By Al Malinowski EBS Contributor
After nearly a year of COVID craziness, a return to college basketball’s March Madness will bring a welcome sense of normalcy to many sports fans. Admittedly, while the obsession with the NCAA bracket over the coming weeks could be perceived as a type of sickness, at least we know it will only stick around until the first weekend in April.
Last year, college seniors were robbed of the opportunity to play in their final tournament, since the 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, often referred to as March Madness, was one of the first major events that was cancelled due to the pandemic. There was an obvious void as the end of winter approached and there was no mention of Cinderella stories or bracket busters.
Tournament time comes with the harsh truth that the next game could be the last. Indeed, most basketball players will have their seasons end with a loss. Even if the likelihood of victory is remote, emotions can be overwhelming when an athlete has to accept the reality that their basketball season, or career, is over.
The passion that comes with those “win-or-go-home” stakes can sometimes orchestrate the most unexpected upsets. The enjoyment of watching the NCAA basketball tournament includes rooting for the underdog to upset the higher seeded team, and it’s thrilling. Oftentimes the team names are less important than their tournament seeding, unless, of course, you picked them in your bracket.
The frequency of upsets is one of the appealing aspects of the tournament. It’s also what attracts so many prognosticators to try to successfully predict the outcome of each game by completing a bracket. The American Gaming Association estimates roughly 70 million tournament brackets are completed each year.
When you’re completing a bracket, predicting the upsets is the biggest challenge, and it always happens. Lower seeds defeat higher seeds every year. The difficulty is trying to determine which teams have those motivated players and coaches who aren’t willing to let their season come to an end….at least not in that round.
Over the years, No. 16 seeds gave some top seeds several scares, but it wasn’t until 2018 that the ultimate upset finally happened. Remember 2018? The year No. 1-seed University of Virginia lost their first game of the tournament, becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed? The pundits lost their minds along with so many of us who had UVA going deep in the tourney.
As I wrote this story, I could immediately remember that Virginia was the team who lost, but I had to be reminded that they lost to UMBC. Who? I also admit I had to Google “UMBC” to be reminded that the acronym stood for University of Maryland-Baltimore County. I guess I didn’t pick UMBC in my bracket that year.
Al Malinowski has lived in Big Sky for over 25 years. He has coached middle school and high school basketball at the Big Sky School District for 22 of those years. He believes participation in competitive athletics has been critical in establishing his core values.