Last week marked perhaps my favorite time of the sporting year: The start of the NCAA basketball tournament.
I got to spend a decent amount of time watching the games, and here are my thoughts on what went down:
The new TV format is great
Up until this year, the tournament games have exclusively been on CBS. With multiple games at the same time, that meant that unless you had DirecTV and paid extra money for the special package, you were only seeing whichever game your local affiliate wanted to show.
There might have been a thrilling contest taking place, but because Georgetown was playing at the same time, you’d be stuck watching the Hoyas blow out a 15 seed by 20 points instead. (Or as has been the case in recent years, watch the Hoyas get upset by a much lower seed)
In recent years, they had alleviated this problem somewhat by streaming all of the games online. Unfortunately, because of the millions of people streaming the games, this tended to cause noticeable internet slowdowns. Employers were generally not happy with this.
This year, the NCAA signed a new television contract allowing the games to be spread among CBS, TBS, TNT, and TruTV, meaning that everyone (at least everyone with cable) could now see every game.
I’m sure that just about everyone in America had the same reactions that I did:
1. This is amazing.
2. What the hell is TruTV?
Apparently, TruTV is indeed a real network, and as I discovered on Thursday, it is part of the Verizon FiOS channel lineup. Based on the commercials, they seem to air various reality shows. I have a strong feeling I won’t be tuning into this station again until next March.
The networks were smart enough to stagger the start times of games just enough so that you never had two games ending at the same time. It usually worked out that as soon as one game ended, you could switch to the last ten minutes of another.
It seems genuinely surprising that a sport and its TV partners have actually tried to improve the viewing experience.
Nice weather makes it all better
For some strange reason, more often than not, we get really nice weather for the first round (oh wait, I mean second round – more on this later) of the tournament. It’s kind of like nature’s way of saying “You are not supposed to be working!”
Taking off from work to watch NCAA games is nice. Watching those games while sitting outside on your patio is even nicer.
It isn’t the “Second Round” because nobody cares about the play-in games
A few years back, the tournament added a preliminary game in which the two lowest ranked teams played each other just to earn a 16 seed.
Nobody really cared all that much because whoever won that game was then crushed in the first round by a 1 seed anyway. People were free to ignore that game when filling out their brackets, and for the most part, they did.
But the NCAA seems determined to cram as many teams into the tournament as possible. This year, they added another 16 vs. 16 matchup (once again, ultimately meaningless because these teams will lose in the next round), as well as two more games where the lowest ranked “at-large” (teams that didn’t win the automatic bid for winning their conference tournament) teams would have to play each other in order to get entered as an 11 or 12 seed.
These games caused some problems for people trying to fill out a bracket. Unlike the 16 seeds, these teams had legitimate chances of winning once they got to the regular part of the tournament.
For someone like me who actually tries to do some research on the tournament teams, it was annoying that I didn’t even know the complete tournament field until late Wednesday night. And sure enough, one of those teams – VCU – is now in the Sweet 16, screwing up the brackets for everyone who just chose to overlook them.
The NCAA has tried to legitimize these play-in games by calling them the “First Round,” and what used to be the first round (The Thursday and Friday games) is now called the “Second Round.”
But despite the best efforts of the NCAA and the networks, I didn’t care enough about these games to actually watch them, and nobody I talked to did either.
The generic looking courts hurt the atmosphere
For me, part of the appeal of the first two rounds used to be seeing the games played on different courts. Games were played in eight different locations throughout the country, and each court’s unique paint job and configuration added a little bit of variety.
But now, the NCAA makes sure that each court is painted in exactly the same manner, making every arena look identical.
It’s not a huge deal, but it just seemed to kill a little bit of the magic.
Avoiding seeing scores is difficult
Temple (my favorite team) was playing Penn State on Thursday afternoon. In the past, if the game had not been shown by the local CBS affiliate, I would have either had to watch it online or left work and gone to a sports bar.
This year, the game was shown on TNT, which meant I could DVR the game, and watch it when I got home from work.
The one problem with this plan: Avoiding seeing or hearing the score. This is more difficult than it sounds, since it seems like the scores are EVERYWHERE.
At my previous job, people used to talk about the games nonstop, so I would have been doomed. Fortunately, I now work in small office, so I was confident that I could avoid hearing people discuss the game. The real difficulty would come from my old friend: the internet.
The internet is like a bad gossip. You can tell it that you don’t want to know the score of a game, but it just can’t resist trying to tell you. It doesn’t matter where you try to hide: Email, GChat, Facebook, CNN, ESPN, Yahoo! None of these sites are safe to visit when you’re trying to avoid a March Madness score.
I basically had to cut myself off from the internet that entire afternoon in order to avoid hearing the score. I was fortunately successful, and as a side result, it was probably one of my more productive days at work.
