A Community of Madness – Round 1

[Editor's note: people, the Editor-in-Chief of this blog loves basketball, higher education, community, competition, and when they all slam together in a mess of cheers, tears, body-paint, over-achievement, and ridiculously awesome excitingly uncontrollable hyperboles. Exclamation point! Over the next three weeks, John and his American-import-possibly-mustached-BFF, Alex Grant, will engage in witticisms and precarious predictions pertaining to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. As players, teams, schools, regions, bank accounts, pundits, pride, and - yes - nations collide, you will get a true sense of what the March Madness community really means. Enjoy!]

toddwickersty / flickr creative commons

Let’s Set-up The Madness

JOHN: This is the third time that my March BFF, Alex Grant, and I have written about our experience with March Madness, the greatest sporting event in the history of the world (yes, I’m including gladiatorial “games” and the archery tournament from Robin Hood).

We did it in 2010 and 2011, too. Both times were amazing. Just like this time. Amazing.

So, why do I love the NCAA 64-team-single-elimination-Men’s-Basketball-Tournament so much? Here’s why:

1. There is always a possibility that two “Wildcats” or “Bulldogs” will play each other. Rarely do two teams with the same mascot name compete in any professional sports league* worth its salt, which is too bad, because it’s hilarious.

*[Editor's note: Somehow the unique and pro-Roosevelt (Teddy, not FDR) mascot name "Roughriders" was used by two teams in the, like, six-team Canadian Football League. This is also hilarious].

2. European Football Hooliganism Spirit in North America. In the Supporter’s Pledge of my Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2012 Season Tickets book, I have been asked to play my part for the team by “deafening our visitors by joining in our club’s chants, songs, and shouts” and “making our home pitch a fortress; a place no visitor wants to play” and “blinding our opponents with a sea of white jerseys, caps, scarves, and flags.” The simple fact that the fans of March Madness, unlike fans in any of the professional sports on this continent (except, ironically, soccer fans), paint their bodies, stand up for the entire game, sing songs, and take things too far when it comes to challenging the opposition is the realization of something special in their communities. And remember, people, keep it positive!

3. Anything* can happen! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 19 year olds frequently cave under the immense pressure of having 20 million people watch them break a full-court press with their team is up by one point with 45 seconds to go and your mom is yelling at you to shoot but your coach is, like, “work it for one shot!” and then your special lady, she’s, like, “I love you, baby” but all you can think about is how to accurately describe how the French Revolution started because it’s the topic of your history paper and you need at least a 72 to pass the class and you have a job interview for an internship with Rebuild the Dream and holy crap I’m being triple-teamed and I’m 5’10″ and they’re so big and they fouled me and oh my buddha I have to hit two free throws, which would usually be fine, because I’m money, but I can’t stop thinking about how Napoleon was also 5’10″ and now my mom is yelling at the coach and – gulp – here we go…

*[Editor's note: "Anything" never really happens; only once in the last, like, 30 years has a team ranked below fifth made it to the Final Four. Still, ridiculous and unpredictable things always happen. Like Alex choosing Purdue (ridiculous) and whether or not he will have submitted his 500 words by Wednesday (unpredictable)].

ALEX: Dearest John. Can you smell the energy? Do you feel the faint thrumming in your fingertips? The extra bit of pressure in your accelerating pulse? That’s the Madness my friend. It’s steaming down the track, furnaces blasting, and it’s nearly here.

YES! It’s true. Somehow it’s another year, and somehow, it’s March. I don’t know how either of these things happened. In fact, if I hadn’t seen your bombastic antics up close and personal at our mutual friend Kurt Lambreich’s wedding, I might have even forgotten our deep burning rivalry. But worry not my friend, for I am here to do battle in the brackets for another year. And this time, I have devised a plan so fiendishly flawless, so breathtakingly brilliant, and so stupefyingly strategic that I am guaranteed to take home the gold-plated trident we use as a trophy.

markfive / flickr creative commons

Let’s Make (Bold) Predictions

ALEX: In years past, my results in this battle of wits, patriotism, and athleticism (NB: no actual athletics required) have been like an undersized, 3-shooting, midmajor team named the Fightin Windexes. That is to say, I’ve been streaky.

But this year, all that is about to change. And because you’re powerless to stop me, Horn, I’ll even tell you why.

Number 1: Karma. Because last year held such miserable results for my favored sports teams (Purdue eliminated by VCU, Twins imploded and blew up the core team, Canucks crushed all my hockey dreams, and the Saints ended up being contract assassins) I am now due for a bracket run of epic proportions. It’s science.

Number 2: Good omens. Just yesterday, I noticed that the interior light in my car has started working again after I thought it was burned out. And last week, someone who owed me a dinner that I had completely forgotten about gave me 10 bucks. These are both pretty sweet scores, but they’re also something more. They’re harbingers of my coming success in our match of the ages.

