LOS ANGELES — Back in my sports writing days, my favorite column to write each year was my “Guide to March Madness.” In it, I always gave my Maine readers tips for optimally enjoying their NCAA Tournament experience, whether it was ideas for party food or face painting, and I even threw in some sleeper choices for their brackets. It’s been four long years since I’ve put this piece from my brain to computer screen, and guess what?
That’s right, without further delaying you reading my genius, here’s the 2013 edition of “Your Guide to March Madness.”
1.) Get your viewing situation in order — Obviously, this is the most important element to March Madness. You need to figure out how you’re going to watch the games. There are 67 of them over the course of 3-plus weeks. That’s a lot (though a slow month for @Farbaro picking up chicks on Match.com), so you have to make sure you’re setup is ideal. If you’re going multiple TVs, I recommend a 3-box, that way you can have the best game of the session going in the middle and then your sub games on the side. You can also fire up a laptop, as all the games will once again be streaming online live at MarchMadness.com. Also, you’ll want to make sure you know where to quickly find TruTV, TBS and TNT on your cable provider (if you can’t find CBS, then you’re pretty much beyond help at this point). I don’t know about you, but I literally only watch TruTV during these couple weeks, and couldn’t even find it on DirecTV if you paid me right now. I’ll be following my own advice on this one. If you’re going to a bar, make sure you get there early, as it’ll probably be packed with morons who clearly don’t know as much about college hoops as you do. Speaking of…
2.) Don’t be the obnoxious guy at the bar — We all want our teams to win, that’s a given, but there’s a fine line between rooting and being that freakin’ annoying-ass poser we all hoped would get eaten by Bigfoot on the school camping trip. If you’re going to physically be at the game, it’s OK to paint your face, but not at the bar. I don’t need your Jayhawk blueface dripping into my buffalo wings. Leave the pom-poms at home, too, before you knock over my milkshake. If you have to bring items with you, then you didn’t need them in the first place. Your cheers and loud claps are enough. It is appropriate to wear a shirt or jersey, team hat or headband and even break out some appropriate knee socks but don’t get carried away. There’s no need for themed sunglasses (hello, you’re indoors), foam fingers (how are you supposed to eat loaded nachos with one hand?) or signs. And when your best player knocks down a big 3 in the first half, go easy on the chanting. No one cares that you remember your fight song. In fact, unless you’re at an official sponsored event your college is throwing, no singing or chanting whatsoever is appropriate.
3.) Only fill out one bracket — This is a change from my previous years columns, where I used to tell everyone to fill out as many as you could get your hands on, and make sure you had your highliters and abacuses and charts handy to know how you’re doing. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that one bracket is the way to go, no matter how many different “office pools” you’re in. With one bracket you don’t have to worry about rooting for Butler AND Bucknell to win. You’ll be happy when you take Ole Miss to upset Wisconsin and they do just that when Marshall Henderson goes nuts from beyond the arc. It just simplifies your life, which is really what enjoying March Madness is all about. The less time you have to spend worrying about who’ve selected to survive and advance, the more time you can focus on devouring one more slice of pizza. Ya know, the important stuff.
4.) Stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep — March Madness is a marathon, not a sprint, that’s important to remember when you’re stuffing your face with quesadillas and $3 pints at happy hour on Thursday and Friday. There’s 32 games played on those first two days and you want to make sure you’re well rested and properly hydrated so you can enjoy each one to his maximum. You don’t want to pass out or cramp up before the late games either day. And with another 16 games over the weekend, that’s a lot of basketball and too many opportunities for failure. Fortune favors the prepared. For every couple of beers, make sure you pound a water. During that lull between morning and evening sessions, grab a power nap. Don’t let Mother Nature be the reason you missed another Valparaiso miracle or UCLA coast-to-coast buzzer beater. You’d have only yourself to blame if Bucknell is again Cinderella and you were face down in tears like Adam Morrison.
