>>> Balls to the Wall
By staff writer Dan Opp
March 15, 2006

March Madness is the most exciting event in sports. Bar none. Hands down. Case closed. Try to convince me otherwise if you must, but your words will fall on deaf ears. No other sporting event offers the passionate play, the broad array of games, or the array of gamely passionate broads (the cheerleaders) of the NCAA Tournament. After a six-month lull and another five months of anxious build-up, the pinnacle of college basketball is upon us once more.

March Madness is my Christmas, my holiday of sports holidays. Picture the traditional jovial family caught up in the holiday spirit, dancing around in their yuletide sweaters, listening to Bing Crosby, strewing tinsel and garland about their festive homes. Starting at noon Eastern on Thursday, that will be me, except I’ll be dribbling a basketball around my living room in the t-shirt that I slept in. It’s almost as if my zest for Christmas faded away after I found out Santa Claus wasn’t real, and the void was replaced by college basketball and Jay Bilas. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I find out Jay Bilas isn’t real.

“Anyone who’s been in a few bracket pools knows that your chances of winning are inversely proportional to your knowledge of the game.”

My all-time best March Madness experience occurred last year, when I was on spring break in Miami. The NCAA Tournament happened to kick off on St. Patrick’s Day and my friend Brad and I were torn as to what our plans for the day should be. We could head to South Beach, gawk at some of the finest ass Miami had to offer, get rip-roaring wasted, and enjoy everyone’s favorite Irish holiday Havana-style; or, we could stay in and watch the first day’s slate of games. As luck would have it, Mother Nature made the decision for us, as it was pouring buckets all day. So, for more than twelve consecutive hours, Brad and I remained glued to the TV, anticipating every score update and noting every upset possibility. All in all, in half a day, we took in bits and pieces of sixteen different basketball games. Most notable was Vermont’s upset over Syracuse, as Brad is a rabid Syracuse fan, and I’m a rabid fan of my friends’ anguish. It was definitely one of the greatest days in my career as a sports fan. Oh, and in case you’re worried, I still got rip-roaring wasted.

On a day-by-day basis, the NCAA Tournament is a chronological masterpiece. In the first round, there are up to four games being played at any given time, and thankfully, CBS’ gluttony for ratings actually leads to better television for once. When that 1 vs. 16 matchup inevitably turns into a massive blowout, they will switch to a more hotly contested game. Better still, the games are purposely staggered, so no two games end at the same time, allowing America’s engrossed viewers to catch every buzzer beater and Cinderella story as they unfold. I’m getting wet just thinking about this, which isn’t supposed to be physically possible.

Another great aspect of the NCAA Tournament is the bracket pool, which adds a financial, and therefore personal, interest to every game. I ran the pool at our fraternity the past few years and everyone who opted not to participate gave the same excuse, “I don’t follow college basketball.” A lame excuse indeed. Anyone who’s been in a few bracket pools knows that, as a general rule, your chances of winning a bracket pool are inversely proportional to your knowledge of the game. Every year, I spend several hours poring over every matchup before settling on a bracket that I’m happy with, and every year, it seems someone’s girlfriend or secretary wins the pool. At this point, I’m considering marking off 64 squares in my neighbor’s yard and letting his dog shit me a winner.

As far as teams to watch, I’ve got a few. I like Bucknell’s chances of getting past Memphis and into the Sweet 16. In fact, the entire Oakland bracket has the potential to be a giant carousel of upsets. That said, losing in the first round still won’t be nearly as upsetting as having to actually live in Oakland.

Syracuse was over-seeded after their run to the Big East conference tournament title and they rely too heavily on the outside shot of Gerry McNamara. A 12 beats a 5 almost every year, so I’m taking Texas A& M over Syracuse as my upset pick in the Atlanta bracket. However, Syracuse’s disappointment will pale in comparison to that of Atlanta’s bachelorettes the day that Court Sullivan goes off the market.

In the Minneapolis region, Georgetown is a 7 seed. I predict they’ll make the Elite Eight, but won’t get past the winner of the Villanova-Boston College game. Also in the Minneapolis region, PIC blogger Chad Chamley will be going into the merkin business to help stymie the pubic plague for our children’s children.

In the Washington bracket, UConn’s Rudy Gay will dunk on anyone who makes fun of his last name. Expect plenty of the highlight reel variety as he gives Husky opponents a taste of his trademark rimjobs. It’s a basketball term. Grow up.

My Final Four: Duke, Kansas, UConn, Villanova

My Neighbor’s Dog’s Final Four: Marquette, Marquette, Duke, Marquette

I never said it was an exact science.

Dan will be making daily blog posts over the course of the tournament, so follow along here and trash his bracket. That is, if you think you can outdo genetic perfection.