Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why The Madness Over The Month Of March For The NCAA?

When it comes to post season battles in sports, nothing compares to craziness that kicks off during the third month of the year.

Although professional athletics have some of the greatest moments ever during their season-ending run towards a title; it’s the four division, 68 team assembly of the top collegiate basketball programs squaring off against one another that peaks the highest interest of the nation the most.

After all the conferences have their own tournaments, with the winner earning an automatic bid, all the teams sit anxiously around the television on Selection Sunday wondering if or where they will be heading to for their first round game. While there are schools that know they are in with their impressive records, there are those who sit on the bubble with no conference tourney title and a questionable season resume who pray for a spot as one of the 68.

Once those brackets are all set, extreme hell breaks loose in the country. People across the nation jump onto websites and work feverishly to accomplish the unthinkable: get all the selections right.

So why the fuss over a silly tournament with schools that common individuals have never heard of?

There are several reasons that make the appeal of this event stand at such a high level in comparison to other sports playoffs:

1) Everyone loves a Cinderella story

Thanks to the wonderful world of Disney and the nostalgia sports movies inspire to root for the underdog, fans root to see a Cinderella story come out from the tournament each year.

Many past tournaments have created great David vs Goliath moments.

There was coach Jim Valvano’s rush on the court and searching desperately for someone to hug after his sixth-ranked, North Carolina State team upset the number one-seeded University of Houston, led by future NBA great Clyde Drexler, for the 1983 national title.

George Mason University took the moniker of underdog in 2006 as they marched into the Final Four as an 11th seed. They would lose to the eventual winners, the University of Florida, but are forever remembered as one of the highest seeds ever to reach the final four.

Just one year ago, the fifth-seeded University of Butler Bulldogs beat everyone in the West region and narrowly escaped with a win over Michigan State to face off against the South region’s number one seed, the Duke Blue Devils. Butler would lose by two points, with their final half court shot bouncing in and out the rim.

While tournaments with endings such as these happen rarely, there are stories of teams overcoming huge adversity to knock off favorites in the first two rounds each year. These are the moments that make the tournament special; hearing about teams that only the counties they are from know of. America always seems to jump on the bandwagon of these programs and root for them as they continue on their unprecedented run deep into the tournament.

2) Unknown players breakout and make a name for themselves

Although unheard-of-teams can make a big splash during the post season, players that the public (or sometimes NBA scouts) don’t know can make a huge name for themselves by playing well in the tournament.

Whether it’s because they are in a small school that doesn’t get much publicity during the regular season or they get a chance to shine because of match up or injury dilemmas, a new name or face always appears to emerge from obscurity to be the face of the tournament.

One player who earned significance thanks to the tournament is Golden State Warriors guard, Stephen Curry. Prior to his collegiate career, Curry was not a standout or heavily recruited by the big programs to play for them.

He choose Davidson College and became the face of college basketball during his sophomore season. With his team garnering a tenth seed for the 2008 NCAA tournament, the son of former NBA great Dell Curry sparked his small college all the way into the Elite eight and one step away from the Final Four.

Although the Cinderella ride ended with a two-point loss to the University of Kansas, Curry would go on to become a lottery pick by his current team in 2009.

Another player who benefitted greatly from the tournament was swingman Gordon Hayward. A player with length and a sweet jumper, but lacks speed or athleticism, Hayward made a splash during the 2010 NCAA tournament with the Butler Bulldog team that lost to Duke in the title game. He was the player that missed the infamous half court heave that rattled in-and-out of the rim on the last shot.

Not thought of as a player who would be a prospect in the NBA when he began his college career, buzz began to ascend during his college career and hit an all-time high after the 2010 championship game. He would enter the draft that following summer and became the ninth pick by the Utah Jazz in 2010.

3) Anybody can be a winner by filling out brackets

The most enticing feature about the NCAA tournament stems from the opportunity everyday people have to participate along with the teams when this time of year comes around.

Websites and sports affiliates use this time to encourage anyone to complete a bracket, occasionally offering prizes to those who complete perfect or the most accurate outcomes. Friends, family, and co-workers contact one another to join these sites or initiate pools and competitions for fun or a small wager.

Along with the variety of people who try their hardest to decipher the winners and losers of the tournament, those with little awareness or understanding of collegiate basketball can be just as successful as any of the NCAA sports analysts.

While an individual who follows the season will probably have more accurracy in choosing the right selections for their bracket, picking the winners of each game can be as easy as closing your eyes and choosing whoever you land on. With over 60 games in a span of three weeks, not even the most experienced ESPN pundits get more than half of their picks right.

With such a variance of teams, players, and situations that pop up game after game, anyone can predict the right decision. Yet, these are the intangibles that make the tournament so appealing and bring fans of all types together.

Selecting brackets is the medium to which they all culminate together.

All sports playoffs have a similar effect on attracting fans, but the NCAA tournament rises to a higher magnitude that anyone can be directly a part of. This is what makes NCAA basketball so special and so unique in comparison to other athletics.

Let the madness of March engage when the referee throws the ball in the air for tip off on Thursday morning.

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