March Madness: The Spring Phenomenon that makes North America Bleed Basketball
You can know absolutely nothing about basketball, but this spring you will have a chance at winning nearly $20,000 right here. In five to ten minutes, someone who has never heard of over half of the 68 teams in the NCAA tournament can suddenly be invested in this crazy event by creating a bracket. The heart of the tournament is not in perennial powerhouses thrashing opponents, though. Every year at least one or more teams become household names and are thrown into the spotlight by playing the role of Cinderella. These underdogs, complete an unprecedented upset and the audience becomes captivated. A team like Florida Gulf Coast who made March Madness in their second of year of eligibility, as a 15 seed got the label of “Dunk City” and got the 2013 ESPY Award for Upset of the Year. This tournament grabs the attention of even the most casual sports viewer, as the viewer goes on a roller-coaster ride accompanied by Cinderella.
In 1985 March Madness changed forever by expanding from 53 to 64 teams. A marketing gamble by the NCAA, it would soon prove to be genius. But, it was almost short lived. It was in 1989 that the tournament’s new format proved its capabilities. The Princeton Tigers, a 16 seed came in to their first round matchup against the #1 seeded Georgetown Hoyas. By 1989, no #1 seed had lost their first round game, and only one had won by less than five points. The mismatched first round games were proving to be guaranteed blowouts, and the domination sparked discussion. The NCAA had begun discussing reducing the tournament size to 32, and the Power Six conferences, where most of the big schools played during the season, had even begun to discuss creating their own tournament to increase profits. Back to Princeton vs Georgetown. The Hoyas, led by Alonzo Mourning, were the clear favourites. However, Princeton Head Coach Pete Carril gave his Tigers a near perfect game-plan. The Tigers slowed down the game by milking the shot clock, playing hard defense and forcing their opponent to hit free throws. At halftime Princeton was ahead by eight points, and all of a sudden a game that was believed to be a cakewalk became a spectacle.
Sports fans love to see David beat Goliath. This was just that. For the first time in NCAA tournament history, David was leading at the half significantly. At halftime, when ESPN cut to their studios, analyst Dick Vitale was left speechless by the game. The Hoyas realized that their game-plan was not working, and began feeding the ball to Alonzo Mourning. With 15 seconds left, Princeton had the ball, down 50-49. Bobby Scrabis had a chance to hit the game-winning shot with seven seconds left, but his shot was blocked by Mourning, and the ball bounced out of play. Princeton had the ball was one second left, and one last chance to pull off a Cinderella story. They inbounded the ball, and the shot was once again blocked, Princeton cried for a foul, but it was to no avail. Princeton may have lost, but they gained the moral victory. March Madness was saved during that game. A 20+ point underdog had nearly knocked off one of the best teams in college basketball. The impact was immense and can still be heard today.
A 16 seed has still not beaten a 1 seed to this day. Number one seeds are a combined 128-0 all-time against the sixteenth seeds, but Cinderella stories live on in the 1989 Princeton team’s image. In 2011, Virginia Commonwealth University entered March Madness in the First Four, meaning they needed to play an extra play-in to even earn their seeding in March Madness. VCU beat the University of Southern California in the First Four, then went onto upset Georgetown and Purdue in their first week of March Madness. With none of these games being close, VCU carried their momentum into a nail-bitter with Florida State, whom they beat by one point through a dramatic defensive stand in overtime. On top of the world, VCU would go on to beat the number one seeded Kansas Jayhawks. While they would fall to the Butler Bulldogs in the Semi-Finals, their presence was felt. All five of VCU’s wins in March Madness that year came against Power Six schools, and using this momentum, VCU moved conferences from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Atlantic 10. The Atlantic 10 just happens to be second highest ranked conference in the NCAA, excluding the Power Six. Troy Daniels a reserve player with a short career, was the only player from that VCU team to make an NBA roster. The underdog had become household names in the span of the month.
