The drama. The confetti. The bands and brackets. The tears and cheers.
Nothing beats March Madness — well, unless you make me watch the Selection Show again on TBS. Seriously, boys, you looked and sounded worse than any No. 16 seed.
I digress. Here are 68 reasons we love watching the NCAA Tournament.
It’s college basketball’s version of Omaha, only inverted. It’s synonymous with the start of the NCAA Tournament, even though nobody actually wants to begin their journey there. This will be the eighth year 8 teams meet on the first two nights in Dayton, with the play-in winners advancing to the traditional first round.
Interestingly, every year, one of those four winners also pulled off an upset in the opening round.
Three times, they reached the Sweet 16, including Tennessee in 2014. The Vols needed OT just to make it out of Dayton.
The poster child, of course, was VCU, which made it all the way to the Final Four in 2011.
67. Office pools
Your cousin probably is still talking about winning his pool in 2012.
66. “Titanic” just makes March better
Radford hitting a 3 at the buzzer to make the NCAA Tournament was outstanding. There was only one way to make it better.
65. Bob Petit’s point total in 1953 Final Four
The former LSU star still holds the SEC record for most points in a Final Four.
64. The field since 1985
They’ve added a few wrinkles and teams and confused everybody for a bit by redefining “first round,” but after the play-in games, 64 teams begin play Thursday in hopes of cutting down the nets on the final Monday of the college basketball season.
63. Everybody has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament
No need to make up a title, right UCF? Win your conference, no matter how small or ignored your conference is or what time zone it plays in, you get in. A conference championship game that means more than a game in October? Imagine that.
These Hall of Fame coaches are going to try to convince you that the No. 15 seeds in their way are the most dangerous thing to hit the court since Wilt Chamberlain. (P.S.: Chamberlain didn’t win an NCAA title, either.)
61. Gus Johnson
“Gonzaga! The … slipper … still … fits!”
Man, I miss his enthusiasm. Bring him back, please.
60. One shining moment
Twenty years ago, this would be much, much higher on the list. It’s still very good, but obviously a bit cliche at this point.
(I liked the 2017 version a lot better than the 2016 one.)
59. The Selection Committee isn’t keeping a potential national champion at home
Louisville wasn’t winning this thing. Neither was Notre Dame (when did Bonzie Colson become the greatest player in college basketball history? I mean, he’s good, but …).
The intrigue, unpredictability and upsets that make March Madness magnificent once again will serve as a reminder that there are more than four good teams. We know this because all four No. 1 seeds have made it to the Final Four exactly once since seeding started in 1979. We should only hope that the football decision-makers are paying attention.
58. Looking ahead
Coaches can’t do it, but the first thing I do is see who is in my team’s path to the Final Four, and who my team might meet once we get there. The second thing I do is find out who is in my hated rival’s way — and go buy their T-shirt.
There is nothing better than watching fans from a mid-major lose their mind after winning their conference tournament to clinch their first berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Lipscomb is the latest first-timer.
— Lipscomb University (@lipscomb) March 4, 2018
Except watching the team’s reaction when they get their inevitable date with a blue blood in the first round.
— The Players' Tribune (@PlayersTribune) March 11, 2018
56. Buzzer beaters
We’ll get to a few of the most memorable in a bit, but here’s one that history tends to overlook: Keith Smart’s baseline jumper to win the 1987 national championship. Indiana hasn’t won a national championship since.
55. David vs. Goliath for the national title
Can you imagine if Gordon Hayward’s half-court shot had gone in?
Unfortunately, we have no chance to get this kind of matchup in football.
54. Rising stars
Adam Morrison clearly didn’t work out, but Steph Curry took over the NBA after leading Davidson to the Elite 8 in 2008.
Curry scored 128 points in those four games. His 32.0 scoring average led everybody in the tournament, and he was a 3-pointer shy of sending Davidson past Kansas and into the Final Four.
53. Power 5 debates settled on the court
No need for talking heads when the tournament reveals all.
52. Rivalries on the biggest stage
Georgetown vs. Villanova in 1985 is the one everybody remembers, but Kansas vs. Oklahoma in 1988 is the last time two teams from the same conference met for the national title.
