Let me start off by saying that I enjoy basketball. I really do. It's fun to watch, and the NCAA Tournament is a thing like no other. We're about to enter four weeks of amazing games. We'll see upsets, drama, and teams with names like the Anteaters. You can't ask for more than that.
Sometimes, though, life gets in the way, and you don't have time to watch a lot of games during the regular season. Or maybe you're new to this whole ball-in-the-basket thing, and you don't really know what's going on or what to expect. Whatever the reason is, you find yourself now staring at an empty bracket that someone gave you to fill out, wondering how in the world you're supposed to know what to do. Don't worry; I'm here to help. Come with me now, as I take you through a crash course in what you need to know, brought to you by someone who doesn't really know what he's talking about.
1. If you're just getting into basketball, then you're in for a wild ride.
Maybe you’re just getting into the sport. Maybe you’re dating a big basketball fan, and you want to seem like you like it, too. Maybe you just want a flimsy reason to blow off work to gamble and fill out charts. Whatever the reason, if this is your first March Madness, then rest assured that the name isn’t hyperbole. 67 games is a lot. Any given team plays 30+ games in a year, spread out over a few months. The tournament is like watching two complete seasons in a month. So basically, March Madness is like bingewatching House of Cards; it’s gonna be intense. Somebody might even throw a team in front of a Metro train. (It's Kentucky. Kentucky will do this.)
2. The region names don't make sense, so don't worry about it.
Instead of coming up with fancy names like Legends and Leaders, the NCAA decided to keep things simple and go with directional names. Pretty easy, right? A lot of the college conferences use them, as well as pretty much every pro sport. So, when you look at your bracket for the four regions, you'll find the East, the West, the South, and...the Midwest. Now, I'm no Eagle Scout, but I'm pretty sure that that's not what a compass looks like. Oh, wait. That's right. I am an Eagle Scout, and that's wrong. What, is the North not good enough for you, NCAA? Or why not just call it the Cleveland region? Shame nobody from the Chamber of Commerce decided to pony up the dough to get Cleveland's name out there a little more.
3. There is something called truTV, and you have no idea what channel number it is.
If you're looking at a channel guide for the tournament for the first time, you've probably noticed something odd. Some of these games are on weird channels. Sure, CBS makes sense, but TBS is where you go to watch Conan and reruns of pretty much every sitcom ever made. And if TNT is showing basketball, then where are you going to watch old episodes of Law & Order?!
The real confusion comes, though, when you see that some of the games will be aired on truTV. If you've never watched the NCAA Tournament before, then you're probably asking yourself, "What's truTV, and why are these big games airing on it?" (If you have watched before, you're asking yourself, "Wait, what's truTV again, and why are they showing games on it?") TruTV used to be called Court TV. Basically, they just show reality shows and hidden camera stuff. If you didn't know this channel existed, then you're not missing much. For some reason, the NCAA has a joint deal with CBS Sports and Turner Sports for television coverage of the tournament, which is why you're being forced to go over to your parents' house to watch BYU vs. Mississippi. Once we get past the first few rounds, you can forget that it's a channel again.
4. There are some teams that you aren't allowed to be neutral about.
67 teams is a lot. Some people will pretend to have strong feelings about every single one. Those people are ridiculous. Unless you're from Rhode Island, you probably don't care one way or the other about the Providence Friars. It's okay to be apathetic. For the most part. There are, however, some exceptions. Teams like Duke, Ohio State, and Notre Dame require a reaction, and that reaction had better come from your gut. You can love 'em, or you can hate 'em, but it has to be one of those two. There is no middle ground. (With those three, let me make it easy for you: Hate, love, hate.) There's no better way to seem like you know what you're talking about than to have strong, passionate, unfounded feelings about these teams.
5. Everybody loves upsets (except for when they don't).
There's nothing like an upset. After all, who reads the story of David and Goliath and roots for the giant man-monster (besides Donald Trump)? We like to see the little guy win. Unless, of course, the team that gets upset is yours. Watching a 3-seed fall to a 14-seed is amazing; watching your 3-seed team fall to a pathetic lower team is a pain that words can't describe. If you're unsure of who you want to cheer for in a game, the lower seed is almost always a safe bet. If you want to seem gutsy, pick a 16-seed to beat a 1-seed this week. It's never been done before, so you'll look silly if you're wrong, but you'll be a legend if you're right. My youngest sister used to fill out her bracket based on which team had the prettier uniforms, so if upsets aren't your thing, there are more arbitrary ways of predicting a winner.
Sorry Michigan, you aren't even a 16 seed in the 'best dressed' bracket.
Bonus: The tournament starts on Tuesday with two games that most people don't care about.
Let's say all that's not going to cut it, though. You don't just need to seem like you know what's going on; you need to seem like a true fan. A surefire way to score some points is to talk about the First Four. Yes, before the bracket really begins, there are four play-in games, because narrowing 347 teams down to 68 teams is a challenging feat, but to just go straight to 64 would be too much work for the committee. Those games will be played tonight and tomorrow. The only people who care about them are fans of those four teams and basketball nerds, so even acknowledging them will make you look like a pro.
And with that, you're all set. That's right, with that little knowledge, you're prepared to enjoy March Madness, because there's only so much you can prepare for something this epic. Everyone is going to look like a fool at least once during the next four weeks, so no one will really notice or care about your lack of knowledge. The tournament is madness. Miracles occur. Upsets happen. All you can really know for sure is that it'll be one hell of a ride.