Hello, again. It’s March already, which means if you have to talk to people who like sports, you’re going to be inundated with college basketball talk. To me, March signifies the beginning of spring, the mid-month assassination of Julius Caesar way back when and, this year, the the beginning of the sequester. In years past and offices of yore, March has also signified the half-assed filling-out, usually via plagiarism, of a “bracket” purporting to predict, game by game, which college basketball team will win… something. A championship. A national one. Yes. The winners have then won, the people who went to that college or are from near there or married into a family from near there behave for a week or two as if the victory was a reflection on them, and then everyone moves on to the next sport, which according to my cheat sheet is baseball. Different ball, same cycle.
March Madness, as this month-long exercise in TV-watching and uninformed betting is called, highlights the dilemma of running a sports blog for non-fans as a fervent non-fan. There are just. so. many. goddamned. sports. I had forgotten until a meeting at work that people care about college sports in addition to pro sports. And also realized with dread the other day that hockey is a thing that’s out there, too. Hockey, forsooth! Whose idea was that?
If you’re like me the only kind of March Madness you get is the despairing, exhausted kind. But I’m here to help. And that’s lucky for you because, as if to underscore the point that sports matter way too much to way too many people, basketball has been very much in the news this past week for another reason: Remember that time ex-NBA-star Dennis Rodman was the first American to meet relatively freshly-minted North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un? Who, Rodman reported on his return and multiple news outlets have noted, “really loves basketball.” Rodman even suggested that, given that “Obama loves basketball” and “Both of these guys love basketball so much,” the leaders of two antagonistic nuclear-armed countries who otherwise have little enough common ground that actual conflict is a real fear… both love basketball. Rodman suggests we “start there.”
Well, no, that makes no sense. Let’s get right to sense-making, though. Because you’re going to hear a lot of terms like “NCAA” and “Division I” and “seed” and “men’s” and “basketball” bandied about for the next what’s going to seem like forever. So here are a few things you need to know.
NCAA. National College Athletic Association. Per wikipedia, it is
a nonprofit association of 1,281 institutions, conferences, organizations and individuals that organizes the athletic programs of many colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. It is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Division I. The schools that are good at sports and devote a lot of money to facilities and athletic scholarships and the like. The quality of the programs gets worse and/or the size of the school gets smaller as the number gets bigger, I guess, stopping at Division III. Shorthand for Division I could be D-I, so don’t freak out.
March Madness. Also known as the Big Dance, the NCAA Division I basketball tournament, in which 68 teams compete, successively eliminating each other from the next round until only one remains, and that one is the champion. Last year this was the Kentucky Wildcats.
Seed. A team’s rank within its region. This here is a good explanation of how the rankings are determined, but anyway if you hear “first-seeded such-and-such school” that means that school is ranked first within its region (of which there are four, hence there are four first-seeded schools, if I read this wikipedia article correctly). This is useful if you’re looking to fill out your bracket with minimum effort — the lower the seed, the more likely the team is considered to win.
Sweet Sixteen, Final Four, etc. You may as well get ready for these now. The tournament starts with 68 teams. Pretty straightforwardly, the “Sweet Sixteen” refers to the sixteen remaining teams after the rest have been eliminated, “Final Four” the same, but with four, obviously.
The Zags. This is a slang term you can use to refer to the team of Gonzaga University, the Bulldogs. The official March Madness twitter feed tells me, not only that you can call them “the Zags,” but that they have appeared at the top of an Associated Press poll ranking the top 25 college basketball teams for the first time in school history. Good job, guys! ESPN qualifies its congratulations for the Zags thus:
Next: Avoiding the potholes that have stopped every other No. 1 this season, then finding a way to the Final Four.
This looks to my untrained eye like a Reasonable Sports Opinion. Yes, it is true that the ranking is nice and historic for the school, and that the school has to continue to win games, and doing so will involve overcoming obstacles, such as other teams.
See how easy that was?