For college basketball fans, this year’s March Madness quickly turned into March sadness as Thursday and Friday churned out all the glory and defeat that come with upsets.
The thing about the NCAA tournament is that teams don’t have the cushion of a series to fall back upon. It’s one game and one game only, and as we learned from America’s favorite Cold War victory, the big teams might beat the smaller ones nine times out of 10. But not last Thursday.
Yale University beat Baylor University, riding the waves of Makai Mason’s 31-point game. The University of Northern Iowa, our own Missouri Valley Conference rival against whom Loyola was undefeated this season, upset the University of Texas on a buzzer beater. Most shattering, though, Michigan State, a No. 2 seed and a team that many fans projected to win the whole tournament, was knocked out in the first round by Middle Tennessee State University. The win marks the fourth biggest upset in NCAA tournament history, according to ESPN.
For many, this meant that their meticulously calculated brackets failed them. No amount of bracketology would have predicted the Michigan State upset in addition to all the other madness. In fact, there were no remaining perfect brackets on the Yahoo and CBS leaderboards after the loss, while ESPN’s leaderboard showed only three, according the NCAA website.
These are just the official stats, though. What ESPN, Yahoo!, CBS and the NCAA don’t tabulate is the heart bracket. Some people write out a heart bracket and keep it on their desk or just in a folder where they can take a peek if needed. No one puts money on the heart bracket, but somehow a perfect heart bracket is infinitely more valuable than a money bracket.
In the heart bracket, Middle Tennessee State wins because your cousin went there, or MSU has had too
much success in recent years. Maybe you like that the Yale players are scholars as well athletes, and their dedication to their educations earns them the win over Baylor. Perhaps you chose North Carolina for that aesthetically pleasing Tar Heel powder blue.
For those true mathematicians who have never made a heart bracket, it’s not hard. The best way for beginners to make their first heart bracket is to listen to the little tug on the heart strings that happens when you think an underdog team might have a chance.
When your pen or mouse hovers for a moment before making the selection, ask yourself who you would be happiest to see win. When your cousin is excited because her small, middle-of-nowhere school squeaked into the tournament, go with that one for a change. If you’re an alumnus from one of the 64 lucky schools, pick your team to go all the way.
Before endeavoring on the task of making your true heart bracket, I must warn you that you will not be as successful based on pure numbers.
However, when you do score points, those points will mean something. With each round that your heart bracket teams survive, you will experience the thrills of the impossible becoming possible. Just as the highs will be higher, if your teams do fall, the lows will be lower. It will hurt and you’ll be frustrated, but it will all be worth it for the hope.
After all, don’t we live for that moment that ball is hovering in mid-air, launched from half court as the buzzer sounds? Don’t we relish that waning balance between the elation of victory and the agony of defeat or the moment where there is no sound and all you can see is that orange sphere sailing through the arena — that moment where everyone is holding their breath waiting for the thwick of the net? That’s the moment of the heart bracket. And that’s the moment that has defined this March Madness.