Babies don’t appreciate March Madness
After a day of avoiding the scores, I arrived home and fired up the DVR to watch the Temple game. Unfortunately, while I watched the game, the Cutlet came home and proceeded to have a bit of a breakdown.
She was crying rather loudly, and nothing I tried (or at least nothing I tried while still being able to watch the game) calmed her down. I spent much of the second half bouncing her on my lap as I cheered and chanted “Defense.” I’m not sure if that made things better or worse.
She eventually calmed down and was drinking her bottle as the game came to its final seconds. When Temple’s Juan Fernandez made a difficult shot at the end to win the game, I let out a scream of triumph. Naturally, this set the Cutlet off and she began to scream again.
I told her that it was OK, and that she didn’t need to cry because Temple had won, but that didn’t seem to soothe her at all. Maybe she’s just a Penn State fan.
That wasn’t the last March Madness breakdown she had. On Friday, we had some friends over to watch the games. Everything seemed nice. We were sitting on the patio. The Cutlet was playing contentedly nearby in her bouncer.
This happy state lasted until the conclusion of the George Mason vs. Villanova game. When a George Mason player hit a clutch shot, everyone cheered rather loudly. Naturally, this startled the Cutlet, who responded in her usual fashion: By screaming loudly.
Everyone loves the “Girl from 4E”
During the tournament, we saw quite a bit of the State Farm commercial where a group of guys are sitting around their apartment:
I’ve discussed the State Farm Magic Jingle commercials before, but everyone seems to especially enjoy this one, mostly due to the presence of the “Girl from 4E.”
Why do guys like the Girl from 4E so much? Well, she’s obviously an attractive girl, since she looks good just lounging around in her sweat pants and glasses. But I think her real appeal comes from how she handles the situation.
It appears as if she was just having a leisurely day at home, typing away at her laptop computer. Suddenly, she is unexepectedly teleported into her neighbor’s apartment where she is surrounded by three guys.
Most women would probably panic in this situation, and understandably so. If these guys have the ability to magically transport women into their apartment, there’s a good chance they don’t want to just sit around and have a pleasant conversation.
But “Girl from 4E” does not panic. She takes a second to assess the situation, looks over at the guy, and gives him a very subtle coy smile. This girl is obviously down to party.
Naturally, after seeing this commercial on Friday, we Googled “Girl from 4E” and found a lot of results. Apparently, she has quite a few fans out there.
For the record, the actress’ name is Holly Lynch, and you can check out her website here: http://www.hollylynch.biz
Double overtime is excruciating
Temple’s second (excuse me, third) round game was against #2 seed San Diego State. Not being a traditional basketball power, I didn’t know much about them. But they were 33-2, so I figured they must be pretty good.
Temple started off slowly, falling behind by 11 in the first half. But they played a strong defensive game and slowed the game down, allowing them to make a comeback. As time wound down, each play became that much more crucial, and I underwent mood swings with every basket. After Temple tied the game and sent it into overtime, things just grew worse.
When the game went into a second overtime, a strange feeling began to come over me. When a game goes on for that long, with so many tense moments, you sort of just want it to end one way or another. I had thoughts of “Well, Temple was an underdog, so they weren’t expected to win anyway. Just making it to double overtime is a victory in itself.”
Sadly, the game did end, but not with Temple on top. They seemed to grow tired in the second overtime period and lost the game.
NCAA pools make us temporary rabid fans
As top seeded Pittsburgh was in danger of being upset on Saturday night, I saw a lot of people suddenly become Pitt fans. Losing a Final Four team in the first weekend is like a kiss of death for a pool bracket, so anyone who predicted Pitt to go that far was really pulling for them in this game.
I had actually picked Butler to upset Pitt, so unlike many others, I was actually pleased by the result.
I had my own temporary fan moment on Sunday. I had Arizona as a sleeper pick to reach the Final Four, but as the game wound down, they were in danger of blowing a big lead and losing their game.
All of a sudden, I was one of the biggest Arizona supporters out there. Despite not being able to name one player on the team, I was loudly cheering on the Wildcats, shouting at the TV, urging them to make a basket. Fortunately, Arizona pulled out a victory, leaving my bracket in good shape.
The rest of the tournament just isn’t as much fun
After the first weekend of the tournament, I feel like people stop paying attention to the tournament unless one of the following applies:
1. You really like college basketball.
2. You support a team in the Sweet 16.
3. You have a chance to win your pool.
Sure, there may still be some upsets, and in theory, we’re down to the best teams in the country. But for me, the real appeal comes in the first two (sorry, second and third) rounds. That’s when you get to see teams that you’ve probably never seen before trying to make an improbable run and etch their names into history.
I’ll still probably watch – after all, I like sports, and my brackets are in good shape – but the real fun is over.
Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.