Tournament Time…

By Sean Haley –

It’s that time of year again. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. March Madness. Let’s talk about it.

It’s probably the best postseason in sports. Everybody loves it. You don’t even have to be a serious basketball fan to get caught up in it. It’s basically a month long excuse for you and your friends to eat junk food, drink cheap booze, and yell obscenities at your television set. Considering that my beloved Illini are (again) a long shot to even make the field, my participation in the yelling part will be minimal at best. I did most of my screaming & cursing (and crying) during the regular season.

To be honest, most of the people who watch the games aren’t even sports fans. I have no problem with that, because the tournament has evolved so much, that it doesn’t even matter. With 64 teams (not counting the sacrificial lambs from the play-in game) in the tourney, practically everybody watching has someone to root for. You can root for a conference, a team, a player, or whatever. You can root against people for those same reasons. (See also: Blue Devils, Duke). It’s all about wall-to-wall hoops for a month. One of the best parts about the tournament is that unlike the NBA playoffs, EVERY game counts. There’s no night off. If you lose, you’re done. No “best of” series. The best players shine, and legends are born. But then again, if you’re reading this, you’re a pretty knowledgeable person; so you know how this all works. Bear in mind, I’m not going to give you pointers on how to fill out a perfect bracket , or what teams to avoid, or any of that jive. Why? Because the people who give out that advice are still giving out that same advice year after year, as opposed to spending the billions they’d make if it actually worked. So yeah, don’t trust a guy who has the same half-assed basketball IQ and spotty internet connections as you do. NOBODY has ever picked a perfect bracket, and neither will you or I.

Like most people, I participate in the office pool. (This is strictly for entertainment purposes, of course). I print out a bracket (actually, two), make my picks, and fill them out; one with my head, one with my heart. They both usually suck, but that’s not the point. I don’t gamble on sports, but if there’s an entry fee (or ‘pot’) I’ll pay it…as long as it isn’t much more than five or ten bucks. Anything above that amount violates my ‘don’t gamble on sports’ rule. I’m not joking. Nothing more than a ten-spot. Anything beyond that tends to get ugly, especially in the work place. There’s always the guy who ‘forgot to pay’ (Unless he wins. Then he wants his money at 8:01am the day after the game). Now that I think about it, there’s a bunch of different guys:

The guy who says: “I always/only bet on my Alma Mater.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. However, if he went to an institution that happens to be a perennial Basketball power? Whoa boy. He won’t shut up until his team gets knocked out (or his teeth, but whatever). Nothing else matters; in his mind, the only teams in the tournament are his, and the ones who he thinks will at some point get eliminated by his team. (p.s. I’m not this guy. I’m not foolish enough to root for The Illini in public anymore, let alone get loud about it.)

The guy who fills out multiple brackets. This dude is basically throwing poop at the wall and seeing what sticks: Six brackets, six different picks for National Champion. He has his ‘main’ bracket, his ‘upset special’ and a ton of other (incorrect) brackets that he was wasted his money on. The people who organize the pool LOVE this guy. He makes the pot bigger. Who are we to stop him? Gonzaga might win it all someday.

The Basketball Expert. He’s watched every game all season, knows a million statistics, and can name the starting 5 for every team in the Sweet Sixteen. Naturally, his bracket gets wiped out by the end of the first round. One upset, and he’s done. I usually get in one of those pools where you can see everybody’s progress on line. It’s always hilarious when all of his brackets are amongst the bottom of the bunch. “HoopWiz1- Tied for 13th place, HoopWiz2 – 15th place, HoopWiz3 -10th place”…and so forth.

The non-fan, aka ‘The Newbie.’ The person who has never been in an office pool. Not only is that a lie, but THIS is the person who’s usually leading the pack by the Sweet Sixteen. Through a series of unforeseen circumstances ( i.e. three upsets in the first round, a freak injury to an All-American, a buzzer beater from half court, etc.) the majority of this person’s picks all wind up winning, and they end up building an insurmountable lead early in the pool. They’re pretty much spending the pot money by the time the Elite Eight rolls around. Lucky Bastard.

The intern. There’s no science to this guy’s bracket. He enters the pool because everybody keeps badgering him about it, and tells him how much fun it is. (In some instances, The Intern and The Newbie are the same person.) His selection technique is as follows: random, but solid picks, and he knows just enough about college hoops not to do anything stupid; a simple, yet effective mix of dumb luck and skill. He fills out only one bracket and he doesn’t even bother checking the results from week to week. He’ll be just as surprised as you when they hand him the cabbage. Which he’ll probably spend on a new phone charger, a pair of pants, or something boring.

There’s also the clown who picks upsets in EVERY round and in every game. He’s clueless, and he’s just wasting time and money. Sometimes he’ll try to apply some type of backwards logic: “Well, Kentucky won by 40 points in the first round, so naturally they’re due for a loss!” If he somehow gets one right, he thinks he’s a genius. When he gets it wrong, it’s “what was supposed to happen anyway”. He’s a doofus, so avoid him on game day, and if he tries to talk about the games or his ‘strategy’, just smile and nod. (Oddly enough, people like this tend to try to talk to you while you’re in the bathroom. Do you think there’s a connection?) Just consider his entry a donation to the pot.

Naturally, I’m not of these guys. I’m just a dude who somehow winds up in the middle of the pack. I never win, but I never finish last. (This is why I never drop a lot of cash on this stuff.) I’m just here for the Buffalo wings. I enjoy watching the games, and if my teams do well, I’m good with that. If there’s whiskey involved, it’s a win-win for me. I think I actually came in third or fourth once; which if memory serves me correctly, won me my money back. They call that a “Zero Sum Game”, my friends. As Mike G of The Jungle Brothers once famously said: “for someone to win, somebody’s got to lose…”. Again; this is why betting (in my opinion) serves no purpose, especially when the parties involved work together. There’s nothing more ridiculous than seeing two grown men involved in a heated ( sometimes physical) exchange knock over a pot of tepid, inferior brand coffee as they argue over less than $100 in “winnings”. (However, those of us who hail from the inner cities of this fine nation have come to learn; it ain’t always about the amount. You don’t play with a man’s money, son…)

Without a doubt, we’ll again be treated to the finest display of collegiate athletics the NCAA has to offer; a timeless classic filled with high drama, where one proud team of fearless contenders on a quest for victory will swiftly and soundly vanquish all opponents, and rise to the pinnace of the mountain, where they alone will stand, to be crowned as Champions. Oh whatever…go nuts. Have fun, get drunk, eat some nachos, and pick some good teams whether you like them or not. Watch some games with your friends and/or coworkers. If you win, don’t be a boastful jackass. If you lose, don’t be a miserable jerk. It’s the only excuse you’ll ever have for watching TV at work. I’ll be watching too.

-SH

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