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While the mark of spring doesn’t officially begin until March 20, many people would point to the rebirth of basketball’s greatest spectacle as the event that brings people out of the winter doldrums, whose grip was fiercely vicious this year after a delayed NBA start – and who needed a dash of Linsanity as a jumpstart. March Madness may only stretch for a little over three weeks, but the moments we encounter along the seemingly endless amount of amateur athletics is what makes it transcend from mere sport exhibition to cultural phenomenon – as if the Super Bowl pitted juggernauts versus kids in Pop Warner pads and uniforms. It may just be more basketball, but March Madness offers up much more than winners and losers because when all is said and done and “One Shining Moment” signals a close, we’ve all shared in small triumphs.
Unlike other major sport post seasons, the NCAA Basketball Tournament offers that “one in a million chance” to see David pickle Goliath with a combination of coaching, execution and sheer guts. This is a principle that is universally relatable to, regardless of one’s feelings on athletics. When a person doesn’t have someone to inherently root for based on geography or university attended, there’s always the underdog. During the tournament viewers get a chance to see schools more known for their anthropology departments than their ally oops take down sheer powerhouses like a greater power were pulling the twine on the basket. It’s the ability to root with clear eyes, full hearts and no common sense that makes the tournament, particularly the first round, so damn exhilarating.
While other sports provide ample opportunities for stunning playoff scenarios, regular seasons often dictate the outcome of what will inevitably happen. March Madness gives the various 68 teams qualified to play numeric seeds based on performance and strength of schedule, but there hasn’t been a single year where things “went as planned” and every lower seed advanced according to Hoyle. Utter chaos is what people want – and it’s what people get. Sure, enthusiasts may want things to go as planned as they hold out hope that they’re finally going to win their office pool, but once it blows up in a crossed out pencil mess, folks still have a vested interest to watch others go down in flames as well. Logic is certainly involved, but much like with matters of the heart, things go from good to bad quite quickly. But in this case, the enjoyment level only increases.
Inevitably, winning and losing comes down to players executing. In the history of the sport, a coach never missed a game winning shot. Sure, he drew up the play on a whiteboard, but he wasn’t the one stepping on the court to execute it. The NBA is particularly a league where coaching involves setting key rotations and simply earning the trust of his players who are all millionaires. Despite this, college coaches seem to have an uncanny ability to put their stamp on a particular matchup. Whether it’s a product of building programs, or a coach having a decided approach to the game, we get to observe some truly great strategists during this period. From Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 Zone defense to Murray State’s Steve Prohm instructing his players to launch three-pointers, coaching and passion is ever-present. Coaches actually coach during the tournament. Strategy may not actually win the game – but in the case of March Madness, it puts players and programs in a position to send a rippling shockwave through the basketball zeitgeist.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all – a cliché that fits March Madness to “T,” something else happens that seems like a scenario drawn up by a toddler who was looking for a quick way to resolve a short story due for English class. Bryce Drew takes down the University of Mississippi with a play and finish that defies convention. Christian Laettner cements the fact that he’s never going to be able to travel inside Kentucky state lines without having to look over his shoulder. Chris Webber was reminded that The Fab 5 had one last chance but inevitably zero timeouts. These endings don’t happen – only somehow they do. As it turns out, the future will be televised and will feature conclusions that find Spaulding basketballs doing their best M. Knight Shyamalan impression. It’s wise to remember that when it comes to March Madness, “The End” should be written in pencil.
While the tournament lends itself to an uncertain outcome, it doesn’t mean that luck plays a big part in it. With the “win and move on” format as opposed to a best of seven configuration that appears across various sports, any team can capture lightning in a bottle for 40 minutes. Some of the biggest Cinderella stories in recent memory like Butler and VCU didn’t prove that they were in bed with lady luck – rather, they proved to a nation of disbelievers that they had a whole lot more ability than the experts had bestowed upon them.
With the Madness upon us, it reminds people that the uncertainty of these moments is what makes playing the game such a beautiful phenomenon. Scripts simply can’t be written because Cinderella is a fickle girl – treating who she dances with as random as a charlatan hopped up on Jack Daniels at an all you can drink shindig. It’s best to just sit back, relax and watch the brackets burn.
Every Thursday HYPEBEAST’s Keeping Score will span the world of sports, ranging from thoughts about the state of the NBA to whether or not the United States National Soccer Team will ever challenge for a World Cup. Handled with words from Senior Editor L. Ruano and North American Staff Writer Alec Banks, both life-long sports enthusiasts and dedicated writers, no sport will go unrepresented.
Alec Banks is a Los-Angeles based writer by way of Chicago which means he doesn’t put ketchup on his prose. He currently serves as the North American staff writer for HYPEBEAST and contributes regularly for the likes of Complex, Playboy and Maxim. He was a 2x Quarterfinalist for the prestigious Academy of Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting. You can read more of his work at alecbanks.com or @smart_alec_.