Life As We Know It: March 17, 2014

       WELCOME TO March Madness. Or more specifically, welcome to Mad as Hell Monday. First there was Freaky Friday, the day college basketball leagues across the country moved into the final phases of picking their champions. Then came Scary Saturday and the semi-finals or championship finals. At last it was Selection Sunday, time for very tall persons to gather in TV lounges on campuses from Tallahassee to Tacoma and await their fate. For the chosen ones, the news was good. For those not so anointed, it was time to kick the sofa.

       So yes, we can call today Mad As Hell Monday. Teams which believed it was their destiny to ride a magical lightning bolt all the way to Arlington, Texas, today are screaming they were robbed by the NCAA selection committee. Somewhere in this great land a school is aggrieved by the oversight.

       Let’s call it Northeast Montana A&M, or Tuscaloosa Tech, or Harriet’s School of Interior Design, which, if it exists, surely must have the most tastefully appointed gym in America. And there will be a big school or two that you’ve actually heard of which failed to make the cut.

        It has always been so on Mad As Hell Monday, which I consider a far more reliable indicator than Punxsutawney Phil that spring is just around the corner.

       You now have the brackets for the tournament and you’re probably looking for advice. First, examine the seedings. These are the so-called experts’ best guesses regarding all 65 teams’ chances to do well in the tournament. To win the national championship a team has to win six straight games over three consecutive weekends. Lose one and it’s back to the classrooms, an outcome about as welcome as a pimple on prom night.

        So the seedings are important as you fill out your bracket. Teams which the committee rewards with a top seed, or a number 1, are considered the best; teams which sneak in with a lowly 16 seed are those whose mantra fits the classic definition of a loser: “we’re just happy to be here.”

       It’s not uncommon for the coach of a 16 seed to accept the inevitable and denigrate his team with a comment like: “We plan to dress just seven players. We figure the other five can dress themselves.”

       This self-deprecating humor is justified, because a 16 has never upset a 1 in the first round, so unless you went to Marietta Bible Institute and you’re convinced your “Fightin’ Friars” are primed to make history, don’t do it. Remember, loyalty doesn’t win your office pool. Come to think of it, neither does logic, but you can at least get off to a good start by marking down all the 1 seeds to win their first game. You’re probably safe penciling in all the 2 seeds to dispatch the 15 seeds in their first-round games.

        Now it gets city. Sometimes a 14 will rise up and smite a 3, and you can pretty much count on a 13 knocking off a 4. Same for a 12 sticking it to a 5 seed. Problem is – you don’t know which one. Okay, now you’re really into dangerous territory: the dreaded 11 seeds vs. the 6 seeds, followed by the 10-7 and 9-8 matchups. If you can hit most of the 10-7 and 9-8 games, you’ve got a big advantage.

        It will be tempting to pick all four top seeds to advance to the Final Four in Texas on April 5 and 7. But one or more of them almost always gets knocked off. However, don‘t get carried away with a long shot. There is no room for emotion here.

        Maybe I’m taking all this too seriously. After all, we get into these pools for our own amusement, right? No money’s at stake. I mean, that would be technically illegal. It would be irresponsible of me to suggest such a thing. But if you’ve got any inside information about Mount St. Mary’s, send me a note. Like, you know, right away?

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