Duke and North Carolina have never met in the NCAA Tournament, though they’ve been on the path for a Final Four showdown several times. They’re on target to meet for the national championship this year.
And I guarantee if you ask a Kentucky fan about the 2012 national title, the first thing they’ll mention is the Final Four victory over Louisville.
51. The first Thursday
Work? Sure, boss. I even brought extra tablets so I could get more done. From noon to well past midnight, it’s wall-to-wall hoops, typically filled with upsets and close calls.
50. Filling out multiple brackets
The most I’ve done is three. Didn’t help. I usually stick with one, and in 2009 and 2017 I didn’t miss a game. Granted, I only picked six games, all six in a lovely shade of Carolina blue.
49. Celebrating your rival’s early exit
Seriously, most years, this is the highlight.
48. Kentucky’s first NCAA title
In 1948, the NCAA Tournament was still just an 8-team event. (It expanded to 16 in 1951, when Kentucky won its third title in four years.) Alex Groza scored 23 points to lead Kentucky past Holy Cross 60-52 in the 1948 final.
47. Being the Day 1 bracket leader
No. 15 Richmond over No. 2 Syracuse? A No. 15 had never beaten a No. 2. What were you thinking, you stinking genius.
46. Being the Day 2 bracket leader
You saw No. 15 Lehigh over No. 2 Duke when no one else did in 2012. And nobody but you predicted No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast was going to dunk all over No. 2 Georgetown in 2013.
45. Realizing your championship pick is done after the opening weekend
My guy, Joe Giglio, has filled out a bracket, on deadline, for the News & Observer for more than a 10 years. It’s a bold move, and it’s the highlight and must-read of the N&O’s NCAA Tournament special section. Often his pick fell victim to the “Giglio Curse,” but we still laugh about 2016.
He picked Michigan State to win it all. Sparty lasted all of 40 minutes.
44. Dan Issel
Issel, who wore 44 at Kentucky, matched his jersey number by scoring the most points by an SEC player in the NCAA Tournament. Issel scored 44 to help the Cats beat Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 in 1970.
43. Lorenzo Charles
You might not remember his jersey number, but you remember his title-winning dunk to shock Houston — and most fans — in the 1983 NCAA Championship Game.
“They won it!” Billy Packer shouted. “On the dunk!”
42. Monday’s crash-course on the MEAC champion
Sunday, you had no idea the MEAC existed. By 4 p.m. Monday, you’ll know the coach, the mascot, the 5 best wins, the 3 closest calls. You’ll know their NCAA Tournament history, their style and their Achilles’ — and you will have convinced yourself that they are going to be the first No. 16 over No. 1.
41. Jack Givens
Givens scored 41 points to lead Kentucky past Duke in the 1978 championship game. That’s still the most by an SEC player in the title game and third all-time.
40. 40 minutes of hell
Styles make fights, and no style was more menacing than Nolan Richardson’s press, which carried Arkansas to the 1994 national championship and darn near another in 1995.
39. Go big or go home
Alas, they went home.
No joke: Someone has placed a $100 bet on Ole Miss to win this year’s national championship in hoops. Don’t think they’re gonna see that $1M payout. https://t.co/qRjmLKVVT5
— Davis Potter (@DavisEPotter) March 6, 2018
38. It’s never over …
No. 3 seed Texas A&M trailed No. 11 Northern Iowa by 12 points with 40 seconds left in their 2016 second-round game.
It was over.
And then it was tied.
The Aggies forced four turnovers to force overtime and then won in double OT to advance to the Sweet 16.
37. 8 teams, 4 games, 1 day
I’ve been to the Final Four a few times, but I actually prefer the opening round: 8 teams, 4 games, different styles, different leagues, fans from every school still dreaming the dream. All things are possible on opening day.
36. Arguing over snubs
It’s silly — 36 at-large teams are invited to the NCAA Tournament, in addition to the 32 automatic qualifiers — but there will be fans, players and coaches feeling like they got hosed.
And, of course, so too will the one and only Dickie V., who has turned his passionate pleas into an art form.
Last year, it was Syracuse.
