Why March Madness is the best sporting event of the year


Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his players watch "One Shining Moment" after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2015 NCAA Men's Division I Championship game on April 6, 2015. Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

You don’t have to be a college hoops junkie to believe the NCAA Tournament is the best sporting event of the year — better than the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, the Masters or anything else. The Olympics and World Cup are great and all, but they come every four years and are more about national pride than smaller allegiances. All those things are wonderful, but March Madness tops the list.

Sure, it's debatable, but just how debatable is it really? Millions around the country fill out brackets, even if they don't watch college basketball. It's inclusive. Everyone wants to feel part of this, and just about everyone is in on form or fashion. And you can feel it.

I'm talking about the feeling on Selection Sunday when the brackets are released and the energy Monday morning at work or school when you debate your picks; the feeling of that empty bracket just waiting to be filled and the look of surprise when you ended up somewhere you didn't think you would. Your bracket is your own personal sports Mad Libs. You've gone all year bad-mouthing Gonzaga, but you have the Zags in the Final Four on your sheet. Who would have ever thought?

Those are just some of the ways March Madness draws us all in, but they're far from the only reasons the NCAA Tournament is the best sporting event of the year.

Timing is everything

Many sports get criticized for failing to capitalize on the sports calendar. The NHL and its annual Winter Classic being overshadowed by college football and the NFL comes to mind. But the same cannot be said about March Madness.

The tourney sits in the perfect spot of the calendar, right when winter gives way to spring. Usually St. Patrick's Day falls during the tournament with Easter and spring break right around the corner. Opening day of baseball isn't quite here yet, the NBA and NHL are in their final stretch before the playoffs, and the NFL and college football are in their offseasons. It's a time of the year that begs for something big, and the NCAA Tournament provides just that. It demands everyone's attention.

And the tournament itself? March Madness is all-encompassing and has so many layers, from the conference tournaments that end in the hours before the brackets are revealed Selection Sunday, to the play-in games before the tourney officially kicks off, to the 12-plus hours a day of nothing but basketball.

Basketball morning, noon and night

Everybody knows the old adage of saving the best for last; the NCAA Tournament doesn't necessarily abide by this rule. You see, you don't have to wait until the Sweet 16 or Final Four to see some of the best, most exciting, most shocking contests you'll ever lay your eyes on. It begins right from the jump.

The first week holds 52 games are played in less than a week, and 52 teams' seasons end. Following the first four play-in games, Thursday-Sunday provides four full days where everyone can sit in front of a television from noon – or earlier, depending on your location — to well past midnight and just feast on win-or-go-home basketball. The Super Bowl forces you to wait two weeks for one game. The NBA Finals now take about as long as the entire NCAA Tournament does. Plus, March Madness (especially the first round) happens during the workday, providing the working people a daily distraction when those TPS reports have them down. Sure, production might be down because everyone is hanging out in the break room a little longer or streaming games on their computers or cell phones (although those losses might be overstated), but it's a small price to pay for the joy the tournament brings.

Cinderellas

We all know there will be upsets and Cinderellas but don't exactly know who will pull them off. Some school you didn't even know about topples a big dog and crashes brackets. The NBA playoffs won't have that — heck we're all waiting for the Cavaliers and Warriors again. You know that the Utah Jazz won't make it to the Finals like, say, UConn or Butler did earlier this decade.

But in the NCAA Tournament, it seems anything can happen, like last year when Syracuse went from a bid stealer to the Final Four. You just don't know.

The second weekend of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight is where midnight tends to ring for the Cinderellas, but it's also where the power teams face their biggest challenges. Since 2010, only eight of the 28 No. 1 seeds even got to the Final Four. This makes the moments leading up to the Final Four that much more enthralling, particularly when a George Mason or Wichita State busts the entire bracket by reaching the semifinals.

That's not even mentioning the Final Four itself, where champions are crowned. Each round obviously feels bigger than the last, and the pressure mounts — for favorites and underdogs alike.

School pride

One thing that really sets apart March Madness is that, for many of us, these are our teams. While virtually none of us have played professional sports, most fans have experienced what's like to be on campus for game days. Many of the folks tuning in to check their brackets are alumni of these schools or the schools are the state institutions where we live. And unlike professional teams, these schools won't pack up and leave when they don't get new arenas.

Youth is served, for better or worse

One of the staples of March Madness is never knowing what will happen. These are young players, remember, and even the stars have off nights and bad moments.

Flaws exist even on the best teams. Chris Webber, after getting away with a travel, calls a timeout that Michigan didn't have in the 1993 title game before being the top overall pick in the NBA Draft just a few months later.

In the closing seconds of the 1982 title game, Georgetown's Freddie Brown passes to a wide-open James Worthy... who played for North Carolina. Phi Slamma Jamma watched an air-ball get caught at the rim for a game-winning dunk.

It isn't just youth making mental errors. You have Michael Jordan hitting a championship-winning shot. Or Keith Smart doing the same. Mario Chalmers hitting a shot to send the title game into overtime. And we all remember Villanova's Kris Jenkins hitting a buzzer-beater to beat North Carolina a year ago after an improbable three by Marcus Paige that tied it just before.

That doesn't even mention the great shots and efforts by players in the rounds leading up to the finale. Bryce Drew leads his Vanderbilt Commordores into this tournament, but he will always be best remembered for hitting the game-winning shot over Ole Miss in 1998 during his playing days. Christian Laettner's shot against Kentucky has damaged the entire Big Blue Nation for 25 years now.

