Posts Tagged ‘March Madness’

The tournament’s just not that into you. It’s not you, it’s it. The tournament does not care about your crazy Cinderella stories and upset specials. Early on, yes, it was exciting. That’s when unsuspecting top seeds are supposed to get upended by upstarts trying, no dying, to make a splash and instantly put a new program on the map. Lehigh became only the fifth #15 seed to beat a #2 when they beat Duke this year. When that happened, you guys were still in that “can’t keep your hands off of each other, hot and heavy” phase. The tournament was expectedly exhilarating. It had you tuning in to games on three or four channels. You were bending over backwards to make sure you didn’t miss any of the action.

But you guys settled into sort of an annual, predictable rut. Turns out that the exciting tournament you fell in love with for its craziness and spontaneity was just a regular, boring ole tournamental showcase for the NCAA’s elite programs again. These elite programs continue to trump all the initial madness, triumphing over all the smaller conferences, mid-majors, and majorly unequipped programs to claim championship after championship. Once you get past the Sweet 16, the shocks dissipate, and what we’re left with is another notch on the belt for a top ranked program.

The most recent surprise to win it all? That would be Villanova as a #8 seed back in 1985. Since then, there have been 26 champions-16 of them were #1 seeds in their respective region. 4 were #2 seeds. 4 were #3 seeds. One was a #4 seed: Mike Bibby and Miles Simon’s (yes, THEE Miles Simon) Arizona Wildcats from 1997. The other was Danny Manning and Larry Brown’s Kansas Jayhawks from 1988, who won it all under the moniker Danny and The Miracles as a #6 seed.

For anyone who thinks the gap is anywhere near being bridged between major powerhouse programs and the wannabe up and comers, look around. Hi, I’m reality. Have we met? Baylor had a nice little regular season, but Brittney Griner and the Lady Bears might give them a run if it ever came down to it. Butler almost beat Duke a couple years ago in the Final, but come on. It’s Duke. They’re always susceptible to a loss in March. VCU made the Final Four last year, but they lost to Indiana in the second round this year. The aforementioned Butler actually had consecutive Final Four appearances leading up to this year, and this year ended up in the College Basketball Invitational. These two budding programs (Butler and VCU) are actually getting more attention this time of year for their coaches, baby faced Brad Stephens and frenetic Shaka Smart, deciding not to fill the head coaching vacancy at Illinois. The lack of a sustained effort over the course of time for these, and I use the term loosely, underprivileged schools makes for nice symbolism for their inability to break through the rigamaro of the tourney to win a national title. It’s a lot like the real life scenario when trying to get a job in your chosen industry: “Well, your resume looks good, but you don’t have any experience.” Bitch, how am I supposed to get any experience in the industry if you won’t give me the experience? How are these schools supposed to recruit without any credibility as national champions? They’re fighting a losing battle. Some high school graduates choose Purdue for engineering, Harvard to become President, West Point to take over the military, or Oxford to hone their scholarly crafts. Other high school graduates go to Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, or UCLA to play basketball (Disclaimer: the author is well-aware of every mentioned university’s academic achievements in addition to their sports accolades; this is a sports site though, after all).

The real madness lies in the fact that these student athletes are not allowed to reap any of the financial benefits until after leaving school and turning pro. Enter John Calipari. Those aforementioned high school seniors deciding where to attend college? If they desire to cash checks signed by David Stern and the NBA, they go wherever John Calipari is strolling the sidelines. He’s done it at UMass, Memphis, and now Kentucky. Rick Pitino has done it in four different decades. Bill Self has done it at Illinois and Kansas, and Thad Matta has done it twice now with Ohio State. Getting to the Final Four is one thing. Being the Final One is what it’s all about, but once again it’s going to be a well-known, already reputable school who will be the beat the bracket

This year, the teams that were supposed to be here are here. It’s not quite a 2008 situation when all four #1 seeds advanced to the Final Four, but Kentucky at #1, Ohio State and Kansas at #2, and Louisville at #4 is relatively…sane. These four powerhouse programs have a combined 20 Final Four appearances. Insane.

