It’s the middle of March, naturally a good time of the year to study. But in an odd twist, studying this week doesn’t require any science or history books. That’s why April exists. Rather, studying in mid-March often involves brushing up on college basketball.
March Madness is here and so too is its accompanying posse. The buzzer-beaters, the upsets, and the “shining moments” that have provided CBS with some of college basketball’s greatest memories of the past 25 years. But college basketball’s year-end tournament is also reason enough for many to join a March Madness pool, be it with friends, co-workers, or even complete strangers. The opportunity to correctly pick winners in as many as 63 basketball games is the lure, filling out forms and tournament brackets, is the requirement.
The FBI predicts more than $3.5 billion will be spent this week on March Madness pools. With more than half of these pools originating from the workplace, productivity in American offices is expected to take a hit.
According to Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based research company, close to $900 million in office productivity will be lost during the first two weeks of the NCAA tournament. Workers are apparently too busy reading up on college basketball in the days leading up the tournament, and following the games either online or watching them on TV once they begin.
The familiar names will literally be written out millions of times this week, as professional and recreational gamblers alike, fill out their brackets. The Connecticuts, Dukes, and North Carolinas, will enter everyday conversation. Those with no ties whatsoever to the University of Texas, will find themselves rooting for the Longhorns, because they’ve picked them to win a game or two, possibly the maximum of six.
But every year, there are always a few bracket busters. Those underdogs teams with obscure names like Butler or Valparaiso, who ruin your chance at basketball betting glory, yet make March Madness a joy to watch every year.
If having a few dollars on the line, and entering pools brings people to watch March Madness, the anticipation of an upset keeps them hooked.
As highlights will no doubt be shown of previous tournament upsets, don’t be surprised to see more underdogs moving through the brackets this year, given the current landscape of college basketball.
Think back to one of the biggest upsets of last year’s tournament – 13th seeded Vermont beating number-four Syracuse 60-57 in overtime.
Entering last March, Vermont had never won an NCAA tournament game, while Syracuse was just two years removed from a national championship. Vermont was from the relatively unknown America East conference; Syracuse from the talent-rich Big East.
But Vermont had the ingredients to pull out the win – leadership and maturity. The Catamounts played with four seniors in their starting lineup, while Syracuse had just two.
More importantly for Syracuse however, was who they were missing – the Most Valuable Player of their 2003 championship run, Carmelo Anthony. On the same night his former teammates lost to Vermont, the-would-be junior was three time zones away, playing in Los Angeles with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets.
There is little doubt that Anthony could have made the difference for Syracuse on a night they lost by just three points. But rather than stay in school for his junior, or even his sophomore season, Anthony jumped to the riches of the NBA after just one year in college.
Instead of having Anthony in the lineup, Syracuse relied on younger, inexperienced players against the senior-laden Catamounts. On paper, Syracuse maintained an edge in skill, but on the court, Vermont was better able to play intelligent basketball and follow a game plan.
Rather than recruit potential superstars who may leave school early to pursue careers in professional basketball, smaller schools like Vermont have no choice but to bring in lesser-known players with fewer skills, but with plans of staying in college for four years.
Ultimately the names on the front of jerseys become less important than the players wearing them. Programs such as Vermont and Bucknell learned last March for example not to be intimidated by a Syracuse or a Kansas.
More student-athletes are leaving school early to pursue the NBA and as a result, the landscape of college basketball has changed. The likelihood of upsets in March Madness is now greater than ever, as experience takes on skill. The gap between the major programs, and the mid-majors is shrinking and predicting the winners may be more difficult than ever before.
All the more reason to begin studying for all the pools you plan on entering. Otherwise, find a coin and flip the thing. Given the uncertainty in most match ups, filling out a bracket blind-folded might even do the trick this year.
Either way, enjoy the madness. One of sport’s greatest events is back again.
Fourteen Canadian players will take part in this year’s NCAA tournament, including four from Montreal. They include Sheray Thomas (Kentucky), Max Gosselin (Davidson), Maurice Joseph (Michigan State), and Pierre-Marie Altidor-Cespedes (Gonzaga).
The Concordia Stingers played against three of this year’s NCAA tournament teams. The Stingers lost to top-seeds Duke and Connecticut, in addition to 15th -seeded Davidson.
Duke and Connecticut finished the regular season ranked one and two in the national polls. Concordia was one of just four teams in North America to have played both of the country’s top-two programs. The others to have done so this season were Indiana and Georgetown (both in the NCAA tourney), and St. John’s.
Closer to home, the CIS is down to its Final 10. The ten remaining teams in Canadian college basketball meet in Halifax this weekend to determine a national champion. The third-year Universit