For the next three Wednesdays, the Daily Gumboot’s Alex Grant and John Horn will engage in a rip-roaring back-and-forth discussion of one of the most interesting, exciting and unpredictable community-experiences in all of sports. It’s called March Madness, and you couldn’t have two better guides to help you dribble, cut, post-up, and dunk your way through an event that is so much more than just a basketball tournament.
MARCH MADNESS | THE OVERVIEW (FOR KURT)
ALEX: Hello readers and Welcome to the Thunderdome! If you’re unfamiliar with the men’s college basketball tournament dubbed March Madness, I’m overjoyed to introduce the best sporting event on Earth. If you’ve never filled out a bracket before, I’m practically hysterical with excitement to share this decision-making tool which is probably the most just and egalitarian system ever devised by man. After reading this article, you can look forward to implementing bracketology to solve all life’s nagging questions, including Which Prime Minister Was the Sexiest? and Supreme Sandwich Challenge! and Whose Gumboot Articles Use the Most Unnecessary Capital Letters?
However, as John will mention, not everyone – especially Kurt Heinrich – is an expert in everything, so the rudimentary fundamentals of the game mustn’t be overlooked. For instance, you may not have been aware that there are a few subtle differences between the US and Canadian versions of basketball:
1) Unlike their northern brothers, Americans rarely play the game drunk. This is largely due to the fact that in the early days of Canadian basketball, human players were hard to come by, and so the centre position was often played by wild bears. The drinking was required to steel the nerves, and deal with the fact that at least one power forward would likely be torn to shreds. Drinking in the American game happens primarily at the professional level, and for entirely different reasons. Shocking, I know.
2) You may have noticed that Americans play with an inflatable rubber ball instead of an old curling stone painted orange. Although it took me a while to figure out, I think I finally uncovered the root of this confusion. American players occasionally refer to a basketball as “the rock,” but that’s merely a bit of “slang” — a phenomenon which I will explain to all Canadians in a later post. Sure, this fancy equipment is more expensive and harder to come by, but it makes shooting 3’s a smidge easier and also prolongs the integrity of the hardwood.
3) This hardly bears mentioning (settle down! “bears” is just a figure of speech!) but over the decades, American basketball has been infused with the urban style of the nation’s inner-city asphalt parks and hard hitting pickup games. For this reason, powdered wigs are no longer considered necessary decorum for coaches and referees. Just another small difference you may notice.
Even with these small cross-border discrepancies, March Madness is accessible for everyone, and I’m looking forward to enjoying a fresh perspective from North of the 49th. Go Sport!
JOHN: Why is this section especially for the DG’s Editor-in-Controversy, Kurt Heinrich? Well, he asked us to make this story about March Madness – the NCAA Men’s Championship Basketball Tournament – “approachable” to non-sports enthusiasts. It’s weird, I know. Why do so many Canadians go mad for an American college basketball tournament? The reasons are simple and straightforward:
1) There are 64 teams that begin the tournament – only one team can win, and the games are single-elimination…win and you keep playing, lose and you go home! The narrative unfolds over three weekends and, well, anything can happen…sort of. The top ranked schools, in the end, usually make up the Final Four teams in the tourney, but each and every year a team that nobody’s ever heard of does their best to personify the Horatio Alger myth of the American Dream by going deep into the tournament. This invariably happens because of amazing individual performances, last second heroics and, possibly, mafia-related point shaving…but let’s focus on the good stuff!
2) Amateur athletes work hard – like, really hard – and, since the average age of the players in the tournament is 20, well, mistakes are made because of the pressure. This pressure also reveals character in a way that just doesn’t happen in professional sports. Finally, some of these amateur athletes have really, really funny/amazing names. Check back about this thread as the tournament unfolds.
3) Community. Regions, schools, people, mascots, coaches, players, and whole entire communities get together to celebrate this event. More than that, a worldwide online community of sports enthusiasts, gamblers and enthusiastic sports gamblers has developed as a result of March Madness. People pick their winners based on “strategy” and “research” as well as uniform colours, coolness of school mascots, and “funniness” of a school’s name.
Sure, I feel pangs of guilt for not supporting Canadian basketball’s eight-team CIS championship tournament, but, like my high school hoops coach always said, “if you want to learn how to be great, play against the Americans.” He also was known to say, “these rocks are way too heavy and Jimmy keeps getting scratched by the bear, which is totally messin’ up his wig!”
THE PREDICTIONS | ROUNDS 1 & 2
ALEX: One of the reasons I love college basketball is that everyone has hometown loyalties that make them blind to the logical facts and invariably destroy their brackets. My loyalty lies with Purdue University, where I grew up. Although Purdue lost one of their best players with 3 games to go due to injury (let’s all take a moment of silence for Robbie Hummel’s deceased ACL……okay, thank you) I can’t quit them, and have them making a highly improbable push through to the Sweet Sixteen in the South Region. Other teams to keep an eye on: UTEP and Minnesota in the West, Ohio St. to make a deep run in the Midwest, and New Mexico surprises WVU in the East. I see Duke going down early. A man can hope.
JOHN: By Sunday night, all the Number 1 and 2 seeds will have advanced. That’s where normalcy ends, folks. This is a tournament with weak top seeds – I mean, perennial contenders UNC and UCLA aren’t even part of the dance – so I’ve predicted a lot of upsets in the first two rounds. Look for Washington, Cornell, Siena, Minnesota, and Murray State to advance to the regional semi-final.
[INSERT TRASH TALK HERE]
JOHN: Alex, if you were in a 64 person tournament of life you would be Butler. Meaning you’d make it into the second round and that’s it. Also because your mustache makes you kinda sorta look like a butler. But, like, one from the 1970s. ZING!
ALEX: Mr. Horn, I understand that you think you may have an advantage in our little tête-à-tête because you played “competitive basketball.” Well, your background credentials are certainly no better than mine: a white male raised in Indiana. I have an uncanny spider sense when it comes to March, and some have called me the Walter Cronkite of basketball. That is to say, I’m an authority, mustache and all.