Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Welcome Bit of Madness

The 2016 NCAA Men's Division I basketball pairings (NCAA/CBS), fair use, photo by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

It's that time of year, the college basketball tournament.  Commonly referred to as "March Madness," it is arguably one of the major sporting events in America.  It started last Thursday and now the field, started at 64, is down to eight.  By Sunday night, it will be cut in half, with the "Final Four" selected to play for the National Championship.

I've never followed college basketball closely.  However, this year, Iowa gave us genuine hope that this could be "our" year.  Long story short- it wasn't.  Although we made the tournament and won our first game against a tough Temple team, we ran into a buzz saw in the form of the Villanova Wildcats in the second round.  It wasn't even close.

Still, the tournament has had its moments of fun, of excitement, living up to the "Madness" name.  Case in point:   Last Friday night, The University of Northern Iowa, UNI, won a game against a highly favored team with a miracle shot.  Paul Jesperson chucked the ball at the hoop from damn-near half court, hitting the glass and bouncing into the net as the backboard turned crimson.   

I have a video link below in the credits to this amazing shot.  Madness indeed.

After Sunday's loss I pretty much tuned out basketball.  Let others revel in the "madness," and to those lucky few who had picked the "right" teams to lose in the first rounds, my hat's off to you.

For those of you who might be wondering what I mean about picking the right teams, I'll elaborate.  One aspect of this tournament that is unique from other sporting events is the seeding of the teams.  The opening photo is how the 64 teams are ranked and how they winnow each other down to the eventual champion.  The best ranking is a #1 seed, the worst, #16.  In fact, there are a few teams who have to "play in" for the chance to get into the tournament.

As you might imagine, this generates the...opportunity for folks to try their luck/skill/wild guesses to figure out who might win it all.  It is estimated that over 40 million people have filled out one or more such brackets were filled out in 2015.  I've got a link to this story and others about this uniquely American sports phenomenon below in the credits, please check them out if you'd like.  

I did not fill out a bracket this year.  I had several opportunities and decided that this was a great opportunity to practice some selective "saying NO" to non-essential things.  I was glad I did, considering how some of the "favored teams" did not make it out of the first round.  Those poor souls had their "bracket busted."  More importantly, at least for me, I found myself not spending time wondering how my "bracket" was holding up and could do other things.

Still, on Monday I was a bit sad that Iowa was out of the tournament.  I had secret hopes that maybe, just maybe we could find a way to re-capture the lighting in a bottle we had in January.  Yet I knew the chances were slim.  Slim gave way to nil before the first half of the game on Sunday was done.

I was happy for my friends who still had a team in and would likely watch at least some of the remaining games with passing interest.  I suppose I was disappointed that I no longer had a reason to follow the tournament and that it was back to the normal, the mundane.  

Then Tuesday happened.

Most of us awoke to learn that another terror attack had befallen Europe, this time Brussels.  Once again, cowards chose to kill those with no chance of fighting back.  It was a shameful and senseless act.  I can live to be 100 and never begin to understand the rationale for such evil acts.

As of this writing, BBC News reports 31 civilians have been murdered with another 60 in critical condition.  Hundreds of others have also suffered injuries, both to the body, brain and soul.  

I saw this picture on Facebook and thought it was such a fitting, beautiful, silent tribute to the resolve of the Belgium people to stand together and stand up to the purveyors of mayhem and terror. 

The Brussels Main Train Station, lit up in the colors of the Belgium flag, March 23, 2016.  Photo credit to SNCB, (Belgium public transportation) Facebook, fair use claimed, full citation below.

I doubt there are many folks in Brussels who are following our little sporting event here.  I can't blame them.

As I mentioned, I was not going to fill out a bracket this year.  Then the opportunity came to enter a a friendly competition with a few friends for the remaining 16 teams.  I decided I could use the diversion, however momentary.  Here are my picks:

My "Sweet 16" bracket, 7 of 8, not too shabby.  Photo by J. Berta

There will still be many moments of hardwood drama to come in this year's basketball tournament.  There will be last-second heroics and heart-breaking missed shots.  To whatever school cuts down the nets and hoists the championship trophy, I offer my hearty congrats.  It is an accomplishment of note, perhaps even worthy in the annals of intercollegiate immortality.

Still, let us remember that for some, this week was not about bouncing balls but exploding bombs, of screams, not cheers.  For some, for many the diversion of sports, of any entertainment is simply not possible.  It may be a long time until they are able to enjoy such carefree fun.  For now, they are too busy looking over their shoulders and clutching tightly their child's hand.

When I think about the terror attacks of Tuesday against the backdrop of this tournament, I realize just what a charmed life I lead.  While I shudder at the images on the TV, I know this is many miles away.  I am able to pull my gaze to a bracket and indulge in a trivial endeavor, knowing that winning or losing is a meaningless result.  There is comfort in such action.  Filling out a bracket is normal, it's what we're supposed to do this time of year.  

In short, it's a welcome bit of madness.

Be well my friends,


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