For the four days past, I have been immersed in all things college basketball. This month each year is a feast that basketball junkies crave and then savor for all its excess. First and second round games of the NCAA tournament feed the beast that is a fan and leave him wanting more and more. Thats me all the way. I kept track of three games at a time with the wonder that is PIP (picture in picture) on my new digital HDTV, and I make no excuses for my bleary eyed condition.
It's difficult to pinpoint the appeal, the excitement, the need that college basketball holds for us diehards. We crave the juice of a close game. We need the opiate of an overtime or two. We revel in the pathos of an upset. Our nerve endings tingle and spark whenever we catch the opening moments of a long awaited game between top teams.
Any game will fuel the frenzy, but a game that involves our favorite team takes on the tenor of a religious tent revival meeting, Fervent prayers are said invoking the deity's help. Yelling and screaming in tongues unintelligable is common. Pleading for redemption and promising to do good deeds if the outcome is in our favor is not at all unusual. When our team wins, it is a righteous outcome. When our team loses, it is reason to repudiate all that is holy and cross over to the dark side.
Great expectations accompany our teams as they begin the tournament. Dreams of glory fill our heads. In our mind's eye our team will cruise through the opposition with nary a stumble and without even breathing hard. That the actuality is different doesn't diminish the wishful thinking. On paper the best teams always win. On the court heroes are made by tearing up that paper with performances so unexpected that they seem surreal. Parity has arrived in college basketball, so any team can legitimately dream the ultimate dream. There are no real upsets anymore, only surprises.
Having your favorite team in the tournament, and seeded highly, is at once ego inflating and anxiety provoking. The higher your team is seeded the greater the expectations are for glory. And the greater the dissapointment when the team fails to reach those lofty expectations. My beloved UW Badgers took me on a rollercaster ride that I would have preferred be a straight and smooth unimpeded stroll through the tournament. Their second seed meant that they should advance at least into the third or even the fourth round. But kharma showed its bad side and poor shooting and rebounding proved to be their downfall. My blood pressure rose and fell as I paced the room in front of the the TV, spewing invective at the refs and other side's players, pleading for my guys to D-up and deny the shot, jump the passing lanes, don't foul, block that shot, double team and deny the pass, steal the ball, on one end of the court and drive the lane, feed the post, kick it out, pick and roll, crash the boards, nail the three on the other end. All my cheering and encouragement was unrequited as they failed to win their second game. So now my UW Badgers are headed back to Madison, empty handed, no trophy in their grasp. And I am feeling a sense of relief along with the disappointment. Disappointment in their failing to advance farther into the tournament, but relief that I will probably not suffer that heart attack that was likely to hit me if they continued on.
Is there any game that can bring you up and take you down faster than a college basketball game that has your favorite team
in it? We invest so much in the performance of 18-21 year old athletes who can do wondrous magic with a bouncing ball, who can fly through the air as though gravity was a mere theory, who can fling a ball at a tiny hoop and hit nothing but net from 25 feet away. Vicarious though the thrills may be, I won't give them up any time soon. I just wish the whole March Madness thing could extend itself and become April and even May madness. Gotta feed that basketball jones.