Why America Love March Madness
It has been said that there are two things every American does each year regardless of age, creed, or allegiance: watch the Super Bowl and fill out a NCAA Tournament bracket. With a billion dollars on the line this year, that statement holds true now more than ever. Arguably the best 4 days in sports, the NCAA tournament coincides every year with the largest spike in sick days nationwide. In a way, the Big Dance draws its appeal by being the most American sporting event we have. After all, this is land of opportunity, where the Lehigh Mountain Hawks can topple the likes of the Duke Blue Devils and the Butler Bulldogs can make back-to-back championship game appearances.
America is built on the backs of countless rags-to-riches stories just like the tale of Dougie McBuckets. Doug McDermott, now a collegiate scoring deity, wasn’t even recruited by his own father (then an assistant at Iowa State) coming out of high school. In fact, all six of the power conferences overlooked the gawky 6’7 prospect from Ames, Iowa. Their loss was Creighton’s gain as McDermott helped the Blue Jays make the leap from the Missouri Valley Conference to the hoops happy Big East, earning a 3-seed in the process. Why did the Big East send an invite to the small Jesuit school in Omaha, Nebraska? Let’s just say it had a lot to do with three years of Doug McDermott step backs, put backs, drives and spot up jumpers.
Oh, and what would America be without immigrants? Great migrations from Ireland, Germany, China, Scandinavia, Japan and Britain made this country the beautiful melting pot that it is and the influx continues today. The 2012 NCAA tournament featured 54 college basketball players from 11 different African countries. That’s just Africa. 2014’s version is no different with the current crop being headlined by Melvin Ejim (Iowa State, Nigeria) and Joel Embiid (Kansas, Cameroon). In truth though, most of the immigrants appearing in the NCAA tournament didn’t have to cross an ocean to arrive in this year’s bracket. Recently, prospects have been trickling down from our neighbors to the north. Canada has been one of college basketball’s newest and most profitable pipelines producing the former NCAA stars like Kelly Olynyk, last year’s number one pick Anthony Bennett, and former Longhorn Tristan Thompson. Current Canadians include Baylor’s sharpshooter Brady Heslip, who hails from the providence of Ontario and is the Bears all time leader in three point percentage. He may have caught your attention two years ago when he hit nine treys against Colorado in the 2012 NCAA tournament. This year’s top Canadian, however, is clearly Jayhawk freshman Andrew Wiggins. You may have heard of him. He’s pretty good. Fellow freshman phenomenon Jabari Parker is African American from the Southside of Chicago and a devout Mormon. Clearly, he isn’t an immigrant, but how American is that?
The biggest reason America loves its tournament is because America loves the underdog. We love Rocky and Star Wars for the same reason we love the George Masons and Florida Gulf Coasts of the world. The role of the underdog speaks to us. Part of this is because we remember when we were underdogs back in 1776, but a bigger factor is that we love the chaos an upset creates. It’s why we call it March Madness. It’s why we discuss which 15 seed had the best chance of upsetting a 2 seed with complete strangers. We want big names to fall and new names to cheer for. We want democracy and equality and capitalism, and the NCAA Tournament gives it all to us in its purest form. That’s why we love March Madness.
Now that I’ve set a fire under your inner Uncle Sam, here are some of my thoughts on day one and a quick scouting report on one of my favorite sleepers playing in day two:
-Little brother Dayton beat Ohio State to set the tone for the day. Vee Sanford hit the game winner over Aaron Craft to give the Flyers the 60-59 victory. Aaron Craft finished his collegiate career in his typical gutsy fashion posting a line of 16 points/5 rebounds/4 assists/4 steals. Craft, who plans on becoming a doctor after graduation, was, ironically, the first to be diagnosed with a case of the March Sadness. Great start to the tourney. I skipped class to watch the end of this one (shhhhh).
-Pitt completely embarrassed Colorado, 77-48. Blowouts are commonplace in the round of 64, but they hardly ever occur in the 8/9 seed matchup. Colorado’s poor performance cost me one billion dollars.
