Ever since the term “March Madness” was coined by ESPN decades ago, those two words encapsulate the happiness college basketball fans feel this time of year. I’m not naïve to think it’s a more fantastic sporting event than the three weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, but it’s close enough.
I’m a college basketball junky. I could watch it year-round. I could not care less if it’s the team I root for (the Kansas Jayhawks) or teams I despise. There’s just something special about the sport that ushers in the spring and brings together 68 fanbases that dive headfirst into their brackets and rev up their social media banter.
The popularity of college basketball, in my view, surpasses college football. Sure, that’s not a popular opinion, but in football, maybe 10 teams (and that’s being kind) can compete for a national title.
On the flip side, college basketball begins its postseason tourney with 68 hopeful teams that have a chance to find March glory. This tournament always produces Cinderella teams every year. This glorious event when a low-seeded team upsets higher seeds or busts our brackets universally resonates with every fan. Yes, we get upset, but only a select few can predict the outcome of a March Madness basketball game. That’s what makes the ride so wild.
The popularity of the sport is refreshing this time of the year. With the NFL in its offseason swoon, free agency just three sleeps away, and MLB showing off its talents in the World Baseball Classic, college basketball owns the week.
Between Selection Sunday, the Tuesday play-in games, and 64 teams battling elimination Thursday and Friday, it delivers nonstop action from noon to midnight.
In my view, the college game is far superior to the NBA. For the most part, the NBA season is too long. It’s boring until the second round of their postseason. The NCAA has taken a lot of hits for their ineptness, but they rule the sports world for three weeks and deserve credit for the March Madness brand they’ve created.
This tournament allows everyone a chance. The winner of any game can be decided by players getting hot from the three-point line, defenses making a key stop, or a bad officiating call. All of these factors alter the course for a blue blood or an underdog.
This tournament is the only event going where a small school can shock the world. In 2018, the UMBC Retrievers became the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1, destroying the Virginia Cavaliers, 74-54. It sent shockwaves through the tournament. Yes, Virginia fans were upset, and if that had been my team, I would not have been happy. Yet, there’s no denying that it’s great for the sport.
There was a time when rooting for the underdog was commonplace and the competitive nature of the sport throughout the college basketball season led up to what is always a great NCAA tournament.
With the emergence of conference tournaments, over 300 schools face single-elimination games that give them a chance to dance. If they’re lucky and catch fire, they can become the darling of the NCAA tournament.
In a world where we have enough chaos, political unrest, and social media running amuck, we forget that a bunch of young kids playing the sport they love can become center stage.
This year’s college basketball landscape has been the most competitive and hardest to figure out in any season I can remember. At times, some blue bloods struggled but managed to grind out tough wins. This year’s conference games resembled NCAA tournament matches with close games. In the Big 12, every team competed. Squads from the SEC, ACC, Big 10, and even a few in the embattled Pac 12 contributed to an entertaining regular season.
Not convinced of the balance this season, I can think of a handful of mid-majors that can cut down the nets in April.
In the end, no matter which school you root for, we can count on this tournament being unpredictable and predictable. Therein lies the beauty of March Madness.
So, who do you think makes the final four? For me, it’s Alabama, Marquette, Texas, and Kansas. Drop your predictions in the comments below.
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