day hoops thrill ride on Thursday and Saturday.
The roller-coaster begins tomorrow as the round of 64 has been determined and brackets have been analyzed, over-analyzed, and overkill over-analyzed.
I’ll be one of many strapping myself in for the three-week thrill ride.
I can’t wait—I hope.

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