Every college basketball fan’s a polygamist in March.
Think about it. You can’t cheer for Connecticut without carefully –- obsessively –- paying attention to whomever is on the court against Villanova. Florida State fans will frantically cheer for NC State one night, then just as quickly mount a single-minded campaign against the Wolfpack the next, watching their bubble chances wobble precariously on every one of their ACC rival’s jump shots.
And it’s not just the big boys who are feeling the pressure. Colonial Athletic Conference fans are getting whiplash between George Mason and Hofstra, preparing their arguments as to exactly why the NCAA tournament committee should send both these teams dancing. Because at this time of year, it’s all about the invitations. Who gets in, who's left out. Just as politics makes strange bedfellows, the often times wild math and science involved in predicting tourney bids and seeds can produce some pretty bizarre pairings.
And as strange as it may be to see UCLA fans cheering for Arizona to pull an upset over Washington, this will be nothing compared to next week, once the brackets are built.
Conference tournaments will probably have a lot to say about where most teams end up –- does anyone doubt that an ACC tournament sweep won’t secure a number one seed for Duke, despite their two conference losses this week? –- but it's still fun to watch the so-called experts scramble to predict where the nation’s top sixteen or twenty-five or thirty-four teams may end up playing in one week’s time. This, in turn, effects how the serious fan must go about figuring out who to cheer for.
For instance, for the first time ever, my beloved alma mater George Washington is poised near the top of the national polls, and on the verge of grabbing a high seed. For the first time in my fourteen-year career as a Colonials supporter, we aren’t stepping into Cinderella’s slippers. This time, we’re the prince, the one everyone expects to move smoothly through the first weekend’s dances.
(And before I continue, let’s get one thing straight. I know there are dissenters among you pointing to a weak conference or a pathetic strength of schedule to claim that GW doesn’t belong among the nation’s elite. You’ll shove the team’s one dismal loss under the microscope as your evidence, and point out that the only other ranked team we faced was a bubble team at best. Anyone who thinks GW is overrated is too busy worshipping at the altar of the ESPN big conference love-fest to realize that good –- no, great -– basketball happens outside of the ACC, too.)
Now, realistically, I know that GW’s chance of grabbing a number one seed are about the same as Paul Walker striding across the Kodak Theatre stage next March to capture the Best Actor Oscar for his nuanced performance in Eight Below. But with a top six ranking, the best regular season record in the country, and its status as the only Division One team in the nation to boast only one loss, GW has proven that it at least deserves a mention as a one-seed contender.
So, during this week’s conference championships, I not only need to root for GW to blow through Cincinnati and capture their second A-10 title in two years, I must do the following:
-Cheer for Notre Dame to knock Villanova out of the Big East tournament;
-Pray that the Big Ten finals don’t include either Illinois or Ohio State;
-Hope that Kansas extracts its revenge against Texas in the Big Twelve;
-Anxiously support anyone but Gonzaga out west.
I’m not entirely unrealistic -– I’m assuming that Memphis will destroy whichever teams are left in Conference USA and capture the number one seed not already reserved for the Blue Devils. But, yes, I realize that I’m opening myself up to the possibilities of whiplash just trying to keep track of all the teams I’m supposed to cheer for or against.
It’ll be even worse once the Big Dance match-ups are announced. I’ve raised my support of different schools to an art form, and realize that it’s best to have a fickle heart once mid-March rolls around. When pressed, I’ll name four teams as my favorites (GW, BC, NC State, Kansas). But since 1990 (when Duke broke my heart against UNLV), I’ve launched brief love affairs with Wake Forest, Gonzaga, Villanova, Alabama, Vermont, Michigan State, UCLA, UMass, Maryland, the College of Charleston, and former Missouri coach Quin Snyder’s hair (which always deserves its own mention). I balance my generosity by lustily cheering against Kentucky, Michigan, Carolina, Georgetown, Arkansas, St. Joe’s, and Indiana.
Having several schools to love –- and hate –- at one’s disposal makes dealing with the bloody mess that remains after a dizzying first weekend of 48 games in four days’ time much easier to take, believe me.
The major downside of liking so many teams, of course, is that the chances grow much greater that you’ll have to choose between two favorites in a potential match-up. The world –- or at least my living room television -– will blow up if ESPN’s coy prediction that Boston College will earn a five seed in the same bracket that my Colonials garner a four seed comes to pass. I can’t take that pressure. If it comes to that, I will cheer for my alma mater (otherwise, the four years I spent sweating in the GW student section would mean nothing), but it’ll be hard.
This time of year, you’ll hear college basketball experts living by the following mantra -– it’s all about the match-ups. And they’re probably right. So no matter what seed GW ends up with –- a four in Auburn Hills, a three in Greensboro, a two in Philly -– there’s really only one person I hope their dance partner won’t be, and that’s Cinderella.
Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw
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3.8.06 @ 1:17p
Pittsburgh Panthers. Even though they make me nervous, that's where I'm putting my hopes.
The Big East in general has been phenomenal this year. Even the most pitiful teams in the conference (Providence, St. John's, etc.) could beat your favorite team on any given night. South Florida is the only team that is just flat out horrible, and they just beat Georgetown, who beat Duke.
But I got love for Big 10 teams (especially the Buckeyes) and MAC teams and anyone who beats a Pac 10 team.
3.9.06 @ 9:27a
I grew up in Philly, so Temple is my team. However, having attended undergrad at UNC and now living in Chapel Hill, I have been a UNC fan for quite some time. The only way for someone to truly know who to root for (between 2 loved teams) is to pretend they are playing a game in your mind and, just like that, you'll know who you'd root for.
A couple of years back, UNC and Temple were both in the same opening NCAA weekend bracket together at the Superdome in New Orleans, where I happened to live and work at the time. It was a wet dream to have UNC and Temple playing together, their games one after another, and if they both won, they would play each other in the sweet 16! Of course, UNC lost to Penn State and Temple upset Florida. I knew, though, that if they had played, I would have rooted for Temple all the way. It gets harder each year for me to say that. If Temple played UNC today, I'm not sure I could root against the Heels anymore.
3.9.06 @ 10:32a
I'm concentrating on the ACC tourney right now. BC has the 3 seed in their firs year in the tourney. Should be pretty sweet!
3.9.06 @ 10:52a
I have no loyalty during MM. I will cheer loudly for and against the same team in rapid succession, all to preserve the bracket.
I will also probably swear at the team I am rooting for if they're not moving fast enough for me.
I love this time of year.
3.9.06 @ 3:03p
GW BOUNCED by Temple! Underrated my ass! There goes a #1, maybe even a #2 seed in the Big Dance.
UCONN BOUNCED by Syracuse! WOO!
3.12.06 @ 10:15a
michelle von euw
3.12.06 @ 10:23a
As much as I hate to agree with Mike -- Go BC!
My dream last night -- GW got a 4 seed, and, much to my dream-state ire, weren't put in the DC region, but were placed in Utah. Utah?!?! Yeah, I'm directionally challenged when I'm asleep.
3.12.06 @ 4:42p
Sweetie, you need counseling.