Madly in love with tourney since 5th grade

By Paul Harris

March Madness has always held a special place in my heart. I have looked forward to the tournament every year since I was a kid. But I really fell in love with the tournament when I was in the fifth grade.

My step dad took me to the 1999 tournament, when the first- and second-round sites were in my hometown of Indianapolis. I got a chance to see Ohio State with Scooney Penn and Michael Redd, Murray State, and Auburn as a No.-1 seed. Yes, Auburn was good at basketball then.

While this tournament has resulted in great joy, it has also resulted in torture and disdain. Much of this disdain comes from my bracket. Every year, our family filled out brackets for my mom’s workplace. At the age of 8, I won the office pool by correctly picking Princeton to upset the No.-1 ranked UCLA Bruins. In my head, I was a bracket genius. All I needed to do to win ever year was to pick the big upset that no one predicted.

This has caused me to pore over countless stats to find the dark horse contender. Surprisingly, I have not won another pool since my victory in 1996. I have come close on a few of my predictions, but close means nothing in the cruel world of NCAA office pools. Some of those predictions include Winthrop as a 15 seed over the second-seeded University of Tennessee Volunteers, or picking Southern Illinois beating Kansas. My biggest flop was taking the fifth-seeded Nevada Wolfpack to the Final Four. They lost in the first round to the 12th-seeded Montana Grizzlies.

That sent me into an uproarious fit. But that rant was nowhere near the tantrum that ensued after the Florida Gators beat the Butler Bulldogs in the first round of the 2000 NCAA tournament.

The game was tight to the very end. Butler was up by one against the heavily favored Gators. This Gators team would actually go on to play in the Final Four that year. Current NBA player Mike Miller made the game-winning shot.

Afterward, I went outside and picked up a basketball and threw it up against a wall for 20 minutes straight. I would say I was enraged, but I do not think that would even begin to describe the anger I felt. My parents probably should have sent me to an anger management center, but college basketball and the NCAA tournament were the few things I got angry about. The reason behind the ball-throwing was simply a matter of needing to blow off steam.

It’s obviously not healthy, but I somehow find myself being invested in every single game. At first I root for my bracket, but once my bracket is ruined, like every other person in America I begin rooting for total chaos. Then I proceed to get upset if those upsets don’t happen. Is it really too much to ask every single mid-major team to be Butler, or George Mason, or Virginia Commonwealth? All of those teams reached the Final Four. Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason did so as 11 seeds.

I don’t think my feelings on March Madness will ever change. There is not going to come a point where I stop watching college basketball.

While the NBA game is flashier and features better athletes, there is nothing better than watching a team of future microbiologists and accountants pour on to a court after an upset. We have all dreamed of hitting the game-winning shot and having the crowd chant our name, having our face plastered on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Without March Madness, none of us would know the name of Ali Farokhmanesh, the Northern Iowa guard who hit a big three to upset the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks, or T.J. Sorrentine, who hit a long three to defeat the fourth-seeded Syracuse Orange.

I have come to the realization that I am living my basketball dreams through college-aged kids. And you know what? I am fine with that.

But for the time being, I am going to try to convince you Mississippi Valley State is poised to become the first 16 seed to upset a one seed.

Guess I need to go and buy a basketball. You think City Park cares if I damage their basketball goals?

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