-The TNT crew of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley is fantastic. I could watch those guys banter all day. Clark Kellogg isn’t bad, but lacks the chemistry that the aforementioned three have developed through working together for years on TNT’s Inside the NBA.
-Harvard became the second double-digit seed to advance toppling the 5th seeded Cincinnati Bearcats. Part of me wants to root for the Crimson for here on out, but another part of me wonders if Harvard really needs to add basketball to their already extensive lists of things they’re really good at.
-Syracuse’s zone defense makes it hard to project how teams will fare against them. The Orange’s sporadic play over the past month makes it even harder to predict how far they can go. It’s hard not to like the way Tyler Ennis plays, and he’s already shown he has a propensity for late game dramatics. Ennis and the Orange feels like a wild card to me.
-ESPN reported that only 5.7% of the 11 million brackets submitted to their site remained perfect through the first four games. That number dropped to 3.7% after eight games. At the end of the day, 41,315 brackets of the 11,000,000 were still perfect (0.38%).
-Another loser from day one was taxonomy. CBS showed a graphic on air that reported this year’s field included 10 cats, 9 birds, 4 dogs, and 1 amphibian based mascot, the Florida Gators. Alligators have, and always will be, reptiles.
-Fun fact, if you’re wondering what a Billiken is, then you’ve come to the right place. The Billiken was a “charm doll” created by Florence Pretz, an art teacher from Kansas City, Missouri, in the early 1900s. Pretz said he created the Billiken doll after he saw it in a dream. Believed to give it’s owner good luck, the Billiken was really just a forerunner to the likes of the Ferbies and Cabbage Patch dolls… another fad that faded into obscurity. Sadly, it didn’t fade fast enough for St. Louis University to realize it was probably a bad idea to adopt it as a mascot.
-A Tale of Two Favorites: Number 4 Seeds Louisville and Michigan State have both been trendy picks to win it all. In fact, Michigan State was penciled in as champion in more brackets than any other besides Florida (the number 1 overall seed). MSU’s Adreian Payne set the tone for the Spartans, setting a new tournament record for most free throws made without a miss (a perfect 17 for 17) and tallying 41 total points en route to a 93-78 victory over the Delaware Hens. Louisville had a bit of a tougher go at it, facing a scrappy Manhattan squad that pushed them late into the 2nd half. Ultimately, it took two clutch 3-pointers from last year’s championship MVP Luke Hancock to shake the Jaspers.
-Free throws are important kids. If you don’t believe me, ask North Carolina State. They missed 17 of them on their way to blowing a 16 point lead that prevented them from joining fellow 12 seeds North Dakota State and Harvard in the round of 32. Free throws also narrowly cost the 4th seeded Aztecs of San Diego State, who almost dropped their first round contest to New Mexico State.
-4 OT games = A fun day of sports and a new single day NCAA record.
-The Longhorns advanced on the back of the first buzzer beater of the tournament. Cameron Ridley was the man who put the fateful ball in the basket, and he had himself a heck of a game (17 points, 12 boards, 4 blocks). The 87 points put up by the Longhorns was the school’s highest tournament total since 1995.
-Pegged by experts as a potential Cinderella, Stephen F. Austin has attracted lots of bandwagon bracketologists who know literally nothing about the Lumberjacks. I was one of them… until I did a little research. SFA swept the Southland conference under first year head coach Brad Underwood. They only have 3 players taller than 6’6. Junior Tanner Clayton (6’9) is the only one of the three who gets any significant playing time and he only averages a little over 14 minutes a game. They lack the shooting touch of many other projected upstarts, shooting a respectable, but hardly elite 34.8% from 3-point range. So what’s their calling card? Defense. The Jacks thrive on creating turnovers, averaging 8 steals per game as a team. They pressure the ball and force the opposing offense into making a mistakes and taking poor shots. In fact, SFA is a lot like their first round opponent, the VCU Rams. If the Jacks can beat Shaka Smart and the Rams at their own game, they could cause some ruckus in the South region.