Then there are the grand introductions to the basketball world, where relative unknowns become household names and future stars — like some guy named Steph Curry going from this spark plug on a small college outside of Charlotte, taking Davidson to the Elite Eight, to a two-time NBA MVP.

Along the way, we learn all the backstories of these new March basketball stars and about coaches who are more than just basketball gurus. It can feel like the Olympics where you get to find out about these great stories and you can't help but start rooting for them in the dance. For one moment, they are among the most famous people in America.

'One Shining Moment'

As if all of that isn't enough, the NCAA Tournament is capped with the "One Shining Moment" montage following the championship game. What other sporting event essentially has its own anthem? "One Shining Moment" has celebrated each tournament since 1987 and is one of the greatest tributes to sports. What's the Super Bowl's signature song? Or the Daytona 500? The snippets that comprise the video for each year's tournament form the soul of each tournament and encapsulates it for all time.

The thing is, the NCAA Tournament is always there. Every year, no matter what the college basketball landscape looks like, we will fill out those brackets, gorge ourselves watching on TVs, and those upsets will always be there. It is one of the most reliable things in sports even though you have no clue what will actually happen in it. So make sure the batteries in the remote are fresh, you have plenty of snacks in the pantry and the pizza guy is on speed dial. You don't want to miss "one shining moment" of the NCAA Tournament.

MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
20 SLIDES
2017 Men's NCAA Tournament favorites
QUIZ: Name every NCAA men's basketball player that averaged more than 25 points per game since 1993

66 NCAA men's basketball players have averaged 25 points or more per game in a season since 1993. How many of them can you name?

Clue: School-Year/PPG

Score:
0/66
Time:
12:00
Austin Peay 96-97/31.7
Bubba Wells
LIU 96-97/30.1
Charles Jones
VMI 01-02/29.3
Jason Conley
Centenary 00-01/29.1
Ronnie McCollum
LIU 97-98/29.0
Charles Jones
BYU 10-11/29.9
Jimmer Fredette
Tx Christian 94-95/28.9
Kurt Thomas
Davidson 08-09/28.6
Stephen Curry
Gonzaga 05-06/28.1
Adam Morrison
VMI 06-07/28.1
Reggie Williams
New Mexico 02-03/28.0
Ruben Douglas
E Illinois 02-03/27.9
Henry Domercant
VMI 07-08/27.8
Reggie Williams
Niagara 07-08/27.6
Charron Fisher
Tenn-Martin 08-09/27.5
Lester Hudson
Howard 15-16/27.1
James Daniel
Jackson St 06-07/27.1
Trey Johnson
Tx Southern 95-96/27.0
Kevin Granger
Oakland 02-03/26.9
Mike Helms
Duke 05-06 / 26.8
J.J. Redick
St Peter's 03-04/26.7
Keydren Clark
Creighton 13-14/26.7
Doug McDermott
W Carolina 94-95/26.5
Frankie King
Rice 06-07 / 26.4
Morris Almond
Murray St 95-96/26.4
Marcus Brown
E Illinois 01-02/26.3
Henry Domercant
St Peter's 05-06/26.3
Keydren Clark
Grambling 94-95/26.3
Kenny Sykes
Austin Peay 95-96/26.3
Bubba Wells
Kansas St 07-08/26.2
Michael Beasley
Tx RGV 01-02 / 26.2
Mire Chatman
Illinois-Chi 94-95/26.2
Sherell Ford
Oakland 11-12 /26.2
Reggie Hamilton
Southern 94-95/26.2
Tim Roberts
C Florida 08-09/26.2
Jermaine Taylor
Loyola (MD) 05-06/26.1
Andre Collins
Towson 05-06/26.1
Gary Neal
St Francis (PA) 11-12/26.0
Umar Shannon
NE Illinois 94-95/26.0
Marcus West
Davidson 07-08/25.9
Stephen Curry
Chicago St 08-09/25.9
David Holston
La Salle 94-95/25.9
Kareem Townes
St Peter's 04-05/25.8
Keydren Clark
Texas 06-07/ 25.8
Kevin Durant
LIU 94-95/25.8
Joe Griffin
Grambling 05-06/25.8
Brion Rush
E Michigan 97-98/25.7
Earl Boykins
Tenn-Martin 07-08/25.7
Lester Hudson
Hampton 95-96/25.7
Jafonde Williams
Houston 09-10/25.6
Aubrey Coleman
Niagara 13-14/ 25.6
Antoine Mason
Michigan St 94-95/25.6
Shawn Respert
Missouri-KC 02-03/25.5
Michael Watson
Rutgers 05-06/ 25.4
Quincy Douby
Oklahoma 15-16/25.4
Buddy Hield
Ball St 95-96/ 25.4
Bonzi Wells
Towson 06-07/ 25.3
Gary Neal
BC 02-03/25.2
Troy Bell
Iona 05-06/ 25.1
Steve Burtt
Vermont 04-05/ 25.1
Taylor Coppenrath
Niagara 98-99/25.0
Alvin Young
Virginia Tech 12-13/25.0
Erick Green
Georgetown 95-96/25.0
Allen Iverson
New Orleans 06-07/25.0
Bo McCalebb
W Carolina 95-96/25.0
Anquell McCollum
Northwestern St 15-16/25.0
Jalan West
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