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March 28, 2014

NASH: Can’t stop the madness

— This time of year is very exciting for many people. We are right in the middle of March Madness as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is being played and rabid fans from regional teams are cheering on their favorite college team.

For 22 glorious days from selection Sunday to championship night dreams are realized and hopes are dashed on a daily basis. From the team who won every game since they were eliminated from last year’s tournament to the “bubble team” — the ones who had a worthy resume to make the “big dance” — everyone thought they had a chance to win the whole thing.

Many non-sports fans get in to this time of year by filling out a bracket and trying their hardest to pick which team will win and advance from round to round to the eventual championship. Many work places have office pools that contribute to the loss of productivity that occurs during this time of year. ESPN and Yahoo! have each sponsored a contest for the last several years that draws millions of players.

At my work we do a little challenge among our coworkers and some of their families. Last year I won the “jackpot” at our work, which was the first time that I even came close. I remember how I was behind leading up to the Final Four but pulled it out when I picked the final two teams in the tournament along with the eventual champions, the Louisville Cardinals. So far my wife is in second place through the first few rounds this year. I am tied for third.

This year $1 billion was offered as a prize for anyone who could pick every game correctly. Having been picking these games, where anything can happen, for many years it is clear to me that anyone who could pick that many games correctly deserves it. The numbers I heard that 80 percent of all people who played were knocked out of contention in one of the first games when Ohio State was defeated by the University of Dayton. By the time the Duke Blue Devils lost there were only three left with a shot and now there are none.

Locally many fans cheer on their favorite teams a little more than the average person. The first few days of the tournament each year is a ratings boost, especially in this part of the world. The Louisville viewing area is always one of the highest areas for percentage of televisions tuned to NCAA games.  Over the last few years this part of the country has had its share of success in the tournament with teams with huge fan bases around here winning the whole thing, the last two years.

This year the basketball gods were shining on the region as the powers that be created a short path to what many people call “the dream game.” Louisville and Kentucky, the last two tournament champions will meet in a “Sweet 16” matchup that will surely be one for the ages. Both teams have played at the top of their game at times during this season, but both have been inconsistent at other times. The outcome of this matchup will depend on which team shows up to play.

Many different story lines play out each year as the drama of the NCAA tournament unfolds.  The “Cinderella” teams who make a big impact on the tournament by knocking out teams that are better on paper and busting people’s bracket along the way.  There is the David vs. Goliath when the small team from the small conference knocks out the perennial powerhouses.  Every year there is an upstart team that shows up clicking on all cylinders and surprises even those who watch college basketball for a living.

Over the last few years there has been different styles of teams that make an impact on the NCAA tournament. Some coaches rely on the “one and done” athletes, who only stick around to play as a freshman before making the leap to the NBA. Others have built teams around consistent players who make up a cohesive unit and learn to play well together over a few years. Both styles have had terrific runs over the last couple of years, but the latter seems to win out more often.

Whether you sit back and take in every game possible throughout the NCAA tournament or just wait to cheer on your team there is room for everybody during “March Madness.” I have only watched a couple of games this year so far but will probably see many of the remaining ones. This time of year is exciting for many people, even those who don’t follow basketball for much of the season. For those who don’t like the tournament, Major League Baseball starts back this weekend.

—  Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com

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