Back when I was a young pup, new video games, and new consoles in particular, were all the rage. I distinctly remember when the first kid in my class, Kyle, received a PlayStation 2 in fifth grade, instantly granting him celebrity status. Everyone clamored for his favor, bribing him with extra lunch tickets and drafting him first in every recess activity. Normally, Kyle was a pleasant but nondescript member of our class, but for that period of time, he was Xerxes, a god-king. The rest of us average kids were his hopeful subjects, yearning to get the first crack at playing Ridge Racer V or Silent Scope on the gold standard of consoles. Fast forward to today, when the 2019 version of the gold standard sporting event (the NCAA Tournament) awaits, and just like when Kyle ascended the fifth grade throne, college basketball is about to become everyone’s best friend…
Welcome to March, folks. For 11 months of the year, college basketball is a sideshow for many sports fans, little more than a peripheral source of SportsCenter filler and sometimes-wild storylines (Rick Pitino and Sean Miller, among others, make sure of that), but never the focus. Except now. In March, college hoops takes center stage.
To begin the swell of momentum, schedulers smartly feature prominent matchups to close the regular season (the final Saturday includes Duke @ UNC and Michigan @ Michigan St.), followed by conference tournaments to further build that wave and introduce the larger population to potential Cinderallas like Wofford and Lipscomb. Selection Sunday increases the fervor, as the Greg Gumbel’s dulcet voice reveals the NCAA field and sets the stage for the ensuing headliner (don’t do it in alphabetical order, PLEASE). It all crests with the madness (sorry) of the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend, a gambler’s delight and office productivity manager’s nightmare all wrapped up into one, washing over the nation in a multi-day spectacle unlike any other.
Here at 3MW, March takes on a special significance. All three of us eat, sleep, and breathe college basketball year-round, and for one glorious month, everyone else shines the spotlight on our beloved game, too. This month means that a random coworker wants to know if there’s another Loyola-Chicago in the field or who the most likely 12-over-5 candidates are. And sure, that interest is fueled by bracket pools, but we don’t care. We just want to share the sport we adore with as large an audience as possible.
Naturally, there will be a crowd of naysayers who rip the talent level or the refs or obsess over “amateurism,” much like some of my classmates would whine that “the graphics really aren’t that good” when they were left out of the PS2 gatherings. To those people, I say: take off your Scrooge monocle, you’re completely missing the point!! The NCAA Tournament, and March in general, brings a wholly unique event to the forefront of the country’s athletics awareness, with what is essentially a 340+ team tournament unfolding over 5 weeks. Anything that massive in scale will have its warts, but there’s so much beauty in the process that spending too much time belaboring the blemishes causes you to miss out on the greatness happening almost daily.
My lifelong devotion to March Madness originated as soon as I understood how a bracket worked, I believe at age 6. Our neighbors across the street in quiet suburban Wisconsin hosted a $5 pool that my parents let me participate in throughout childhood (thanks Mom and Dad!). I would spend ungodly amounts of hours staring at my sheet of paper before finally filling out final choices; I didn’t have anywhere near the level of knowledge or engagement with the broader college hoops landscape that I do today, but I loved the sport and watched/read as much as I could, so I thought I was “sharp.”
My breakthrough came in 1999 at age 9, when I correctly pegged UConn to win the title, knocking off heavily favored Elton Brand and Duke in a championship game that I didn’t even get to watch the end of (bedtimes, you know). Rip Hamilton became my hero, and I used my winnings from the pool to purchase Pokémon Blue Version for GameBoy just before our family’s spring break – best vacation ever as I spent that trip to Florida with my face glued to my GameBoy screen (and perhaps saddest - go find some friends, Jim).
Ever since I knew what it was, I’ve been all in on the NCAA Tournament, attempting to watch every minute of every game if at all possible. I started down the bracketology road at age 15 with a few friends in Wisconsin, and I continue to observe Selection Sunday as a holiday on par with the 4th of July or Thanksgiving. Nothing makes me happier than receiving an out-of-the-blue text from a friend or family member simply saying “Merry Christmas!” in the middle of March. Those people *get* me.
Because of this borderline-insane love for March and the NCAA Tournament, I have an abundance of memories and stories of finding ways to watch games or altering my life to accommodate March’s demands on my time. Allow me to indulge a few of my favorites:
1. I was never allowed to fake sick and stay home from school for the tournament’s opening days, but I would be the first person out the school’s doors and onto the bus when the day ended, impatiently waiting for the ride home to end so that I could glue myself to the screen until bedtime. This also began the annual tradition of sheer joy/utter anguish at circling a winner/slashing through a loser on my bracket (I was never a highlighter guy).
2. For the first Thursday and Friday, my grade school and high school would wheel TVs into the cafeteria during lunch so that we could watch the opening tips (our lunchtimes consistently coincided with the 11:20am CST openers), and you already know my friends and I had an unspoken reservation at the table nearest the TV setup.
3. I was also renowned for “going to the bathroom” during class for extended periods of time – this was [not very clever] code for sneaking around the school until I found an empty classroom where I could barricade myself inside and turn on whatever game was on. My most vivid memory of this was being holed up in our 7th grade science lab watching Dwyane Wade and Travis Diener barely survive an opening round scare from Holy Cross (yes, that’s the Marquette team that eventually made the Final Four).
