The NCAA Tournament may be the only postseason in sports where the beginning is far better than the end. Sure, the championship is great and all, but nothing compares to the first two days of the tournament when March Madness earns its name.
The process begins this coming Sunday, aptly dubbed Selection Sunday, when the bracket is announced. Then, it’s three whole days of torturous waiting (and the play-in games)—a wait alleviated only by the joy of filling out brackets and the inevitable ritual of second-guessing every pick.
On Thursday, it begins—16 straight games of pure college basketball chaos, filled with buzzer-beaters and busted brackets. Eyes flicking back and forth between brackets, TV flicking back and forth between games. Shrieks of elation at that wild upset that you called, cries of despair when you lose your first Final Four team. It’s unmatched madness. I try to not leave my couch.
And the best part? On Friday, we do it all over again; 32 more teams battling to advance to the second round. By the end of the day, I’m exhausted—but also saddened that the first round has come to a close.
It’s not that the rest of the tournament is a snooze-fest. Each round adds more pressure, the teams (theoretically) get better and the games (theoretically) get more exciting.
But that’s not always the case. Often the most exciting games are played before primetime even arrives on that first Thursday. The beauty of the tournament is that any team really can beat any team, and it’s probably only a matter of time before we finally see a one-seed fall in the first round (though I wouldn’t bet on it this year).
Even without an upset of that caliber, the first round still provides more sheer exhilaration and well, madness, than any other sports event in the world. There’s no such thing as a safe bet, and that propensity for upsets is what makes March Madness so special.
Here’s one tip: make a bracket, deeply invest yourself in it, but don’t let it ruin the day. Some people have the tendency to abandon the tournament altogether the moment their bracket takes a hit. At the end of the day, the bracket is fun, but the games themselves are far more rewarding.
One more: don’t root for chalk simply because you picked the higher seed, embrace the madness. Don’t feel bad for Duke or Michigan State, they’ll be back next year. Mercer and Middle Tennessee may not be. (Side note: I picked that Mercer-Duke 14-3 upset in 2014, and I’ll probably never reach that level of bliss again in my life.)
The Super Bowl is good. The World Series is great. But nothing can compare to the first two days of March Madness.
Thursday can’t come soon enough.