OTHER MARCH MADNESS THOUGHTS
Stone Cold Locks: By now, you’ve spent Monday and probably the better part of Tuesday ignoring a 83% of your workload and trying to find as much “inside” information as you can on who to take. As most of you know, you can’t win your bracket in the First Round but you can definitely lose it. One thing you don’t wanna do is have a Final Four team fall on the first day (thanks a lot, 2011 West Virginia) or any of your Sweet 16ers. But you can be safe riding these teams: (EAST) Indiana, Marquette, Miami; the top three seeds have easy roads to the Elite 8 in this region. (SOUTH) Georgetown, Florida, VCU should all advance to the Sweet 16. (MIDWEST) Louisville, Michigan St., Saint Louis appear to have the best road in by far the toughest bracket. Be careful of Duke. It has the talent to win the whole thing or lose in the first round to Albany. (WEST) New Mexico and Ohio St. are the only two locks in this region. It’s a shame they’ll meet as early as they will in the Sweet 16.
Sleepers: A lot of little guys got into this year’s tournament, which hopefully will pave the way for a slew of upsets and busted brackets (not mine, of course). In order to ensure yours stays in tact you’ll want to take a hard look at these possible darkhorses: Oregon (12) and Cincinnati (10) in the Midwest, Minnesota (11) in the South, Bucknell (11) and Cal (12) in the East, and Ole Miss (12) in the West. I also like just one 9-seed and one 10-seed to win, it’s up to you to figure out who. And lastly, I know every year it seems like a 13 beats a 4, so I’ll give you one of those too; take South Dakota St. over Michigan (come on, you don’t think I’d actually tell you to take Montana over Syracuse, do you?).
Final Four Picks: When it’s all said and done, here’s who I like to meet in Atlanta on April 6: Louisville (1) vs. New Mexico (3), and Georgetown (2) vs. Miami (2).
Players who could be this year’s Harold Arceneaux: For those too young to remember the Weber State great, let me learn ya’. Arceneaux and the Wildcats won the Big Sky Conference in 1999 and faced third-seeded North Carolina in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. All that happened over the course of the next 40 minutes was the hotshot guard’s coming-out party. Weber State upset the Tar Heels, 76-74, as Arceneaux scored a game-high 36 points, 20 in the second half, including the game-winning steal in the closing moments. The image of the Wildcat players lifting their coach became part of CBS’s coverage year after year and Arceneaux vaulted into national spotlight. In the Second Round, Arceneaux scored 32 points as Weber State pushed Florida to overtime, but fell 82-74. He returned for his senior season in 1999-2000 and finished 5th in the nation in scoring, averaging 27.0 ppg in league play, but the Wildcats finished 18-10 and did not qualify for the tournament.
So, who could have a meteoric tournament and find themselves an overnight sensation? Well, I mentioned Henderson earlier, who is a prime candidate given his huge SEC Tournament. But don’t sleep on Valparaiso’s Ryan Broekhoff, San Diego St.’s Nate Wolters, Cal’s Allen Crabbe, Iowa St.’s Tyrus McGee, Belmont’s Ian Clark and Montana’s Kareem Jamar.
STREAKY SYRACUSE IN SAN JOSE, CALIF.
As I watched Selection Sunday and Greg Gumble rattle off each region, it became clear there was a solid chance Syracuse would be playing out west here in San Jose, which is only a 5-hour drive from Los Angeles. Quickly, I began thinking logistically and calculating financially what it would take to get me up there to watch our First Round matchup against Montana and it wasn’t as crazy as you’d think. While my decision to hope in the Joffrey and make the trip will be a game-time one, I don’t think it’s one I’d regret. One thing making this a simple no-brainer is the fact that in the last month the Orange has played some of the most inconsistent basketball I can remember as a fan. I tweeted out this was the most inconsistent team I could recall and was notified of the disaster Donte Greene year of 2007-’08 in which Syracuse went 21-14 and missed the NCAA Tournament. I did indeed black that year out.
To close this season, the Orange lost four of its last five games and I was telling anyone who would listen it was destined for an opening-round loss in this year’s Big Dance. Then Madison Square Garden happened and a run to the Big East Championship game that reminded the country why we rose to No. 1 for a week this season. The talent is there. The ability to put it all together for a string of games is there. Shots were consistently falling, defense was being played and we even made free throws. Then, of course, the second half of the Louisville game took place and I went back into panic mode, but that’s besides the point. Could Syracuse win it all? I’m going to go that far. A return trip to the Elite 8 would be be a very successful conclusion to this roller coaster season. And it all starts with Montana on Thursday.
Enjoy the Madness, everyone.