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[TEN BEST]

by Alex Ashe

TEN BEST STAPLES OF THE NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Randomly Compiled

FILLING OUT A BRACKET

For many college basketball fans, this is an enlightening, bittersweet process. You’ve endured a full season, a conference tournament and the nerve-wracking selection show. You now must tone down your biases, make your picks and nervously watch it unfold. For many others, it begins and ends here. Whether you end up watching 67 games or none at all, you’re still probably filling out a bracket.

THURSDAY/FRIDAY MARATHONS

The NCAA has tried to make the Tuesday and Wednesday play-in games the tourney’s commencement in recent years, and while they’ve become more relevant, the tournament really begins on Thursday afternoon.

There are 16 games apiece throughout Thursday and Friday, which tend to be my least productive days of the year. Although the tournament is decided in April, it’s called March Madness for a reason. The round of 64, full of chaos and drama, is the best part of the tournament.

GIANT-KILLERS

Tourney upsets don’t come any bigger than last year, when 15-seeds Lehigh and Norfolk State knocked off Duke and Missouri respectively. Big-time programs Kansas and Syracuse are proverbial targets, having each fallen victim to a massive upset on several occasions. A 16-seed has still never beaten a 1-seed, but either NC A&T or Liberty will get a shot at immortality this year against Louisville. The giant-killers who win a second game immediately become…

CINDERELLA STORIES

Low seeds NC State and Villanova defied the odds in the mid-’80s to win it all, but in recent years, mid-major programs have risen from obscurity, bypassed giant-killer status and worn the glass slipper. Since their unlikely 1999 Elite Eight run, Gonzaga and has become a national power, earning their first No. 1 seed this year. Teams like George Mason and VCU have since made shock Final Four runs. But the ultimate Cinderella has to be Butler, who unbelievably reached the finals in 2010 and 2011, only to hear the clock strike midnight both times.

ACCEPTANCE OF YOUR BUSTED BRACKET

If you’re lucky, this comes later than sooner, and if you’re really lucky, this might not come at all. It’s really not that bad of a feeling, though. You can stop dreaming up the improbable scenarios it’ll take for you to win and just sit back and root for the underdog. If your bracket is busted before the weekend, that’s just as impressive and is something you have to laugh about. Unless, of course, you’re a Duke fan who picked the

Blue Devils to win it all last year. That’s a wound that’ll never heal.

BROADCAST PERSONALITIES

CBS dropped the ball when they let Fox sign excitable play-by-play man Gus Johnson, responsible for a decade’s worth of memorable, delirious calls. His antithesis is the unflappable Jim Nantz, whose balmy cadence and awe-inspiring puns have been equally enjoyable tourney staples since 1990. CBS recently incorporated Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith of TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” the long-reigning king of sports shows. The studio crew analyzes with a strong serving of levity, which comes in handy during tense games. Few things are better than Barkley and a live mic.

PLAYERS WITH AWESOME NAMES

It’s always great when players with fun names experience the slightest bit of tourney success, because broadcasters will start to mention them gratuitously. Past examples include God Shammgod, Scoonie Penn, Ali Faroukmanesh and Jimmer Fredette. If Saint Louis makes a run this year, prepare for an onslaught of Jordair Jett and Grandy Glaze calls. Some players’ legacies live on based completely on their names, including Chief Kickingstallionsims, Picasso Simmons, Just-in’love Smith and brothers Majestic and Scientific Mapp. Seriously, these guys exist.

BREAKTHROUGH PLAYERS

Star players on smaller teams often go unheralded during the season, so the tourney is their chance to make a permanent impression nationally. Dwyane Wade impressively led a pre- Big East-bound Marquette to the Final Four in 2003, but few would have guessed he would be the NBA Finals MVP just three years later. SInce carrying Davidson to the Elite Eight in 2008, Stephen Curry has been a terrific pro, recently scoring 54 points in Madison Square Garden.

FINAL FOUR

In a span of just 12 days, the field of 68 is cut down to a mere four. Teams then get a week to prepare for the biggest game of their lives in front of a massively-packed NFL stadium. If they’re lucky, they’ll get to play one more for all the marbles two nights later.

‘ONE SHINING MOMENT’

This tournament-closing anthem, full of basketball-themed lyrics and goofy instrumentation, is a spectacularly cheesy song.

Originally written and performed for the tournament by David Barrett, it’s been played over a montage of tournament clips following each championship game since 1987, with its list of critics seemingly increasing every year. The more unsuitable, the better, I say.

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