For years I have believed that it is cruel to put my two favorite seasonal phenomena, Shamrock Shakes and March Madness, in the same month. I'm the type of basketball fan who can go an entire season watching maybe four games, but then as soon as conference tournaments start, I have deep-seated beliefs about whether or not teams like Nevada and Pacific are "for real" (yes), whether the pod system makes sense (no), and whether Duke sucks (of course).
Over the years I have developed some foolproof methods to make the tournament more fun, and I offer them for your own viewing pleasure over the next couple of weeks:
Get a Leather Chair!! Most of you will not be able to do this, because you don't like near an ESPN Zone, you can't get this Thursday or Friday off of work, or because you are weak. However, if you can, get to your local ESPN Zone this Thursday or Friday as doors are opening for the first set of games and claim one of the leather recliners near the massive wall o' television. For several hours you will be feted like a demigod in glorious comfort, you will be plied with beer and comfort food, and you will love life.
Pick a 16 seed. No 16 seed has ever beaten a top seed in the first round. Ever. Does this mean you should bow to this trend? Of course not--they're due! As often as not one of the 8s or 9s beats a 1 seed in the second round, and if not, at least one of them is going down in the Sweet Sixteen. Identify that 1 seed, and have the 16 knock them out in the first round. If it happens, you're a genius; if they lose in the next round or two, you didn't lose much and at least you were ballsy; if they make the Final Four, well, no one remembers who went down in flames in the office pool--they only remember the girl who won by picking based on team colors.
Note: If someone points out to you that the 16-seeded Harvard women beat the 1-seeded Stanford women in round one a few years back, the appropriate response is to briefly acknowledge their superior, pedantic knowledge, and then, at your option, either point at them and laugh like a maniac, or roll your eyes in an exaggerated fashion while saying, "AN-yway..."
Minnesota Minnesota Minnesota Minnesota. Minnesota has nothing to do with anything, but I didn't think this column would be a true Average Mulder replacement if I didn't use the word at least 6 times. Minnesota.
Come up with a dumb game for downtime. If you're planning for a long day of games, and then the matchups in some time slot all turn into blow-outs, you'll need something to do with your buddies to keep you from losing momentum. One that has worked for me is to go through the brackets figuring out who would win if the actual team nicknames battled it out. Last year, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons were the clear choice, because they could command the powers of both God and Satan, and that's a combination with a lot of upside. But maybe one of the 15 seeds this year will be the Exorcists or something and will clear the path for someone else. Upset happen here too: last year the Crimson Tide looked like a force of nature, but in the second round they ran into the Orangemen--William of Orange was Dutch, and we know the Dutch have been holding back the tides for centuries, so Alabama was ousted. If you're less of a dork, you might want to try a different dumb game, but you've gotta have one.
Ignore everything Clark Kellogg says. Just trust me on this one.
Pretend it's still Pennzoil at the Half. Because we all know that Cingular is just a usurping interloper.
Enjoy the first weekend. The Final Four is, frankly, boring, and the Elite Eight isn't much better. For those of us who aren't diehards, it's all about opening weekend--the Valparaisos, Coppin States, Hamptons, and Princetons that fall short so often but every once in a while knock off a UCLA or North Carolina. The upsets, along with the wall-to-wall games that allow you to forget or at least ignore the 111-62 thwackings, are the big draw for most of us. The Sweet Sixteen is the middle ground, because it's usually the round that sends all but the big boys home, but that makes the rare upsets all the sweeter. The first weekend, though, is ideally an immersion course in college basketball, an annual refresher of just why the tournament is the signature event of the college sports year.
Now if you'll excuse me, there's a Shamrock Shake that needs my attention.