4. During freshman year of high school in 2005, I somehow managed to find my first girlfriend (baffling, really). On a Saturday in mid-March, a friend decided to have a bunch of people over to watch scary movies (coincidentally, that friend was Kyle, the same PlayStation 2 pioneer from the intro), because that’s what freshmen in high school did. Now you must know: I absolutely despise scary movies with every ounce of my being. I’ll read the Wikipedia plot summary, but I basically cannot watch them. They terrify me and give me nightmares; I’m a complete wimp. So instead of watching The Ring with my newfound significant other, I left her alone on a couch, sat upstairs with Kyle’s dad, and watched Bruce Pearl lead the Milwaukee Panthers to the Sweet 16. She eventually dumped me on the 4th of July right before the fireworks show, and honestly it’s just wild that it took her that long.
5. In spring 2010, I joined a business fraternity at the University of Missouri. As part of our pledgeship, our group of newbies had to attend a team-building day…starting at noon on Selection Sunday, meaning my bracketology bunker would be vacant. There was a 0% chance I was going to let that happen, though. We had a St. Patrick’s Day party the night before, and while I did attend, I didn’t drink and convincingly faked sick to give myself plausible deniability when I was simply “too ill” to build any team spirit the following day. Always thinking multiple steps ahead when it comes to March…
6. In 2014, I became utterly consumed by a desire to go to Las Vegas for the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament (my first year out of grad school and working full-time - $$ helps). The tales of Vegas as an epicenter for the event, particularly as a gambling pilgrimage, opened up a whole new way to soak in those magnificent first four days. Luckily, I had enough friends (and friends of friends) who felt the same allure, and six years later, the annual tradition continues. It’s my favorite weekend of the year, a throwback time with buddies where we can relax, watch basketball, have some alcoholic beverages, and lose ourselves in the mystique of the madness. As long as I have an office job, I will flat-out refuse to work those days.
If you’re reading this particular article, I’m sure you have some memories/stories of your own – I’d love to hear any and all, so tweet us @3MW_CBB or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your best ones, and I may put together the best into a collection.
Starting 3MW has only amplified this month’s meaning to me, as it has allowed me to carve out a niche in the college basketball sphere and give my thoughts on the NCAA committee’s selections, game matchups, etc., etc. It’s been a privilege being a part of this site as it has grown (exponentially this year), and interacting with more and more people who share a similar passion for the sport has been incredibly rewarding.
Individual memories have always made March bliss for me, but this month is about so much more: hordes of casual college basketball fans (and plenty more who aren’t even that) coming together to share and appreciate an epic annual event. March provides a stage for otherwise-anonymous players and schools to elevate themselves into the nation’s consciousness, with every year allowing the emergence of the next Florida Gulf Coast or Steph Curry to take the sports world by storm.
March brings iconic calls by some of the best announcers of all time, exclamations that become synonymous with the play they are describing. No one accomplished this feat quite like Gus Johnson, although he no longer gets to call the tournament because of his company affiliation (I don’t care who has to mediate the deal, Fox and CBS/Turner NEED to find a way to allow him to cross networks in the same way Bill Raftery does. Withholding Gus during March should be a felony). Still, though, statements like, “Sorrentine hit that one from the parking lot!” or “THE SLIPPER STILL FITS!” will live on in NCAA Tournament lore forever (click for the clips).
March brings shocking moments of pure joy and utter dejection, an experience in human emotion unlike any other sporting event. For so many athletes, a loss signals the end of an era in that player’s life, sometimes the very last organized basketball game that he will ever play. That breeds unrivaled raw emotion, often featured in One Shining Moment (during which I frequently join the players in shedding a few tears). There’s an insanely fine line between the stunned elation of a dramatic victory and the shocked dejection of a catastrophic loss:
March brings absolutely epic games between two inconspicuous teams. The most incredible trading of haymakers that I’ve ever seen was the Sweet 16 matchup between Kansas State and Xavier in 2010, with Tu Holloway and Jordan Crawford matching Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen shot-for-shot until the Wildcats ultimately pulled away in double overtime. point out that none of these dude had much pro succes It didn’t hurt that Gus was announcing that game, too:
And every year, March brings us new legends to celebrate, unknown players that emerge on the grandest stage to become god-like figures. Only March Madness could turn “Farokhmanesh” into an Urban Dictionary entry:
March brings memories. Every single year.
Here we are, entering the 2019 version of March. A wondrous stretch of hoops awaits. This is about everything I just mentioned - personal experiences, cultural touchstone moments - all coming together in one month as the entire nation watches. No sport is as synonymous with a month as college hoops is with March (sorry, October baseball). The Super Bowl is only one day. The World Cup and the Olympics take over our collective attention in a similar way when they happen, but those only occur every four years, and they’re decidedly different spectacles. For 30+ days each year, everything orbits around college basketball, and as someone who devotes an outrageous amount of my time to the sport, I can’t wait to share it with every single one of you.
So whatever your reason for loving March – be it office pool competition, scouting the best NBA prospects, a socially acceptable reason for daytime gambling, whatever – welcome. It’s going to be one hell of a month.