It’s March — Time to Cram for Madness

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Anyone else have that recurring dream, the one where you have a final exam coming up in a few hours, but you haven’t attended a single class all semester, have no notes, and aren’t even sure where you go to take the exam?

That’s how I’m feeling today knowing March Madness approaches and I’m badly unprepared.

It’s March 9th, and I woke up realizing that Madness is right around the corner, and I have no clue how to pick this year’s brackets.

Perhaps that’s a good thing? Because there’s been years where I’ve watched tons of games, poured over conference standings, looked for who was emerging healthy and with momentum from their conference tournaments (maybe with a senior point guard for good measure), and I would still lose handily to one of my daughters, whose picks were made on the basis of schools they would, or would not, want to attend.

And there’s just so many darn schools to sift through! As I get older, my sports bandwidth narrows, and sadly I must face the reality that given the choice between a late-season contest of Knicks-Kings (ugh, we lost again), a Mets spring training, split-squad matchup, and Gonzaga-St. Mary’s on the tube, the college hoops tilt finishes a distant third.

But being a sports fan is all about buying into the hype and showing up for the big events, and there is no bigger event than March Madness when it comes to gripping an entire country over a period of a few short weeks.

Cinderella Stories, Dickie V., rooting for Duke or Kansas (or, even better, both) to go down early yet again, all while planning dinner reservations around the Sweet 16 schedule. It makes for a steady diet of sports euphoria played to the hypnotic soundtrack of a basketball thumping off the hardwood.

Really, could there be anything better?

So I’m scrambling. I just watched Georgetown, on the road, hang on to take down a reeling Marquette team as the Big East squads jockey for tournament seeds. As that game bled into the next, I learned that St. John’s (St. John’s??!!) would earn a third seed in the Big East tourney with a win over Xavier tonight.

Who knew? I shake my head, as I thought I had read only a few weeks back that Chris Mullin was on the hot seat, and that his Johnnies were likely to miss The Dance this year.

I’ve always liked the Big East, even if today’s divisions now include teams that don’t  exactly scream out “East” (Xavier and Marquette?) to me. Add in the Big Fella, Patrick Ewing, down in D.C. coaching the Hoyas, and Mullin apparently resurrected, and I’m beginning to feel it a little. Game on!


And what about The Hall? Looks like New Jersey’s best hoops squad will sneak into The Dance again this year. My favorite March Madness ever was back in ’89, when Seton Hall came within a whistle (that should have been in the ref’s pocket at that stage of the game, for chrissakes!) of taking away the title from favored Michigan.

What a team they had — P.J. screaming himself hoarse from the sideline and Aussie rental Andrew Gaze draining jumpers as the senior-heavy, no-name Pirates absolutely shut down the likes of Duke and other premium programs with a clinic on how to play stifling, man-to-man defense on their way to the finals.

Yeah, I’ll probably go with all three of those Big East contenders in the first bracket I submit this year, knowing full well that I may go 0-3 on those picks. And that’s okay, because is there anything more fun than going over your brackets around midnight on that first Thursday and seeing how you did? Simultaneously celebrating, cursing and second-guessing the decisions of 48 hours prior.

What’s an acceptable first round result, by the way? I’ve always felt that if you don’t at least go 12-4 in each quadrant that first weekend, you are probably not winning your office pool. And there are other standards and superstitions that I carry into my March bracketology annually that never fail to both perplex me during selection Sunday, and torpedo my results a few days later. Such as:

*You absolutely can’t submit a bracket with all #1 seeds still standing in your Final Four

*If you pick the wrong #1 seed to be an early upset victim and are wrong — you are toast

*Every 8/9 matchup is a coin toss, and whoever emerges victorious is always just good enough to tempt you to pick that second round upset over the region’s #1 — don’t do it

*I will never pick a school coached by John Calipari, Jim Boeheim, Bob Huggins or Rick Pitino (c’mon, you know he’s going to resurface somewhere, someday) to win it all, on general principle, because they are all dicks. We call that the Bobby Knight rule

*Never pick Gonzaga to win it all, because Gonzaga (and Butler and other former-Cinderellas turned hoops factories) will never win the big one (you’re welcome, Zags fans)

*There is no better feeling than to correctly call an upset by a #14 seed, and no worse one than to strongly consider picking that #14, then change your mind at the last second to go with the favorite, only to watch the #14 win by 20

*You will rarely root harder against a team than when your best friend’s alma mater reaches the Final Four

*You will never root harder for a team than when your own perennially disappointing alma mater somehow sneaks into a play-in game (Go Dukes!)

*The degree of embarrassment when listed among the bottom five in your office pool’s cumulative point totals following the first weekend of Madness is akin to another familiar, recurring dream  — the one where you are in a crowded restaurant when you suddenly realize you aren’t wearing pants

Yup, there’s a lot of work to do over the next week or so to prepare me not to embarrass myself in this 2019 edition of March Madness. Sports Illustrated’s foolish decision to move to every other week issues only adds to the urgency for me to find alternate information sources pertaining to college hoops. The pressure to represent is enormous!

The New York Post (my staple for sports info) isn’t thorough in its national college basketball coverage, opting to focus most of their print on the locals (although they do an awesome prep spread the day before March Madness begins). I know there are blogs that offer help, not to mention an increasingly loud social media drumbeat (Twitter is the worst), but in the end, there will be a lot of guesswork and hope, not exactly recipes for coming away with the office kitty.

I mean, c’mon, apparently Tennessee is good this year? Yikes. And what to make of LSU? Will they allow that guilty as hell coach of theirs back on the bench for their first round matchup (here’s betting they will)? Will the Pac 12 underperform again (is Washington or Oregon our best chance out here? What happened to UCLA? I know, I know, I should know this…)?

Regardless, it’s an awesome time of year. The bridge between winter and spring, as baseball games turn real and pro hoops gears up for the “Dubs versus the field” showdown that will play out on TNT into the month of June.

I’ll do my best and submit a few brackets in various pools with a wide range of formats (my personal favorite awards bonus points for the differential between seeds, thus encouraging the selection of upsets).

And as the field thins after the first 10 days I’ll look for this year’s Cinderella, see if I gravitate toward any formerly unheralded freshman who has caught fire at the right time, and find my 2019 bandwagon to ride (preferably one coached by a hero of March’s past, named Patrick or Chris, or whoever it is that coaches Seton Hall these days).

It’s March, bring on the Madness.

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