I find myself in a precarious place this postseason. Due to what has been described as an “almost hijacking” of the Kentucky program, my Wildcats are not in the tournament this season. This forced me to actually look at my bracket, figure out match ups, and pick an eventual champion, as opposed to stamping my big blue passport all the way to Catlanta. Another interesting development this March is my girlfriend has joined our 4FanSports Challenge and filled out a bracket, having developed a rather severe case of March Madness herself. With Lisa just learning about the NCAA Tourney and furthering herself into college basketball fandom, I’ve been able to guide her through the brackets and match ups and help her understand everything that’s happening. Then I found myself saying something to her last night that I don’t think has ever come out of my mouth.
I love to win; I am extremely competitive in pretty much everything that I do. I’m not the greatest athlete in the world but it isn’t for lack of heart or competitive spirit. Lisa is also in a sense pretty competitive (though not as much as me, I’m the most competitive person you’ll meet). So when it came to the Western Kentucky-Kansas match up in the first round, you would think that participating in a bracket pool that I want to win, I would root for the team I had picked…but I didn’t.
Western had Kansas on the ropes for most of the first half and attempted the impossible. The Hilltoppers (16) stood a chance of beating Kansas (1). For those of you like my darling girlfriend, who are not well versed in the 75-year history of the NCAA Tournament, that’s never happened. We all know eventually a 16 will beat a 1 (it almost happened twice this year) but the fact that a team from Kentucky might be the first to do so pushed me over the edge.
No one saw Florida Gulf Coast shocking Georgetown in the first round or moving onto the Sweet 16. No one thought Harvard would beat New Mexico (especially me). During all these upsets, my bracket didn’t matter. I found myself rooting for the little guy. I noticed Lisa becoming upset at the “superior” teams for losing. That’s when I shocked myself as I looked at her and said, “Who cares about the brackets. This is history. This is heart. This is what the tournament is all about.” And the crazy thing is… I meant it.
For Josh Wilson, super competitor, to admit that these moments are bigger than my small victory, was an upset in and of it’s own right. As I guide, no coach, Lisa who has never before been so interested in March Madness, through this post season, I want her to see the greatness in all of theses games. We hate it when our brackets are busted. We want to be right, want our friends to think we’re smarter than Joe Lunardi, and yet, we root for VCU, we praise Butler, and we pull for the little guy.
That moment when I was willing to fully sacrifice my bracket for history, for the little guy, is when I reached my full maturity as a fan. I love this time of year (love it more when I can rock my blue and white but we’ll let it go) because computers don’t tell us who plays for a championship. March Madness is why basketball will forever be my favorite sport.
Some argue that talent is down in college basketball this year. Heck, even I proclaim that talent is down this year. You can’t look at the results of these games that have happened in the first two rounds and not see it. Yet, in such a historic and hallowed sport as division 1 college basketball, where you have legends and greats, dynasties and royalty, it’s exciting to see the little guy get his turn. A Cinderella nickname in a tournament can change a school forever. Look at VCU, Butler, and Gonzaga, once unknowns, now all three highly seated in the tourney. Two are great and still playing, and the other was a one seed (Gonzaga is terrible though. Quit trying to make them great). Don’t get me wrong, when a tiny seed knocks out your team, my team, we don’t root for them anymore. Our love, our emotional investment in them, and our viewership is done. The Kentucky Wildcats are college basketball royalty, and when you root for a team like that and have a run like the 2012 NCAA Championship, you forget about the little things in March.
When a tiny town outside of Pittsburgh shuts down for a game, cancels classes, breaks fire codes to get people in their gym, and beats MY Kentucky Wildcats, it’s hard to hate them because you know what this means to tiny Robert Morris (I said it was hard. I still found a way; believe me). It could be easier for me to root for the little guy because I’m not the giant this year crushing everyone else’s title dreams, but still, as much as we hate it initially, Florida Gulf Coast, Wichita State, LaSalle, Harvard, and Western Kentucky University is what makes March mad, and you know you love that.
Author’s Note: While this article may imply the contrary, my bracket is in 3rd, I have the highest points possible remaining, my Final Four is intact, and I’m crushing all the other staff writers. Told ya I was competitive.