March Madness for Newbies

This column is for once-a-year college-basketball consumers. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is going to run for the next 18 days, and it’s possible to enjoy it this time around. Here’s a suggestion: give yourself over to it. The more completely you can do that, the more fun you’ll have. Incline your attitude toward, “I’m here to have a good time.”

Find a tournament map, aka division I men’s bracket. Check any newspaper’s sports section or one of the usual Internet sports sites. Clip or print. Then, find a cheap tournament pool at work or with friends. Risk five or ten bucks, it will give you a rooting interest in Austin Peay. Check your pool regularly. Get the horse-race adrenaline going.

Here are the top-four seeds: North Carolina, Memphis, UCLA, and Kansas. Pick one to win the tournament. This is by no means a lock, but you’ll have a team to follow past the first round. Likewise, don’t pick all the number-one seeds to win their bracket; this has never happened, and you’ll miss the fun of choosing your own teams. Putting your money on a game’s outcome will increase your interest and lead you straight down the path to damnation and gambling addiction. But, that’s a future problem.

I’m not going to advise you to watch all the games. As a novice, it’s too much information, and following the tournament that intensely becomes work. Lucky for you, college basketball was made for people who don’t like to watch college-basketball games. You can ignore the entire game, save for the last five minutes. Most games, both teams will have a chance to win with five minutes left in the contest. There is a caution. The last five minutes can last through a long lunch.

The game transforms from greyhound to snail as two-million-dollar-a-year coaches take the floor to show their bosses how hard they work, show TV viewers how smart they are, which means they’ll call time-outs every other play. Since there are two head coaches on the floor, that means a timeout after every play. Now add fouls that are called on every play, usually causing a player to make two or three free throws. The last five minutes can drag on and on and on and on.

Get on the Internets and check the scores throughout the day. Figure out how every game affects your chances, keep up with how others in your pool are doing.

Seeing the game. You can forget seeing any game in person. That’s not going to happen. The TV schedule can be found here: sportsline.com/cbssports/story/10717250. If you have $69 and a DirecTV setup, you can buy a package that when combined “with coverage from CBS and ESPN,” will get you blah, blah, blah every single game. If you have a TiVo, DVR, VCR, you can record the last five minutes of all the games that are available to you, thus allowing you to skip past timeouts, fouls, and commercials, thus cutting time spent watching three weeks’ worth of stop-and-start college basketball down to 45 minutes, give or take two beers.

For the job environment, all the games are streamed online, for free. Hie thee to ncaasports.com/mmod/ and register.

Storylines. Find several storylines you like and follow them. This is a good year to start, since the University of San Diego men’s and women’s basketball teams are going to the tournament.

Other storylines. Georgia men’s team. This team had a 4-12 conference record. They lost 10 of their last 12 games going into the SEC conference tournament. There, they played and won 2 games on the same day; played and won 3 games in 30 hours; won 4 games in a row, beating three teams that have since been invited to the NCAA tourney and one team that’s going to the NIT tourney. Is that possible?

The mighty WCC (West Coast Conference). Eight schools. Three teams are in (San Diego, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s).

Portland State Vikings. Their home court, Peter W. Stott Center, seats 1775 fans. Not much bigger than your local high school. Nobody comes to games. They hosted the Big Sky Conference basketball tournament this year, and the league made them move to Rose Garden Arena, which seats 19,980 fans. Nobody came. The arena was 20 percent full during the tournament. Why do civilians hate the Vikings?

UMBC. Who the hell is UMBC?

Fullerton State, formally known as California State College, Fullerton. Fullerton is the largest unknown university in America. The school has 37,000 students, more than any other meat factory in the 23-campus California State University system.

Finally, watch at least one game in a bar, preferably a neighborhood bar. For the tradition of it.

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