Another year, another shredded bracket.
It seems like it has been the same story for me every March for the past five years or so: fill out a bracket, feel really optimistic in the days leading up to tip off about actually winning my pool this time and then promptly tossing my bracket in the trash after having two of my Final Four teams lose in the second round.
It is an infuriating routine, one that has frustrated many a sports fan over the years and turned a few off to watching the tournament entirely. However, the overwhelming majority of fans will not be deterred. In fact, it is the slim chance of success that attracts many to the tournament. The allure of the unpredictable is what makes the NCAA Tournament the most compelling sporting event of them all.
Every year there always seems to be a handful of clear-cut favorites. This year, Duke was Vegas’ odds-on favorite at the time the bracket was released, due to their title run in the ACC tournament and perennial tournament success. Villanova was also expected to make another deep run, after supposedly vanquishing their tournament demons with their championship run in 2016’s tournament and subsequently being seeded into what many saw as the easiest section of the bracket in this year’s edition. Both were bounced before reaching the Sweet 16.
Conversely, every tournament also comes with its share of teams labeled as overhyped or undeserving of a spot in the field. Many thought Michigan would go nowhere after winning what was perceived as a weak Big 10. Xavier, absent one of their key players, would not enjoy the tournament success they have become accustomed to in recent years. Both of these squads upended their favored opponents to keep dancing into the second weekend.
These teams, and hundreds of history’s other what-ifs and Cinderellas, prove that for the casual fan, it doesn’t really matter who is competing for the crown. It is the unexpected excitement and quality of play that March seems to bring out in every team that keeps the audience pining for more. And quality of competition in college basketball has never been better.
Mid-major powerhouses like Gonzaga and Butler have shifted the balance of power from the blue-blood hoops schools, legitimizing their hype by making deep runs in the tournament in recent years. The top programs counter by recruiting the best young talent, destined for bright futures in the NBA. The resulting mix is three weeks in hoop lover’s heaven.
So even though my bracket, along with millions with those of millions of other’s like me, is long gone, you had better believe I’m not missing a minute of March action.