The nobodies are not just good for the spirit of the sport, but these nobodies are best for business. In 2014 Brigham Young University statisticians did a study to formulate a model, which would predict the highest viewership for potential March Madness Final Four teams. The Dayton Flyers, a Mid-Major from the Atlantic 10 conference, were first. 2014’s Cinderella had captivated the nation and were projected to rake in 22.2 million viewers had they made the Finals. One statistician explained the theory as follows: “The Cinderella teams, with all the national media attention they get, become a national star. It’s not that these schools have an established national fan base, it iss that the NCAA tournament celebrates the Cinderella more so than other sports.” The model suggests that, on average, a Final Four match-up with a smaller market team or Cinderella would garner 35% more viewers than a game featuring two powerhouses. These Cinderella stories captivate the casual fan, who made a bracket for fun and does not have a team to root for. This fan tunes into one game, sees the emotion and energy of the underdog, and quickly becomes attached to them. March Madness makes dreams come true and turns casual fans into sports consumers, who become invested in the storyline and become engulfed in emotions of March.
Come March 16th, the sports networks will suddenly cut back on their professional sports coverage, and converge on this annual tournament. March Madness is not just a sporting event, it is a March tradition. Its widespread impact and viewership across North America has sponsors jump on the bandwagon to gain exposure and publicity. The Werner ladder, which players and coaches climb to cut down the net after the winning the National Championship is “The Official Ladder of the NCAA.” The tournament is North American consumerism and sport at its finest, it can be simply described as organized pandemonium. March Madness makes us scream and rejoice at the sight of a Cinderella’s triumph, or crumble and cry when a shocking defeat takes out the underdog. This tournament is built for the underdog, where anything can happen and, nothing is outside of the realm of possibility. Maybe one day a 16 seed will finally beat a 1 seed. Regardless of when or if that day comes, March Madness will always make us dream and believe. Welcome back March Madness, I missed you dearly. To new fans, welcome to the greatest annual sporting spectacle on the planet.
The Weekly Rap
- Without Kyle Lowry the Raptors’ ball movement is merely a shadow of what it used to be. During the month of March the Raptors are averaging 16.1 assists per game, which happens to be their worst assist average of the season. 16.1 looks even worse when you look at November and December when the Raptors were clicking, as they were averaging over 20 assists per game through that two-month stretch. Toronto needs to focus on team basketball, if they want to challenge the Boston Celtics for first place in the Atlantic division, or even maintain their current position in the standings.
- Norman Powell has been a bright spot for the Raptors in March. With DeMarre Carroll in and out of the lineup, Powell has had opportunities to start, and has shined. In March Powell is shooting nearly ten shots a game, at 49.3%, which is good for nearly 15 points a night. Powell also excels defensively, and provides some ball movement for the Raptors, who are in dire of need it. The sophomore is showing flashes of brilliance, and could be close to breaking out into a consistent NBA starter. Raptor fans have a reason to be excited about Norman Powell.
Top 5 NBA Power Ranking
- Spurs (52-14)
- The Game of the Year thus far turned out to be a joke, as all of the superstars in Saturday’s matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors were held off the court. In such fashion, the Spurs thrashed the Warriors, and the Spurs are now 11-1 in their last 12 games. In over half of these wins, the Spurs have been resting a starter as well, so it is quite evident how deep this Spurs bench goes. San Antonio is prepped and ready for a deep playoff run.
- Warriors (53-14)
- The Warriors nearly lost their fourth game in a row on Tuesday evening at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers, but were able to come back and win. While the win is a good sign for the Warriors, they have little to smile about. Golden State is 5-5 in their last 10, which is their worst stretch in recent memory, and Andre Igoudala has voiced his frustrations with Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr. After the Warriors’ loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, Igoudala referred to Kerr as “master” and had to be informed by the media that he would be benched for the Warriors matchup against the Spurs. Igoudala was not impressed with the decision, and obviously has some tension with his coach.
- Celtics (42-25)
- Game recognizes game. The Boston Celtics have beaten both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors in March. This feat is impressive and cannot be ignored, as both games were no fluke. The Celtics are putting their full arsenal to use and with a healthy Avery Bradley they can beat anybody. Health will be key to the Celtics long-term success. Isaiah Thomas carries the team, but having a healthy Al Horford and Avery Bradley will be necessary if the Celtics want to grind it out in the playoffs.
