March Madness is my favorite holiday. I love it all; the blood, sweat and tears, along with the crushed dreams, elation, good and bad calls and celebrations. There’s even more to love this year because CBS finally wised up and partnered with TBS, TNT and TruTV to broadcast every minute of every game. My only regret is that work prohibited me from watching as much as I had in years past, but I think I got a solid 36 hours or so of games in. I’m pretty sure this isn’t feasible, but I do think the Government should issue national holidays for the first Thursday and Friday of March Madness. Now that would be a political cause worth picketing for.
It took me a solid 2-3 days to get over the fact that the Gophers would not be continuing in the post-season. After I got over that bout of depression, I looked forward to the games ahead. In this 1st weekend, just 4 days in, there were examples of just about everything I love about March Madness:
- The “Any Given Sunday” mentality
It doesn’t matter how you’ve done all season, who you beat, or what seed you are. All that matters is that you are the better team on that given day. You could have a match-up where your opponent would beat you 9 out of 10 times, but if you just have the heart, passion, and execution to play your best game for 40 minutes of regulation, and you will advance. I’m guessing many would say that 4th seeded Louisville is a better team than 13th seeded Morehead State on most days. However, on Thursday during the 1st round of the tournament, Morehead State pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the tournament, and sent Coach Rick Pitino to the announcer’s desk for the rest of the tournament.
- The joy
I think CBS played the Butler celebration in the locker room about 100 times. They could play it 100 more and I would never get sick of it. I hesitate to call Butler the Cinderella team, because that’s what they were last year. They proved themselves to the world that they were the small school that could take on any powerhouse school. This year, it looks like they are determined to repeat that. This is a school that isn’t known for their 5 star recruits, but they play as a team, and have overachieved beyond what anyone could have expected. In the Sweet 16 they will face Wisconsin, and they are so adored by fans that I had a Badger fan actually text me and say she would have a tough time rooting for her alma mater, because they are so likable. I admit, that’s not the entire story—she also said it was because Brad Stevens is so dreamy…and I can’t disagree with that.
- Finding out who’s overrated
Yes, this is a shot at the Big East. 11 teams made it in, only 2 teams made it to the Sweet 16. There are actually more double digit seeds that made it to the Sweet 16 (4 – Richmond, VCU, Marquette, and Florida State) than Big East teams. On the flip side, I need to give credit to the ACC where it’s due. Coming into the tournament, they were looked at as only the 5th best conference in the nation, and many were down on the ACC as a whole this year. Three out of their 4 bids made it to the Sweet 16: Duke, UNC and Florida State, with only Clemson not advancing.
I’ve been to the 1st and 2nd rounds, regionals, and 7 Final Fours (and am excited about my 8th one in Houston in 2 weeks). I have to tell you, at every level, these are affordable events that fans can easily attend on a moderate budget. I looked at attending the SuperBowl when my Packers made it there this year. The face on even the cheapest ticket is over $700, so figured paying $2000-$3000 from a scalper, then airfare would be another grand, add on hotel, food, drinks, parking, etc, and you’re at a trip that costs you at least $5000, if not more. Last year we were very lucky to have the Gophers play in Milwaukee for the 1st round game, so we paid minimal gas money to drive there, $60 for a hotel on Priceline for a room at the Hilton where the Gophers stayed, and $100 for 6th row tickets. Even including drinks and food, this trip was under $300. For the Final Four, tickets to Houston were $200, tickets to both the Final Four and the National Championship game will be around $300, and we are lucky enough to have a friend’s place to stay at. Even if were to stay at a hotel, the trip would be an affordable trip that many fans can afford if they choose to spend their money that way. I’m not saying everyone can make these trips, but it’s certainly not as spendy or as difficult to do as other sporting events. I think that’s why I love traveling to these games so much; you meet great fans that are just regular people who love their teams. Some are college kids that piled into a van, others are alums that are able to go out all and get the nice hotel, rental cars, and great seats.
- The emotion
I don’t think there’s any sporting event that can cause such elation, or have the ability to absolutely crush so many athletes in the span of a few weeks. I don’t care what anyone says, these kids care so much, and they leave every bit of themselves on the court. Look at Jacob Pullen from Kansas State: he had a career high 38 points against Wisconsin, more points than any one player had ever scored on them in the tournament’s history. Instead of reflecting on his great personal performance, he was absolutely crushed by the loss. I don’t know anyone who could watch this video and not have their heart break for a kid that would give anything to be playing next weekend:
It’s not just the players, it’s the coaches too. Princeton’s Sydney Johnson was too choked up in his press conference to answer questions. Keep in mind, Princeton was a #13 seed, playing a #4 Kentucky team. They took Kentucky to the wire and lost to them by only two points. It’s not as if they were expected to win, they could have walked away and simply been proud of how well they performed, but they wanted the “W” so badly.
- “One Shining Moment”
This video says it all. I find that “One Shining Moment” is the happiest and saddest moment for me during the college basketball season. It’s sad because I know it’s over and will have to wait until October to get my hoops fix, but it’s also the happiest because it’s the compilation of all the ups and downs in the tournament. In just a few minutes, the entire tournament flashes all of the amazing memories that were created, including highlights the highest of the highs, and the lowest of the lows. At the Final Four we always move down from our nosebleed seats to watch this video, and just like the tournament it depicts, it brings every emotion out of me. It helps remind me of the immense appreciation I have for March Madness and how sacred college basketball is to me.