There are two types of people within the continental United States. Those who think March 15, 2012 is a Thursday and those who know it is the beginning of the most exciting four days in American sports.
If you fall into the former group, let me explain: The first weekend of the 64-team NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, known as March Madness, starts today at 9:15AM PST, and with it marks the beginning of an 85-hour period of agitated zombie-like worthlessness for 90% of men and 17% of women across the country (statistics completely fabricated for the effectiveness of this article, but positively ballpark accurate).
I say worthlessness only because that’s how it may appear to anyone who hasn’t embraced the Madness—yet anyway. But this year, since St. Patty’s Day falls on Saturday, you won’t only be hearing about teams and brackets at the office, you’re probably going to end up in a bar drinking a green beer with the zombies. So, you might as well give in and join their dedication to multiple TVs, high fives, and bouts of screaming. Or at least know what they’re talking about.
If you need a crash course, welcome to your CliffsNotes guide to getting through the next four days of basketball fury.
March Madness is a 64-team tournament, one-and-done style—as in, if you lose once, you’re headed back to campus to play flip-cup or bouncy-cup or destroy-cup or whatever they’re playing these days. Those 64 teams are broken up into four “regions,” lovingly designated East, West, South, and MidWest—with 16 teams in each.
In each of the four regions, the teams are ranked by old, angry sports experts based on their basketball ability—from 1 (the best) to 16 (not the best, but a pretty solid birthday number). These numbers are called “seeds,” which is important. It’s also kind of upsetting and sad, because they make the #16 seed (Molly Ringwald) play the #1 seed in the first game! (And you thought there was no drama in basketball.) And, no, Molly Ringwald (#16) has never won a game in the tournament, ever.
In any case, when you’re watching the game, you’ll see the seed listed next to each team’s name, so you’ll know which team is supposed to win, or, better yet, how big an upset it is if it’s the other way around.
The Sweet Sixteen
The first four days of the tournament, while a huge deal, are actually only the first two rounds. At the end of the day on Sunday, there will be 16 teams remaining in the tournament, a.k.a. the Sweet Sixteen. Over the next two weeks, those will be whittled down to the Elite Eight, and finally, the teams claiming victory over the East, West, South, and MidWest divisions will become the Final Four.
Then, those teams play each other, one becomes the champion, and a video montage of all the tournament highlights to the sweet smooth sound of Luther Vandross’s “One Shining Moment” ensues. Believe me, it’s even more glorious than it sounds.
Terms to Know
In the next couple weeks, you’ll hear these terms thrown around a lot—so here’s what they mean (and don’t mean, at least as far as basketball is concerned).
Those are the pieces of paper that all the zombies have been scribbling on since last Sunday with the tenacity of—dare I say—a badger of the honey variety.
Cinderella: A fairy tale involving a blond janitor—or the underdog. Used to describe a low-seeded (ranked) team that wins the first round, and particularly if they continue on deep into the tournament.
Buzzer Beater: A shot made as time on the game clock expires, sending one team home and the other into a violently aggressive victory dance rampage.
- A popular upset pick is the #12 seed beating a #5 seed.
- As previously mentioned, the #1 seed has never lost to a #16 seed. Similarly, a #15 seed has beaten a #2 seed maybe two or three times, ever.
- The teams that win on Thursday play again on Saturday.
- The teams that win on Friday play again on Sunday.
- Commentator Dick Vitale is the insane bald Grandpa you always wanted.
- Commentator Bob Knight is the cranky old neighbor that most likely disposed of your family pet Skippy.
These are the basics—but there is so, so, much more to this tournament if you give it a little chance. I’d go so far as to say it’s as American as apple pie, reality shows, and partisan politics. So, learn a little about the game, give the first four days a try, and you just might be joining the zombie crowd for the rest of the tournament.