The first week of the NCAA Tournament is now complete, and I don’t think there is anyone questioning why they call the tournament “March Madness”. My bracket along with 99.9 percent of everyone else’s bracket has been shattered with the likes of Virginia, Villanova, Baylor, Iowa State, and Kansas all failing to advance to the sweet sixteen. The heartbreak has been palpable for some higher seeds, but that means some underdogs got to put on the glass slipper for a moment and steal the spotlight. Atlanta’s own Georgia State was the darling of the tournament with the storyline of an injured head coach with his star player being his son, and of course the return of Kevin Ware to the tournament after a gruesome injury just two seasons ago.
March is a mixture of emotions for fans and players alike. As a fan, if you have a horse in the race that is a high seed, it takes guts to pick against them and it can be heart wrenching to know you need your favorite school to lose to be able to win your bracket pool. With all the crunching of the numbers, at the end of the day the NCAA Tournament is a complete crapshoot. Teams can have poor shooting performances, referees can botch calls (see SMU-UCLA), and injuries can occur but that is what makes the tournament so great. The games aren’t played on paper; they are won and lost on the court. For the high majority of these players that are seniors, this is their final time playing basketball on a big stage. Many will simply graduate and pursue a career in something other than basketball while some will chase the dream overseas and will eventually become a distant memory in a few years.
The passion that these players play with is real. The literal blood, sweat, and tears are real. It is a special feeling knowing that an entire fan base or sometimes an entire nation is behind you and rooting for you to succeed. Georgia State gave us a great story. After a 75-67 loss to Xavier ending the Panthers’ magical season, Coach Ron Hunter’s emotions spilled over in the postgame press conference. “What a great week. Unbelievable week. There’s nothing to be sad about, especially for me,” Hunter said. “We’ll be back. … But it’s not even about that now,” the coach added, turning to his son. “As a coach, best time of my life. But as a father — I love this kid, man. I love you.”
The fact that March Madness is unpredictable is the reason why the first two days of games played are the least productive work days all year. Eyes are glued to unsung heroes and schools that you never knew existed and wouldn’t even fathom trying to find on a map hold your emotions—and sometimes wallets—in their hands. It’s the one time of year where someone can not watch a lick of basketball the entire season, but can confidently say, “this will be the perfect bracket”. As important as it is to study the game and compare and contrast styles, once the ball is tipped everything goes out the window.
It is important to remember to enjoy the tournament and to appreciate student-athletes putting everything out on the line. Don’t get bogged down with the stress of your bracket crumbling (which it always does), or the fact that your favorite team got ousted way too soon. March is a month long celebration of talent, teamwork and togetherness. The tournament brings families and friends alike together to root on their favorite teams or pray for the wildest of finishes. The excitement that the tournament brings makes it unparalleled to any other sport. If your team makes the field of 65, you have a chance no matter what the pundits say. A 16-seed will beat a number one very soon and when that happens, the entire tournament will be turned upside down. Though some argue about the quality of the college game with players leaving early and low scoring, we can all agree that there is nothing quite like March Madness.