Saturday, March 15, 2008

March sadness

There is much to like about the NCAA basketball tournament. There is one thing I don't like.

The format itself is thrilling. It's always great to watch a Game Seven in sports, where everything is on the line for both teams. Well, this is the equivalent of having 64 such games within a few weeks of each other. Thirty-two of them come in the first two days of the tournament.

As Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News once said, there's nothing better in sports than when a shot is in the air when the buzzer sounds, and its outcome -- in the basket or not -- determines which team's season is over. And you can get two or three of those moments within an hour during the next week, if you're very lucky.

Then there's the whole idea of inviting everyone to the big dance. The Ivy League and the Big East are even in the sense that both get a chance to win it all. OK, Cornell's chance is smaller than Georgetown's chance realistically, but both teams still have to win to advance. It's great to see the little schools get to play the big schools on a neutral court, matchups that rarely take place during the regular season.

Such a game came in Buffalo last year, when Virginia Commonwealth faced Duke. VCU probably has been looking up at Duke in terms of attention for decades, but that didn't matter when the score was tied in the final seconds last year. Virginia Commonwealth's Eric Maynor hit a shot to win it, sending its many fans in the building to ecstacy and guaranteeing that Maynor will be eating free meals in Richmond for the rest of his life.

Lastly, we come up with a champion through a fair process. The computers don't determine the two finalists; teams have to earn it. (That's the obligatory BCS putdown.) There is always grumbling about teams that get left out on Selection Sunday, but there are few teams that are in the NIT each year that seem capable of playing for the national championship -- which is the point of the exercise.

I have no idea who might win the title this year. My usual rooting favorite, Syracuse, will be watching again this year. And while the upsets give the tournament some charm, it is good to see four great teams meet in the Final Four for the best possible matchups in the showcase games. I guess I'm rooting for dramatic, thrilling games with few important upsets in that sense.

That brings us to the downer: bracket pools.

It's become a national mania to play some sort of pool at tournament time. For some, the predictions merely add to March Madness, while for others it's the only source of entertainment about it all. If I played the pools, which I don't (I know so little about most of the teams that it seems like an exercise in futility), I'd care about how I was doing. But I wouldn't want to inflict on anyone my feelings about how Drake's first-round loss cost me one of my Final Four picks and thus causing financial ruin ($5 down the drain).

So, I'll be paying attention to the games instead of my predictions this year. I'm glad you are interested in the show, but I hope you'll understand if I stay respectfully quiet during discussions of your picks.

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