I’ve always said the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is the greatest setup in sports.
Football and baseball always will be two of my favorite sports, but the annual March tournament brings more excitement than any bowl game, World Series or Super Bowl.
There’s no tournament quite like it; 68 teams have a chance to win a national championship. Teams such as George Mason Butler and Florida Gulf Coast get their 15 minutes of fame and have their school websites crash because hundreds of thousands of people are Googling to find out where their schools are located after they become a tournament “Cinderella.”
To save you the trouble, George Mason is in Fairfax, Va., and Butler calls Indianapolis home.
The tournament has its fair share of emotions, but that is what makes it great.
Every year I fill out a bracket. Or two. Or, in the case of this year, eight.
Every year, I think my brackets are fullproof, just as someone who purchased a ticket to a Powerball lottery with an enormous payout.
And every year, without fail, my brackets are busted, yet I keep coming back.
The more time and research I put into my brackets, the worse I do, but every year, I try harder for that perfect bracket.
It will probably never happen, and if it does, it probably won’t be the one that wins me a $1 million. But that’s OK, because it’s not about the final bracket or the prizes that come with it; it’s about the ride.
There always will be upsets, and with a field that large, you never know when or where those upsets will occur. Teams that win aren’t always the better team, just the better team that day. Match-ups mean everything, yet there is no exact science to predicting outcomes.
Still, I spend every year trying to come up with the winning formula, only to be beaten by friends and colleagues that pick winners based on school colors or the cuter mascot.
This year, I was doing quite well. My upset picks went according to plan, and the teams I had going deep in the tournament took care of their first-round opponents. At one point, I was ranked 10th in the nation in one bracket contest and ranked in the top 100 in the world on ESPN’s bracket challenge.
Then Harvard won, Wisconsin lost and FGC knocked off Georgetown (whom I had reaching at least the Elite Eight in all my brackets), icing the cake of my busted bracket.
As my frustration mounted, my television remained on. I didn’t flip the channel, and my bracket app on my phone remained open.
As frustrating as it may be when the teams you pick lose, it’s those games that make the tournament so great. There is no such thing as a sure thing in sports, and that is especially true with this tournament. This truly is March Madness, and I love every minute of it.
After having their brackets busted, some may call it quits and stop following the tournament. Not me. I simply avert my attention to the underdogs, even if it’s one of the teams that sent my bracket into a downward spiral.
Everyone loves a good underdog story, and they don’t happen more often than in the NCAA tournament. The New York Giants spoiling the New England Patriots’ perfect season or Boise State beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl always will top the list of great upsets, but there’s nothing better than a school few have heard of knocking off a college basketball powerhouse.
Initially, I was infuriated when Harvard knocked off New Mexico, my surprise Final Four pick in one of my brackets, but I couldn’t stay mad at them. You’re talking about a bunch of kids — really intelligent kids — who love the game of basketball and are playing without athletic scholarships.
A funny thing happened while I watched the Florida Gulf Coast-Georgetown game.
You could get a sense early in the second half that FGC might be putting on the glass slipper. Watching them play, I was very impressed. They just flat-out beat Georgetown and were the more athletic team on the court.
Sunday, FGC took out San Diego State to advance to the Sweet 16. This is a school that has only been eligible for the tournament for two seasons. It is the youngest Division I school in Florida, founded in 1991.
Friday, the team will face the University of Florida, a school that was founded 144 years before the Fort Myers-based school.
For the brackets I have yet to destroy, I have Florida advancing to the Elite Eight, but I can’t say I’ll be disappointed if FGC’s Cinderella season continues.
Whether you don’t follow college basketball or are a self-proclaimed bracketologist like myself, I would suggest watching this game. It exemplifies why this month and this tournament are so great.