Under The Bleachers: Understanding The Madness

Welcome to March Madness, the greatest 96-hour stretch of the sporting year – a period where personal hygiene and grooming are significantly less important than good friends, good seats, good snacks and good fortune for your personal Cinderella.

You can always shower on Monday; Sunday night if you’re not too emotionally spent.

For people that don’t like sports, the opening four days of the annual NCAA Men’s Division I National Basketball Tournament makes little sense. On paper, it’s a collection of mismatches and match-ups featuring numerous schools that even the most addicted basketball fiends in the country aren’t talking about on a regular basis. Most people would struggle to name a player in the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) starting line-up (Treveon Graham) or identify where exactly Butler University is located (Indianapolis), but they can tell you about those schools’ recent successes and their chances for making it through the opening weekend.

That’s part of the beauty of the tournament.

While everyone is familiar with the marquee schools from the major conferences and this year’s four No. 1 seeds – Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, Wisconsin – March Madness is the time when places like VCU and Wichita State get their opportunity to shine. Seeding only determines a team’s positioning heading into the tournament. Once the game tips off, the action on the court determines the outcome and the ball doesn’t care if you’re the top seed or a program no one has ever heard of before like Florida Gulf Coast University, who became the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 in 2013.

It’s not just that upsets happen either – though they occur every year and started early on Thursday, with No. 3 seeds Iowa State and Baylor getting bounced by No. 14 seeds University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and Georgia State respectively, while No. 6 SMU lost a heartbreaker to No. 11 UCLA, a team many pundits felt didn’t even deserve to be in the tournament in the first place.

Part of it is how they happen, exemplied perfectly by the Vine below depicting Georgia State’s win over Baylor on Thursday:

 

 That’s R.J. Hunter dropping a catch-and-shoot triple from the parking lot to finish the Bears and his coach and father, Ron Hunter, falling off his stool in excitement. It’s an amazing moment to kick off the this year’s tournament, but the truth is that those things happen almost every year.

Mention the name Bryce Drew to any college basketball fan over the age of 25 and they’ll tell you about the Valparaiso University point guard knocking down a deep three as the clock ticked down in the 1998 tournament.

Before Stephen Curry became an MVP candidate for the Golden State Warriors, he was a “baby-faced assassin” for Davidson in the NCAA Tournament, leading the No. 10 seeded Wildcats to the Elite 8 in 2008 with wins No. 7 Gonzaga, No. 2 Georgetown and No. 3 Wisconsin. Curry scored 98 points over those three outings and became an instant star.

The tournament is about players getting hot and carrying their teams through to the title, like Carmelo Anthony did with Syracuse in 2003 and Kemba Walker did with Connecticut eight years later.

It’s about Cinderella going to the Big Dance and hoping the clock doesn’t strike midnight before the National Championship game is over. George Mason University came close in 2006, losing in the Final Four to the eventual champions, Florida, while Butler heard the clock strike 12 in back-to-back National Championship games in 2010 and 2011.

It’s about Christian Laettner knocking down a turnaround from the foul line to sink Kentucky and Michigan’s Fab Five making history. It’s about Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State Wolfpack upsetting Houston in 1983 when Lorenzo Charles dunked home Derek Whittenburg’s airball as the clock ran out.

It’s about this year’s undefeated Kentucky Wildcats looking to complete a perfect season and 63 other teams hoping to be the ones that knock them off.

And though the tournament plays out over a number of weekends and ultimately concludes in Indianapolis on April 6, the best part of March Madness every year are the opening four days where favourites get knocked off, Cinderellas emerge and 48 games in 96 hours put hoop fanatics in a state of basketball bliss.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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