Number 3: By far the most important part and keystone of my bulletproof strategy, I KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! I have worked hard to remain complete ignorant of all subtleties in the college game this year. I will be picking based on raw gut instincts alone. I don’t know if an Iona is a basketball team or a charged atomic particle.  I’m not even sure if John Calipari is still coaching with a court-ordered electronic monitoring bracelet around his ankle. Your fancy “insider knowledge” will be your undoing, much as it has been mine for the past three years.

Alex's Picks

JOHN: Well, I did something strategic awesome hilarious pretty stupid right from the start. Last year, Michelle won our four-way-pool (Alex, John, Michelle, and Old Man Dean) by applying this formula:

hilarity of team name x 64[( jersey colour - symbiosis of mascot) - (affiliation during the Civil War - size of English Lit. department)] + “your gut” ÷ MADNESS = The Duke Blue Devils.

Yeah, I wish I was joking. It wasn’t even close. She won like Charlie Sheen. Anyway, I didn’t go so far as to use math this time, but I did go so far as to use words. One word in particular, actually. And that word is “State”. For the first round I have selected every team with “State” in their name as my winners. Is this logical? Yes No. Will it help my chances? Yes No Probably. For you see, readers and fans, any good March Madness bracket needs to be sprinkled with some gut feelings and incredulity and a team from Nashville that some guy on the television yelled about yesterday in a super-convincing way.

John's picks

My big upset for the first weekend will happen when West Virginia muscles over Ohio St. Other than that, it’s pretty clear that the Canadians on New Mexico State will power past Indiana and Long Beach State (also powered by Canada) will eek out a victory against Los Lobos. It goes without saying that the underrated powerhouse that is South Dakota State will trounce the overrated Baylor Bears. As for the State vs. State first-round-battle, I’m obviously picking Murray State (basically playing at home) to blow-out Colorado State and then roll through Marquette like Kurt Heinrich rolls through defenders on the soccer field or through butter that he puts on his, um, rolls for din- shoot … I was in trouble a quarter of the way through that double metaphor!

Oh, and Purdue will be out in the first round, Alex, and Kansas will beat Michigan State in the final.

Go Vanderbilt!

Fire At Will / Flickr Creative Commons

[INSERT TRASH TALK HERE]

JOHN: This gets harder and harder every year because, Alex, you’re such a sweetheart of a man who makes great choices when it comes to food, community and women, but poor choices when it comes to basketball. Oh, and Cranium – an ingenious Canadian invention  – is more of a sport and a game than your national pastime, NASCAR elections militarism baseball.

Oh, and I miss you and think/know you’re great and am lucky to share this experience with you, good sir.

ALEX: Now, every year we reserve this space to trot out the same old saws about why I’m really great and you’re really loud. Well this year, things are a bit different. I’ve seen you carve a Turducken one handed, and you’ve seen me belt out November Rain. We both know what the other is capable of. So I respectfully tip my jaunty cap, and suggest that we join forces against our better halves, who are always winning this thing anyway. What say you? Can we overcome our Shakespearian love/hatred to best our loved ones at reading the bracket tea leaves? Probably not, eh?

[Editor's note: he said "eh?"! Feud averted!]

Robin and Michelle Will Probably Win

MICHELLE: This year, my formula is an even simpler one. Here is what I took into consideration:

1. The livableness of the city, because the more healthy and livable the community then the players will do better.

2. How awesome the fans are totally determines how pumped-up and excited the players will be; my research shows that pumped-up players perform better, especially when they live in a healthy, happy and vibrant community.

3. I’m all about underdog teams that have a chance of winning, like North Carolina! I’m kidding. Like Murray State!!! [Editor's note: about halfway through her selecting John may or may not have had to explain what "the numbers next to each team" meant].

4. Bonus points for any team from a state where I know someone (my friend Caroline went to Layola).

Consequently, the winner will be North Carolina. Haha, my friend’s name is almost Carolina!

Michelle's Picks

ROBIN: Well, Alex has finally wised up and decided to apply an age-old rule to his March Madness picks: the woman is always right. Yep, you got it, Alex stole my strategy. This year, Alex has correctly identified the winning strategy as knowing “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.” He says, “I have worked hard to remain completely ignorant of all subtleties in the college game this year. I will be picking based on raw gut instincts alone.” But where did he come by that strategy? Me. As evidence, I’ve selected a few key passages from my “chitter chatter,” which appeared on this esteemed blog March 16, 2011.

My first point of advice last year was, “Don’t, under any circumstances, take the bracket seriously.  Over-thinking is enemy #1.  Think to yourself: ‘Geez, this is really dumb.’ and  ‘Who cares?’”  And second, I shared, “Above all else, go with personal affiliation and INSTINCT.  Is your great-great-grandpappy an Akron Zip? They’re in.”

These words speak for themselves.  However, I take this blatant violation of my intellectual property in stride.  This year it’s a battle of instincts.   Too bad for Alex that women are better than men at that too.

Robin's Picks

And that was 2,000 words of awesome!

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