One Plus the Bonus
Most people probably don’t have a favorite month, and if they do, it’s likely because of Christmas or their birthday or something similar. I, however, have a clear-cut favorite month on the calendar; unsurprisingly, it’s the one whose name is always paired with “Madness.” Leap Year means I have to wait one more day for the glorious turn of the calendar, but that doesn’t have me any less excited. March brings the best annual tournament in all of sports, my favorite day of the year (Selection Sunday), and, for the last three years, the best four-day period of the year (a now-annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas with a group of friends/college basketball fans/gamblers for the first four days of the tournament). All of this rolled into one month makes for a very excited Jim, so I put together a list of the very best aspects of March.
1. Day-time Basketball – There’s no better distraction at work (or full-on reason to ignore work altogether) than win-or-go-home basketball at lunchtime. With the start of college basketball’s postseason, most tournaments will have a day or two of daytime hoops, leading to drops in productivity across the country (but not quite to the level of the NCAA Tournament itself). I have fond memories of sneaking into the science office in high school during AP Chemistry to watch early round Big East games, skipping class completely in college to watch the Friday games of the Big 12 Tournament, and watching games on my second screen at the client site while at my current full-time job - uhhhh, I mean, working hard and ignoring games completely while I work. Nothing to see here!
2. Small-conference tournaments – Ah, the automatic bid via the conference tournament. A completely ludicrous way to decide who gets to represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament (especially when the regular season winners get barely any benefit from months of grueling conference play). But still, it does not lack for drama – having a winner-take-all setup to close the year means everyone still has a chance, if only they can get hot at the right time. Watching schools like Belmont or Winthrop take center stage on ESPN as the bigger conferences wait to start their tournaments is unique. Between the tiny gyms (some smaller than certain high school venues), the insanely hyped fanbases, the dreams of players swinging on each and every basket – I can’t get enough of it, particularly this year, with the deeper dive my fellow writers and I have taken into the small conference world.
3. Filling in the Bracket – The slow but steady fill-in-the-blank exercise of populating each conference with the recipient of its auto-bid is oddly satisfying to me. Naturally subsequent to the above-mentioned conference tournaments, finally nailing down who will populate the bottom part of the bracket is a breath of fresh air for a bracketologist like myself (compared to the uncertainty of placing the regular season leader as the winner because, again, tournaments are a complete toss-up). When tournament bids are finally written in pen, rather than pencil, the true digging down into matchups/etc. can begin in earnest.
4. Spring has Sprung – That’s RIGHT! Sure, we here at 3MW certainly have a possibly-unhealthy obsession with college basketball, and that obsession crests in March – but we can also appreciate the pleasant return of respectable weather. Here in St. Louis, it’s been unseasonably warm in February, but most places that actually experience seasonal changes start to see the true signs of spring in March. The promise of patios and pools creates a nice sense of anticipation, and the collective relief that winter is finally over is palpable in people’s moods. Oh, and there’s basketball!!
5. Selection Sunday – Holy shit guys. Nothing gets me more pumped than the notes of the CBS College Basketball theme song pumping in through my TV speakers followed by the goofy grin of Greg Gumbel looking back at me, the bracket finally about to be announced. For 10 years now, two of my friends and I have put together a bracket of our own (see the Bracketology page here on 3MW), and I often go to great lengths to make sure I have the time all day Sunday to prepare. During sophomore year of college, I joined an organization that had a team-building event during the afternoon of Selection Sunday. To get out of that commitment, I went to the organization’s St. Patrick’s Day party the Saturday night before for the sole purpose of not drinking and faking sick. Things went off without a hitch: everyone felt bad I couldn’t stay out late, I skipped the team building, and I got repeatedly made fun of by my friends who knew what I did for skipping a St. Pat’s bash just to fake sick for Selection Sunday. Totally worth it. Oh – guess when St. Patrick’s Day is THIS year…
6. Las Vegas/Opening Weekend/etc. – Why, it’s the opening Thursday of the NCAA Tournament! As previously mentioned, my friends and I (including my fellow 3MW writers) have begun an annual tradition of going to Las Vegas for the first weekend of March Madness. More will come on this topic, but suffice it to say for now that it’s an unbelievable confluence of old friends, jokes, drinks, sports, and gambling – the atmosphere around the city is unlike any other place I’ve ever been. Everyone is always glued to the various games, following bets as simple as who will win or as complicated as multiple-team spread teasers. We’ve quickly established several traditions on our trip, but one thing we’ve never experienced is St. Patrick’s Day in Las Vegas. Needless to say, we’re quite excited to see what that has in store for us.
7. Regional Weekend – For all the buildup and the sensational atmosphere of the first weekend, it’s the second weekend that probably has the best games. Sure, a few Cinderellas will make it through to the second weekend (and the first weekend would be a bummer without that!), but the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 matchups are largely made up of the best teams in the country. This usually leads to excellent games, intriguing matchups that we rarely see in the regular season, all with Final Four berths on the line. It’s a perfect weekend to melt into the couch for four days while recovering from the murderous hangover of 4 nights in Vegas.
The Bonus will just be an area for my random thoughts and ramblings – the number of these will probably vary from week to week, depending on how much hoops I’ve gotten to watch and what sparks my interest…
-As a Wisconsin Badger fan, it’s a little wild to go back to watching a defensive-based, Swing-running team – the last two years have had such a wealth of offensive talent that they moved to a more spread pick-and-roll style and relied on their absurdly (and historically) efficient offense to outscore teams. With a more “average” level of talent, Greg Gard has taken the team back to Bo Ryan’s roots, and it has led to a 10-1 streak and the current #2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
-Tangent related to the above about tournaments – I am a big fan of the way the Horizon and OVC (and maybe others?) give their top 2 teams a bye to the semifinals. If you’re going to give the NCAA bid – the most valuable thing the conference has to offer – to the winner of a 3 or 4 day tournament, at least give the best team(s) from the regular season a better chance to win. And the conference has incentive to send its best team (wins/notoriety/$$)!
-It’s nice to see Vanderbilt showing some life – as someone who was very high on them entering the season (took them at 75/1 to win the NCAA Championship), it’s been hard to watch their lackluster performances in almost every big game. Damian Jones in particular has run very hot and cold. But they finally came out and knocked off a top team in Kentucky, and they’ve now won 5 of 6 to get themselves right back in the tournament picture. I still think they could be dangerous in March with their shooting and an inside presence like Jones.
-After writing an article early this year on how Indiana could really be good if they figured things out defensively (check it out here!), it’s nice to see them pulled their kenpom.com defensive efficiency up to 67th. With an elite offense (#7) that’s undeniably fun to watch with shooters everywhere, the Hoosiers are finally realizing their potential (and Tom Crean is chuckling at me – we’ll see how you do in March, Tommy).
-Color me shocked by the Mike Gesell dunk against Ohio State. I still don’t think he’s going to be good enough at PG for Iowa to make a deep run in the tournament (we’ll see what the draw looks like), but suffice it to say he has more athleticism than I gave him credit for.
-Regarding Grayson Allen/tripping people – hey, how about we just don’t trip people? It’s concerning that Duke players have been repeatedly caught doing things like this recently (Winslow had a couple blatantly dirty plays last year), and I really hope Coach K can find the right emojis to text his players so they stop (I despise those Sportscenter commericals).
That’s all for now!