Looking back on your relationship with the NCAA Tournament though, it never was all that mad. The initial rounds provide some spark, but the top seeds who inevitably fizzle out are somewhat usual suspects to begin with (ahem, Duke, ahem). The Final Four is, and should be, reserved for the upper-echelon basketball programs who were ranked in the top ten all year for a reason. The SaniTERRYum is reserved for some semblance of madness, but March’s spark is fizzling fast.

That’s the beauty of March Madness: anything can happen. Only when reality sinks in do people realize that it usually doesn’t.

“The only difference between myself and a madman is that I AM NOT MAD!” -Salvador Dali

That magical time of year is upon us once again, hoop heads: the most wonderful time of the sports year when everyone becomes a college basketball “fan,” and the bracket racket gets un-drownoutably loud.

This is the best time of year to visit Cad T. Wasp’s The SaniTERRYum. Madness comes into full bloom by the end of March, and sports’ true unpredictable nature is on full display. You go to New England in the fall for the foliage. You leave Chicago in winter for the beaches of California and Florida. You come to The SaniTERRYum in March for the madness. And you stay for the…wait, why are you still here?

Oh of course, The Madness of March! By the time you read this, your bracket could very well be abundantly busted to smithereens. Or you could be on pace for a handsome payout. Here lies the heartbreaking beauty of March’s madness. How many brackets are you filling out? Who’s going to upset who? Yadda, yadda, yadda. Just enjoy the fact that we get a tournament at the end of the basketball season and not some ridiculous math equation that is the bullshit BCS. This is why  they should always play the games. Anything can happen, and you can’t put anything past anyone. I may submit brackets to several sources, but it is usually the same bracket. None of this, “I’ve got so and so in this bracket and so and so in that bracket.” One bracket. One prediction. Why would you get to make multiple predictions? Kind of takes away from the integrity of your selections, no?

I probably get my good sports gambling acumen from my dad. Growing up, he and I would rip out our brackets from the Sun-Times’ sports section and take our picks on every game, down to the NCAA Champion. I have picked North Carolina to win it all every year for as long as I can remember, and the nice thing about that is I end up being right every six to twelve years. Anyway, we’d fill out our brackets, and then we’d determine the stakes. No matter how well you predicted the Sweet 16, the Elite 8 or the Final 4, the only way you won was if your pick as champion withstood the test of the tournament of tournaments to be crowned champ. My prize was always something along the lines of a pullover Starter jacket or a new pair of shoes or a Georgetown Hoyas hat. He’d always end up getting me what I desired as winner of our bet regardless of win or lose, but it was always so much more rewarding when I actually won the whole thing on my own accord.

That’s how March Madness began for me. Father/son bonding over light sports gambling. I was probably eight or nine years old, already a full-blown basketball nerd. I don’t know if my dad ever beat me in those pools, because I definitely don’t recollect him collecting any winnings from me-his only son. To this day though, I still recall fondly visiting on weekends with Dad, catching the Tar Heels with Dick “Yea Bay-Bee” Vitale. They’ll always be my team, and I’m picking Harrison, Roy and The Tar Heels this year to cut down the nets in New Orleans.

And the tournament has its teams, its usual suspects year after year. There’s a reason for that, and it’s called recruiting. There’s a reason Freshman/Player of the Year Anthony Davis spurned hometown Chicago and Illinois schools for Calipari and Kentucky. Same goes for Derrick Rose and all other Chicago prep phenoms. Recruiting is the reason the top seeds go to the Kentuckys, North Carolinas, Syracuses and Michigan States of the college basketball world. There’s a reason Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, and Coach K perennially attract the top recruiting classes and remain the elite programs of the NCAA

The recruiting process only gets you so far though. Just ask Bill (and his choking) Self. You can practically pencil Kansas in for an early exit every year, no matter how good their regular seasons look. The beauty of a tournament at the end of the season lies in the opportunity for schools like VCU, George Mason, and Butler. The opportunity for the upper echelon schools to prove themselves is a beautiful thing, too. It’s still very survival of the fittest, very only the strong survive.

In The SaniTERRYum, anything is possible and interpretation is open for business. Just like the rigors and excitement of the NCAA Tournament.

Let the madness begin…