How To Keep March ‘Mad’

Finding a student who enjoys being wrong on this campus is no easy task. Forgetting the first law of thermodynamics on a physics final? Not fun. Confusing the supply and demand curves on an economics exam? Even worse. But over the last few weeks, I’ve had the time of my life despite being just about as incorrect as possible.

Thankfully, I’m not referring to failing a test or botching a presentation. Rather, I’m writing about my March Madness bracket, which was doomed from the start. Two of teams I predicted to reach the Final Four—the Virginia Cavaliers and North Carolina Tar Heels—lost in the first and second rounds, respectively. My “Cinderella” picks, the Houston Cougars and Florida Gators, both fell in the round of 32. I only chose six of the Sweet Sixteen teams, two of the Elite Eight teams, and one of the Final Four teams correctly.

This dismal bracket-making is nothing new; my psychic skills tend to fail me every year come late March. But, I generally consider myself well-versed in the world of sports, and so when my bracket eventually gets busted, I brood over my inaccuracy for the remainder of the tournament. This year, however, I decided to shrug off the disappointment and embrace the excitement that March Madness inevitably provides.

I confidently predicted that overall first-seed Virginia would reach the championship game; I filled out that part of the bracket before even looking at any other matchups—with pen, I should add. As it happened, Virginia lost to the University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers by 20 points in the first round, becoming the first one-seed to lose to a sixteen-seed in the tournament’s history. But instead of cursing the Retrievers for wreaking havoc on my bracket, I was thrilled to see an ultimate underdog, and a team from my home state, topple a perennial basketball powerhouse.

Likewise, I relished in the Texas A&M Aggies’ victory over the Tar Heels. Not only did the Aggies take down the tournament’s defending champions, but the game wasn’t close; the Aggies won by 21. And when Michigan freshman Jordan Poole sank an acrobatic game-winner against Houston, which sent the Wolverines to the Sweet Sixteen and delivered the final blow to my floundering bracket, I was elated.

Historic upsets, magical buzzer-beaters, and emotional roller-coasters are what make March “mad,” and I might as well take the opportunity to relish them. In fact, this year’s tournament has raised a deeply introspective question: should I even make a bracket if I appreciate the tournament more once it’s busted?

Having a personal stake in the tournament transforms it into a stressful three-week period. During the first weekend, the first game tips off at noon and the last game’s final buzzer sounds close to midnight, so eagerly awaiting the results of each contest becomes an arduous, half-day process.

Betting on brackets is also costly. I’ve poured a fair percentage of my bank account into various bracket pools over the past decade and have yet to see any returns. Figurative and literal investments in March Madness raise the stakes of the tournament, naturally leading to more disappointment when my bracket is crushed by the reality of unpredictable upsets and incorrect selections.

In an ideal world, I would probably forgo putting money on the line, but as often as I’m wrong, I still love being right—especially when being right comes with a financial reward. It’s because of this competitive spirit, and the insurmountable satisfaction that accompanies owning the most accurate bracket among family members and friends, that I enter bracket pools and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Maintaining a balance between rooting for my bracket and appreciating the magic of the tournament is essential. While I expected Loyola Chicago to lose in the first round, I’ve had a blast watching them defy the odds and advance to the Final Four. A little objectivity goes a long way in keeping March the good-kind-of-mad.

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