- Cavaliers (44-22)
- Andrew Bogut is a sad man. He played one minute on March 6th before suffering a season-ending injury. Bogut’s fractured tibia opened the door for the Cavs to invite Larry Sanders to join them. Sanders has accepted the invitation, and many are keen to see what the freak athlete can still do. Sanders is the case of a young man whose mind took over his game. Sanders dealt with depression and anxiety issues and had walked away from basketball. It is really nice to see Sanders back, and I am rooting for him to succeed. The Cavaliers will need to play better, if they would like to succeed come playoff time, as their 4-6 record in their last 10 games is less than impressive.
- Jazz (42-25)
- The Utah Jazz are a team many sleep on. The Jazz play at an incredibly slow pace, but compliment this slow pace with an intense defensive structure led by their star Gordon Hayward. Hayward averages 22 points per game, with over 5 rebounds and over 3 assists per game. He helps anywhere and everywhere for the Jazz and has made this young team dangerous. The Jazz bring youthful energy to their game with only two players over 30 (Boris Diaw and George Hill). Look for the Jazz to potentially come close to pulling off an upset against the NBA’s elite in the post-season, as this young team is eager to get their names thrown into the spotlight.
The Penalty Box
- The New Jersey Devils are either trying to tank or Taylor Hall is required to finish at the bottom of the standings. Either way the Devils have lost their last 10 games and have been shutout in three of these games. They have the second worst offense in the NHL, they take the least shots per game, and they are still playing the trap. It has been nearly 14 years since the Devils last Stanley Cup, yet they are insistent on playing an archaic and boring style of hockey. The Devils are so bad right now that a snowstorm even beat them on Tuesday night, as their match-up against the Winnipeg Jets was postponed due to the storm.
- The Philadelphia Flyers were once challenging for a wild card positon in the East, but since February 1st they boast a mediocre record of 6-9-2. Flyers’ captain Claude Giroux is on pace for his worst season, since 2009-10 and has only recorded two even-strength points since February 1st. Giroux, who would usually help lead the charge towards a potential playoff spot has been underwhelming, and the Flyers have followed suit.
Stars of the Week
- Many people do not like him, but Patrick Kane is an incredible hockey player. Kane has 27 points in his last 17 games, 16 being goals, and he has thrown himself back into the Art Ross chase. Over the same 17 game stretch the Blackhawks are 14-3-0, and that can largely be attributed to Kane’s play. Kane has the most even-strength points on the year at 57, and as usual has the Chicago Blackhawks among Cup favourites.
- The Calgary Flames have turned their season around in spectacular fashion. A dramatic shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday evening saw the Flames match their franchise record for consecutive wins with their 10th in a row. The Flames have gone all the way from being on the outside of the playoff picture to second place in the Pacific division, with a strong chance of home-ice advantage in the first round. Brian Elliott has finally become consistent, boasting a .943 save percentage and 1.74 goals against average during this 10 game win-streak.
What to watch this week?
- Wednesday: Grizzlies vs Bulls 8:00pm ET, Bruins vs Flames 9:00pm ET, Blues vs Ducks 10:00pm ET
- Thursday: March Madness 12:15pm ET (ALL DAY), Thunder vs Raptors 7:00pm ET, Jazz vs Cavaliers 7:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Sens 7:30pm ET, Maple Leafs vs Lightning 7:30pm ET, Flames vs Oilers 9:00pm ET, Blues vs Sharks 10:30pm ET
- Friday: March Madness 12:15pm ET (ALL DAY), Bulls vs Wizards 7:00pm ET, Raptors vs Pistons 7:30pm ET
- Saturday: March Madness TBD (ALL DAY), Canadiens vs Senators 7:00pm ET, Rangers vs Wild 7:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Maple Leafs 7:00pm ET, Cavaliers vs Clippers 8:30pm ET, Jazz vs Bulls 9:00pm ET, Spurs vs Grizzlies 9:00pm ET, Ducks vs Sharks 10:30pm ET
- Sunday: March Madness TBD (ALL DAY), Senators vs Canadiens 7:30pm ET, Kings vs Flames 9:30pm ET
- Monday: Bruins vs Maple Leafs 7:00pm ET, Wizards vs Celtics 7:30pm ET, Warriors vs Thunder 8:00pm ET, Kings vs Oilers 9:00pm ET, Knick vs Clippers 10:30pm ET
- Tuesday: Bulls vs Raptors 7:00pm ET, Flames vs Capitals 7:00pm ET, Senators vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Sharks vs Wild 8:30pm ET
Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.