NCAA Championship: the only certainty in March Madness is uncertainty
The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament starts this week, which means two things for our US Sports Expert Alex Ferguson: One is a chance to watch basketball from Thursday to Sunday for the next two weeks. Second is the chance to show his knowledge of the sport. Or not...
By Alex Ferguson
Last Updated: 21/03/14 10:25am
Usually, it's an addition to society when there's a good amount of crazy.
But when the craziness that takes over America when the March Madness basketball tournament is about to start and then starts, it's not good for businesses at all. People do nothing but talk about the potential for [add team here] to advance. They obsess about weird things like "12 seeds vs 5 seeds". They talk about players' absences like lifetime fans, and they use the words: "Who have you got in your bracket?" an awful lot.
So what's a bracket? In America, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is a 64-team battle to see who will end up as the winner in three weeks' time. There are 32 games this Thursday and Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, there are 16. On the following Thursday, there are four. The Friday? Four. The Saturday and Sunday? Two each. And then a week (and a lot of chat) later, there's two games on the Saturday (the Final Four) and the final is on the Monday.
The rules of the game are that everyone fills in their predictions as to who's going to win the week before (the 'bracket'). This morphs into betting pools, with winning ranging from bragging rights to dinner. Or you can be superstar investor Warren Buffett, and offer ONE BILLION DOLLARS to whoever completes the perfect bracket, as he has this year.
In America, Ken Gaebler's "Resources for Entrepreneurs" estimates that 37.3m office workers will play in bracket pools, with 1.5m watching games in the office for the first two weeks on the Thursday and Friday (so much so that there's a 'Boss Button' where you can look as though you're playing on an Excel when you're really watching sports (Hint: It works!!). Also, workers who concentrate on something else (or simply don't come in) cost their employers $1.7bn in lost productivity. My buddy is an American trader in New York. According to him Wall Street "goes dead during the first week of March Madness, because everyone's focussed on the games". If I had a billion dollars riding on a perfect bracket, I'd be pretty focussed too.
March Madness also brings out the experts from every corner of the world. Suddenly everyone's an expert in the mid-season form of Louisville, Florida and Michigan State. Or the importance of not ignoring Harvard. And because you've got bragging rights/a billion riding on, all opinions are valid and very important.
For me, I've been watching enough basketball during the regular season to know that Michigan State's going to be pretty useful now that the team is more mended than they have been all season. I know Florida's defence is great. I know Louisville is red-hot. I know Duke is schizophrenic (watch out for Jabari Parker, by the way). I know Kansas is going struggle in the early rounds without their star seven-footer, Joel Embiid, although they'll be OK with young sensation Andrew Wiggins. I know Arizona can defensively outmuscle anyone, and out of the ether, and I'd watch out for a super-dangerous North Carolina side.
The biggest headache during this tournament is Kentucky and Syracuse. At the start of the season I had a Kentucky fan tweet me: "I think we could go through the whole season UNBEATEN". After a mediocre season, they are suddenly starting to find some form. And the 'Cuse? Unbeaten until February 15th, they've now lost five out of their last seven. We look to you for the potential first round upset, Western Michigan.
And finally, we look to the potential history-maker. Wichita State is the only team in around 20 years to go into the NCAA Tournament unbeaten. They did that. But now, they've got a brutal schedule which contains potential match-ups against Kentucky, Louisville, the winner of Duke/Michigan before they enter the semi-finals, or as America puts it, the 'Final Four'. Could they do it again? After seeing Florida Gulf Coast and their antics last season, we are constantly reminded that the only certainty in this tournament is....uncertainty.