“My eyes, I got one eye and I can see that they belong,” Vitale said on ESPN. “I cannot understand how you can go 10-8 in the ACC, the toughest conference of all, beat three that were rated in the Top 10 in America and be left out. We’re going to throw out what happened early in the year. They made an adjustment to their lineup.
“Yes, I know they got blown out by St. John’s. I know they got beat by Boston College. I know they lost to Georgetown. Three teams that struggled all year. But let me tell you, you beat three teams from that conference that were in the Top 10 at one time, come on now, they belong.”
Syracuse then lost in the second round of the NIT.
35. Times SEC programs have made the Final Four
South Carolina made a surprising run last year, its first appearance. Could Auburn or Tennessee do the same thing this year?
34. Corliss Williamson
No. 34 in your program, the Arkansas forward scored a game-high 23 points in the final to give the Hogs their one and only NCAA championship in 1994.
Corliss Williamson led Arkansas to a title repping President Clinton’s home state. Can you name a more forgotten champ than the Razorbacks? pic.twitter.com/nIRumFnUjA
— Your Sports Fans (@YourSportsFans) March 19, 2017
33. Bird vs. Magic, Round 1
— Groovy History (@GroovyHistory) February 6, 2018
32. Christian Laettner
Sorry, Kentucky fans.
For what it’s worth, I’ll never not be convinced that Laettner didn’t shuffle his pivot foot before taking the dribble. The video reveals all. Yes, I’ll say it: He traveled.
31. Bryce Drew
Sorry, Ole Miss fans. At least you learned from watching Kentucky leave Grant Hill unguarded on his heave to Laettner and actually covered Valpo on its shocking walk-off winner in 1998 first-round matchup.
30. The Big Ten struggles in this postseason, too
The B1G’s last title came in 2000 (Michigan State). The SEC has won three since then. The ACC leads the way with seven (including Maryland’s in 2002) this century.
29. Tough and/or cute mascots
Neither will determine any NCAA Tournament game, but that’s not going to stop you from deciding who to pick in that No. 12 vs. No. 5 matchup. So, here you go. Hope it helps.
28. “Our team has the toughest bracket!”
Want to have some fun? Check out Twitter reaction moments after your team finds out who it’s playing, where it’s going and who else is in its Region.
It really doesn’t matter what team, it’ll look like this.
What an absolute horseshit draw
— Chris Marler (@CMarlerComedian) March 11, 2018
27. “I can’t believe how easy THEIR bracket is!”
Well, they ARE the defending champs, after all …
UNC fans should be thrilled with this draw. pic.twitter.com/87cnl7j0hs
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) March 11, 2018
26. A-Z, (almost) every letter represented in NCAA Tournament history
OK, so we still need Quinnipiac to get in, and if you want to get all technical, it’s Gonzaga, not the Zags … but you get the idea.
(P.S. Quinnipiac absolutely was hosed in 2010, when the Bobcats finished 23-10 and 15-3 in their league. They lost the conference title game on 2 free throws!)
25. Second, third, fourth chances
The oft-fired, oft-in-trouble Kelvin Sampson just led his fourth team to the NCAA Tournament. This time it’s Houston.
Indiana fans were thrilled.
Long live the scorned fan, the reason they play the NCAA Tournament.
IU has to love the fact that while they’re sitting at home both Mike Davis and Kelvin Sampson are taking teams to the tournament, while Tom Crean is killing it as an ESPN analyst. The only way March gets worse for them is if Purdue wins it all.
— Casey fisher (@Cdfisher87) March 11, 2018
24. Trying to figure out when Kansas will lose
You know it’s going to happen earlier than the Jayhawks’ seeding suggests. They’re No. 1 again, by the way.
23. What is TruTV? What channel is TruTV on?
It’s Channel 246 on DirecTV. If you have another service, be sure to call your local newspaper to find out where you can watch. They love that.
22. Charles Barkley, college basketball analyst
Sir Charles has Lipscomb over UNC, but says he’s going to write it in pencil. We think he was joking with Kenny Smith, the former UNC star who ignored Auburn.
