There are four bracket building experiences when your team is in the tournament, but one is exponentially worse than the others.
March Madness is a wonderful time of year. So wonderful, in fact, it attracts fans and incites deep, disproportionate investment in viewers regardless of whether you the viewer a) like basketball b) like college basketball c) went to college d) went to a college with a basketball team or e) went to a college with a basketball team in the tournament. Nigh everyone gets swept up in the fervor. Something about single-elimination and buzzer-beaters and Duke fans crying on TV. (And gambling.)
Still, March Madness takes on a slightly different tenor if you attended an alma mater with a basketball team to speak of. And if you fill out a bracket. (Who doesn’t fill out a bracket?) Because if you attended a school with a good-enough basketball team and you’re filling out a bracket with which you intend to do well in any kind of pool, then, yikes, you are in a tricky spot, my friend.
Alums, current students and/or anyone with a strong rooting interest have, broadly, four potential March Madness bracket-picking emotional experiences. The emotional experiences of the tournament itself, on the other hand, are wide-ranging and know no categorization, on account of the fact March Madness is known for veering chaotically off the rails of expectation. A top seed cannot save you from last-second first-round torture, a Cinderella streak can spring out of nowhere, and so forth.
But first: Brackets. While anyone would happily toss a broken bracket aside at the chance of a title run for their beloved, there is still the preliminary matter at hand.
And there are all only four ways this can go. In order of enjoyability:
- Your school made the tournament and you are great. You are a powerhouse basketball program. You’re always a contender. With exactly zero knowledge of the season or the seeds, no one bats an eye when you advance your alma mater to the Final Four because, hey, it’s _____. You probably root for Duke or Kansas or Michigan State or Villanova or UNC.
- Your school made the tournament, but everyone knows you are not good. Like, 15-to-play-in game not-good. You love your school and even one seed higher and you’re talking yourself into that first round upset, but not at No. 15. You have pride. (You will create a separate, private bracket in which Just-An-Off-Year U wins the title.)
- Your school made the tournament, and everyone is kind of confused at the seeding. But who are you to question the Selection Committee? You are a No. 7 to 14 seed and the bracket is set up in your favor, too, so you can — and will — honor your school by advancing them to the round of 32 where they will lose to a No. 1 or a 2 seed, but you’ll only be down a point in your work pool. There is a medium level of angst involved in bracket picking, especially if you’re a 7 or 10, or perhaps a 12, but more often than not, chalk wins out by the second round.
And now, for hell. It is not, as we’ve established, being a No. 16 seed, set to meet a brutal end at the hands of the tourney favorite. Nor is it a fifth, unaddressed, experience — not making the tournament at all — which certainly sucks, but liberates you to be truly carefree with your bracket picks.
No, the worst experience in bracket building is the alma mater that is good, but not great — unless they go on a run, unless they have the right matchups, unless they actually are great?!?
4. Your school made the tournament because you are good. But how good?! A 3-6 seed. But are they overseeded? Underseeded? Let’s say good enough to make a Sweet Sixteen spot reasonable. But good enough for Elite Eight? They’ve made it (in your bracket) that far! Okay, how about Final Four? Your team can’t make the Final Four. Can they? They’re hot! What if they stay hot? Crazier things have happened! In fact, your school did it just five years ago as a 5 seed.
You — the esteemed and dedicated alumnus — certainly don’t want to be the one looking dumb when Todd from HR advances your school on account of its mascot. If they’re in the Final Four, why not the championship game? Your school spirited delusion has carried you this far, just let it happen, let your alma mater be the 2018 National Champions.
But then. Then you go about filling out the rest of your bracket and every expert you come across is telling you your college team won’t make it out the first weekend, and, they certainly can’t beat that powerhouse UNC. And, well, wow, those experts make good points, they seem awfully smart. They are probably right, don’t be unreasonable! (Counterpoint: March Madness is never reasonable!)
At some point, superstition and jinx philosophy will kick in as well and you may wonder if, by not picking your school in the bracket, you are in fact ensuring they do go far in the tournament. Your sacrifice in the office pool is, in fact, the height of loyalty.
And so the cycle goes, on and on, until 12:15 p.m. ET on Thursday when the brackets lock and the games begin and whatever happens will be the opposite of what you decide you really want.
No. 3 seed Michigan plays No. 14 Montana at 9:50 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 15 on TBS or online through the NCAA March Madness live stream hub.