Informed Guide to March Madness for the Uninformed

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I’m not much of a sports fan, and that’s a mild understatement. Do I like watching live basketball? Sure. But could I tell you what a “pick and roll” is? Or where a point guard stands? Or the name of even one other position? No, nope and not even if I tried. So when madness descends upon us every March, I’m usually the guy doing everything he can to avoid b-ball talk and ESPN.

But not this year. I made it my mission to get to the bottom of this basketball craze — so if you’re a NARP (non-athletic regular person) like me, or are just totally clueless on what’s going on, this one’s for you.

THE BASICS

OK, so what exactly is happening?

It’s the annual NCAA Tournament—a grueling three-week tourney for Division I squads across the country. 68 teams go head-to-head in single elimination until there’s just one left standing. Watching the games is only half of the action; the real challenge is picking a winning bracket, or guessing which teams will make it all the way to the end. Every year, bromances are shattered, money is squandered and an underdog team makes it further than anyone could have guessed.

So the more you know about basketball, the better, right?

Wrong. When I posed this question to my friend Colin Previte, who knows more about basketball than anyone I know, he laughed in my face. “People try to turn it into a science, but that’s impossible,” he told me. And boy, do they. Hoping to calculate their way to a winning bracket, diehard fans crunch every number they have on players and teams—offensive rebounds, steals against, assists—all terms that mean absolutely nothing to me, and maybe you too if you’re reading this article.

Luckily, as it turns out, you don’t have to know any of that stuff. That’s the painful irony of probability: No matter how meticulous your analysis is, no matter how much data you compile, chances are your choices aren’t the winning bracket. FYI: USA Today calculated the likelihood of picking a perfect bracket to be around 1 in 9.2 quintillion. That’s 18 zeroes. (Sorry.)

Oh, jeez… So how do I know which teams to root for?

Honestly? Pick the jerseys with your favorite color, or the mascot with the most pep. There’s some logic to it, like knowing that No. 1 seeds almost always advance past the first round, and that champs are usually one of the top four seeds. But for the most part, random guessing will get you just as far (if not further) than the guys who’ve been watching college basketball for years.

My personal method is following the players with the coolest names. (Mikh McKinney and Zikiteran Woodley are just so dang fun to say.) I know I’ll be on the lookout for VCU’s band director too, who apparently moonlights as a Chippendale’s stripper.

Things get pretty spicy once the shirt comes off.

HOW TO FAKE IT

If you get dragged into chatting about sports and you’re not sure what to say, there’s two things you need to know going into this year’s tourney. First, the Kentucky Wildcats are currently undefeated. Go ‘Cats. Second, no team that’s entered the tourney undefeated has ever won the whole shebang, not since it was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. So the ‘Cats are sweating—history’s not on their side.

Know too that it’s a terrible idea to assume all four top seeds will make it to the semi-finals. It just doesn’t happen. This year, Kentucky, Villanova, Duke and Wisconsin are the top picks for each of their regions, but it’s likely they won’t be the last four standing.

And that’s because tromping down the court in their crystal Jordans are the “Cinderellas” of the tourney—underdog teams who knock out the biggest threats and cost frustrated betters tons of cash. This year, the Hampton Pirates are in a good position for an upset, since they’re playing Kentucky in the first round. They’re the second worst team in their region and they probably won’t win, but how awesome would it be if they stepped on those ‘Cats’ tails? Most people’s brackets would get tossed out right then and there.

If you’re really struggling to make conversation with your jock roommate, just remember deflection is your friend. Your buddy asks you if Hampton can overcome Kentucky without Dwight Meikle, who averages 13.0 ppg? Tell him, “Y’know, I’m not really sure about that. What do you think?”

Works every time.

Student, writer, lover of all things weird, gross and scientific. Senior at Penn State studying English and Print Journalism.

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