Monday, March 28, 2011

Madness Methodology

I have organized and managed a March Madness Pool for most of - if not all of - the past fifteen years.  This year's edition of the Madness has been extraordinary.  For many of those folks participating in the Pool - including Yours truly - the hope of winning it all fell far short of falling victim to a buzzer-beater in Houston on April's first Monday.  For us, this year's Round of 16 proved to be not simply unsweetened, but sour.  If you are a Poolster whose choice to win the tournament was slightly off of the beaten path (such as my embrace of the Aztecs of SDSU) then the premature end to your dreams of glory - while disappointing - was certainly not surprising.  If however you were a player whose fingers are still covered in the dust of the chalk you played filling out your bracket, then the exits that first Pitt and thereafter Duke and Ohio State made from the festivities before even reaching the Regional Finals detonated any chance you had of winning and most assuredly took you by as much surprise as it did the kids on those respective teams.

With absolutely no chance of winning it all, I intend to enjoy next week's Final Four as a fan.  And as a fan I am rooting this year as I did last year for the Bulldogs of Butler.  Perhaps the soft spot in my heart for Butler has its genesis in the fact that in Hoosiers the Hickory High School team competed for the Indiana State High School Championship on the floor at the Butler Field House.  Perhaps it is the fact that their coach looks as if he is roughly thirteen and one half minutes old.  I do not doubt that not only does Coach Brad Stevens get asked for identification any time he attempts to purchase a beer but also any time he attends a movie at the Cineplex without either of his parents on his arm.  I also do not doubt for a moment that this young man can flat-out coach basketball.  His Horizon League Champions shall play this year once again in the Final Four.  I am not certain for how much longer the "Cinderella" label shall apply to Butler.  One might think that after this year, folks might have to come up with something new to call them. If they are able to make their weekend trip to Houston a successful one, "National Champs" will fit the bill quite nicely.

The inherent appeal to me of this tournament (from the perspective of a person who watches perhaps 11 minutes of college basketball all season leading up to the NCAA tournament) is that there is something uniquely American about it.  At least kinda, sorta.  The NCAA does not invite every team to play.  The Missus and me shall spend Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden cheering hard for one such snubbed bunch in the NIT Final Four.  But once the invitations are handed out, the competition is structured in such a way that whenever David encounters Goliath, he is carrying a full complement of flat stones.  Aim and courage are his responsibility.  And while more often than not it is Goliath who survives the encounter and who lives to tell the tale, it is not always the case.  And David emerges victorious from enough of them that those of us watching at home believe in the possibility of it happening.  It is the desire to bear witness to such an event that - at least in part - puts eyeballs in front of television screens for a few weeks every spring. 

What will happen on the court in Houston in the final three games of the men's college hoops season?  Other than knowing that ultimately only one of the four teams presently standing will still be doing so by the time the final horn sounds on Monday's Championship Game, I cannot hope to hazard a guess.  And that is what makes real-life events far superior to reality television.  The best drama is that which is unscripted, which unfolds in front of the eyes of the audience at the same time as it does in front of the eyes of those taking part in it.  Irrespective of your rooting interest - if any - it is simply great stuff. 

-AK

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