— Inside the NBA clips (@ITNBA_clips) March 12, 2018
21. Admiral Schofield
Tennessee’s star has the coolest name in the tournament. It’s real, too. Sure, we know who he is, but now the country gets to find out. His older brother won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks.
20. Automatic qualifiers
Purists hate it. How could you reward a team with a losing record! But 20 times a team with a losing record has won its conference tournament and grabbed the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, including five of the past eight years.
19. Performance bonuses!
18. Sad fans are the saddest in March
17. Jordan’s jumper
I’ve always wondered why Michael Jordan didn’t name something 17 Seconds, because that’s where the legend started. He caught the swing pass and launched the game-winning jumper with 17 seconds left to beat Georgetown and give Dean Smith his first NCAA title in 1982. Jordan’s legend took flight that night in New Orleans.
35 years ago today, 19-year-old UNC freshman guard Michael Jordan hit the game-winning shot over Georgetown with 17 seconds left. pic.twitter.com/m0hM8BV1eu
— Justin Taylor (@between2worlds) March 29, 2017
16. Sweet 16
Nobody has been to the Sweet 16 more than defending national champion North Carolina (28). Kentucky is next with 26, including their vacated appearance in 1988 (or tied with Duke at 25 if you’re a Duke fan).
The last time all three made it to the same Sweet 16 was 2015.
15. No. 15 seeds
Shoot your shot. Just know they are 5-107 against No. 2 seeds since the field expanded to 64 in 1985. But if you get it right … Florida Gulf Coast is the only No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16.
14. No. 14 seeds
They’re 17-95 against No. 3 seeds in that span. Two No. 14 seeds have reached the Sweet 16.
13. No. 13 seeds
They’re 23-89 against No. 4 seeds, with six advancing to the Sweet 16.
12. No. 12 seeds
They own the Upset Joint, a’ight?
No. 12 seeds are 38-74 against No. 5 seeds.
Picking a 12-over-5 upset has become cliche, but we’ve had at least one in 9 of the past 10 years.
The Bruins have won a record 11 NCAA championships. Kentucky is next with 8. The only time they met in the final was 1975. UCLA won 92-85.
10. Opening-round offense
Virginia is deserving of its No. 1 overall seed, but watching Tony Bennett’s team actually play is a cure for insomnia.
The high-flying teams are simply more fun to watch.
Last year, 18 of the 32 first-round winners scored at least 80 points. Winners reached that point total just five times in the 15 games from from the Sweet 16 on.
9. The next Florida Gulf Coast
Every year, a mid-major comes out of nowhere to steal our attention with their exciting brand of ball. Others have gone farther in the tournament, but few captivated our attention quite like Dunk City did in 2013.
Who takes the title this year?
8. Elite 8
Kentucky has advanced to the Elite 8 33 times — and all of those count.
UNC is second with 26 trips, followed by Duke with 20.
The last time all three made it to the same Elite 8 was 1998. Kentucky beat Duke in the Elite 8 en route to winning the national title.
7. The anticipation
Every corner of America can look at the bracket and fast-forward to the most important 40 moments in their March.
Might be two mules fighting over a turnip to the rest of us, but the anticipation draws us in like no other event in sports.
Love ’em or hate ’em, you’re going to tune in Thursday when the No. 5 seed Wildcats take on No. 12 seed Davidson.
5. Graybeards vs. Young Bloods
One-and-done teams have only won two titles (Kentucky in 2012 and Duke in 2015), but that’s not going you from picking them or them from signing them.
4. The Final Four
OK, pet peeve: Playing basketball games in football stadiums is a terrible idea. The site lines are ridiculous and the players look like dots from the upper deck.
For everybody else watching from home? It’s the greatest three-day weekend in college sports.
3. Kris Jenkins’ 3
There have been dozens of buzzer-beaters in NCAA Tournament history, but Jenkins’ 3 is the only last-second 3 to win the national championship.
2. The agony of defeat (not them, you, silly)
You picked Kansas to win it all, again?
When are you ever going to learn?
1. The No. 1 reason we love to watch March Madness: You don’t have to know everything — or even anything — about hoops to enjoy it
March Madness is the perfect, self-contained, 3-week mini-drama.