I grew up in a family of Indiana University grads at a time when the Hoosiers were pretty much always good at basketball. And even though they didn't have their best team in the 1985-86 season, they still earned a number three seed in the NCAA tournament and opened against lowly Cleveland State.
Fittingly, March 14, 1986, was a bright, crisp day—the kind that promises that spring is finally on its way, the world will be renewed, and everything is full of promise. I rushed home from school, turned on the TV, got ready to exult in the moment . . . and watched the Vikings press and run Indiana out of the tournament.
How could it be? It was the first round—and my guys were already done. The days seemed to stretch interminably before me. Plus, what was I going to say to all my friends—those jagoffs who cheered for Michigan or Michigan State?
I spent hours shooting baskets by myself in the driveway, long past the time my hands were too cold to make any.
By now, as you might expect, I've almost gotten over that game. In retrospect, it turned out to be one of the first of the high-profile bracket busters that make the tournament the joyride that it is, offering evidence that sometimes the little guys win.
Unfortunately, the school I ended up attending still hasn't made the Big Dance—not once, not ever—but I'm still going to set aside the next three weeks of my life for watching the most thrilling, least predictable, and altogether greatest sporting event there is in my world.
I get ridiculously excited about it every year.
It should be wild again this time around. The regular season was filled with buzzer beaters, upsets, and back and forth contests decided only after multiple overtimes. No team dominated; five different squads were ranked number one, and 44 made the top 25 at some point.
All of which leaves me pondering deep thoughts as I gaze at my bracket sheet.
Something I'd really like to see in this tournament: The Northwestern Wildcats. Alas, as I've already mentioned, for the 75th year, it didn't happen. Trying to move on . . .
Speaking of Wildcats who didn't get in: Kentucky isn't going to repeat its 2012 championship—a conclusion I've reached based on the astute observation that they didn't make the tournament. To add insult to injury, rival Louisville is the tournament's top overall seed and opens play in the Wildcats' hometown of Lexington. None of this makes me the least bit unhappy.
Something else I'd really like to see in this tournament: Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart leading his team on its second surprise Final Four run in three years—and then announcing that he's decided to take the open job at Northwestern, where his wife attended grad school. One can hope.
Underdogs I'm rooting for based on their team names alone: As a Mick, I'm all for Iona and St. Mary's, both nicknamed the Gaels.
A 12-seed always seems to beat a five-seed. Although in some years it's the 13-seed over the four. Or, as I've already grudgingly noted, the 14 over the three. And a couple of 15s have beaten twos. But no one-seed has ever lost in the first round.
And that brings me to another thing I'd really like to see in this tournament: How about a 16-seed finally felling a one-seed? Specifically, what's the matter with Kansas? I'd be just fine with them laying a stinker on the floor against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
Who will go home first, the Illinois Illini or their former coaches now at other schools? I'm hoping Bill Self and Kansas are the first to bow out, but others might opt for Lon Kruger at Oklahoma or Bruce Weber at Kansas State. The Illini, meanwhile, have a tough opening game against Colorado.
Just because you hate Duke doesn't mean they're going to lose in the first round. If you want to compete in your pool, some cool logic is required. Trust me: this is one of my many fatal flaws. I always go with the guys I want to win, and of course they don't, since I want them to win. Why do I even follow politics? In the matter at hand, the Blue Devils probably won't lose until Michigan State beats them up in the Sweet Sixteen.
Always pay attention to your grandmother. My dear Grandma Inez recently passed away after a good, long life, but as she let us all know, she extended her time on earth by two days so she could see Indiana beat Purdue one more time. I'm going with the Hoosiers.