By Tucker Paquette
When people think of March Madness and the NCAA Basketball Tournament, Selection Sunday and the process of making a bracket likely first come to mind for most of them.
However, isn’t it reasonable to think that the NCAA Tournament, while already a very good time, could be further enhanced if people forgot about making their picks and simply enjoyed the basketball games? I believe it is.
It is perfectly understandable why college hoops fans are so eager to partake in the bracket-making tradition: it’s fun to showcase your knowledge and have friendly competitions with friends in the process, by way of bracket challenges.
But, at the same time, there is definitely something to be said for focusing solely on the high-quality, entertaining basketball being played from mid-March into early April.
With a yearly, healthy blend of some powerhouse teams going on deep runs and other strong squads getting knocked out early in surprising fashion, fans have a lot of fun and intriguing storylines to follow as the madness rolls on.
Take this year’s men’s tournament as an example: while Alabama and Houston are formidable 1 seeds who are showing no signs of slowing down, Kansas and Purdue were the other two 1 seeds and neither of them made it out of the round of 32.
The women’s tournament unfolded in a similar fashion, with Stanford and Indiana (both No. 1 seeds in their own right) losing in the second round of action.
This type of dynamic takes place just about every year – one can look back to teams such as No. 16 seed UMBC and No. 15 Saint Peter’s for additional instances of schools going on unexpected-yet-thrilling runs deep into March.
UMBC and Saint Peter’s are perfect examples of March Madness’ biggest cliché – the “Cinderella” story, a team that enters the tournament with little in the way of expectations but captures the hearts of many in the nation while finding stunning success.
Upsets and Cinderella stories, as well as wire-to-wire games that place a quick and effective stranglehold on the viewer’s attention, are what make this time of year in college basketball so fun.
And yes, it’s fair to say that people watching this magical mayhem occur can still have fun doing so while rooting for their selections to be proven right.
However, count me among the believers that March Madness is made significantly better (and more fun) for fans when they don’t fill out a bracket (or in some people’s cases, numerous brackets).
Without a horse in the proverbial race, fans are able to sit back and enjoy the games, without the added stress and frustration of hoping their picks turn out well. The removal of that consideration on fans’ minds allows them to truly get engrossed in all that March Madness has to offer.
I’ve taken both approaches in the past, having made brackets some years and not having done so in others. I can safely say that I’ve enjoyed the tournaments where I haven’t filled out a bracket much more. Having the luxury of watching the games happen without having a vested rooting interest truly makes the experience even more entertaining.
If making brackets and competing in ESPN’s much-ballyhooed Tournament Challenge is someone’s thing, then they should go for it: earn bragging rights on friends and craft the ideal bracket.
But, if a basketball fan desires a refreshing and enjoyable viewing experience, choosing to not make a bracket may be the perfect way to achieve just that.