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Copyright, 2017, Susan DeLay

If you’d like to contribute more than cheese dip and a platter of pigs in dough blankets to March Madness get-togethers, now’s your chance. Even if you watch only 10 minutes of college basketball each year, and then it’s only while you’re frantically searching for the remote control, that’s okay. You can still sound like you know what you’re talking about during NCAA tournament play.

Get comfortable with the words below, and amaze your sports-loving friends and family. Keep in mind; you don’t need to be smart. You only need to sound smart.

 

  1. March Madness—March Madness is the weeks in March when it’s basketball, basketball, and more basketball. Deal with it.
  2. You have to start somewhere, so if you don’t have anything else in your March Madness vocabulary, remember these words:
  3. The Dance—From First Rounds through the Final Four and onto the Championship Game, you’re at the Dance. Think of each game during the NCAA tournament as a song at the Dance. (Don’t worry; you can sit out some of them.)
  4. Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4. As the tourney progresses, the field will be narrowed to 16, then 8, then 4. And finally…the final championship game, which is actually in April.
  5. Brackets. Like bears coming out of hibernation, brackets make a comeback every March. Once the initial roster of college teams is matched up, brackets appear with the same speed as it takes the driver behind you to honk after the light turns green. Brackets allow you to weigh in on every game, not just the championship final.
  6. Number One Seeds. Each division has a Number One Seed. With four divisions (East, West, Southeast, Southwest), there are four No. One Seeds: Ohio State (East), Duke (West), Pittsburgh (Southeast), Kansas (Southwest). Please give these teams a modicum of respect because there’s a good possibility they’ll make it to the Sweet 16.
  7. Cinderella. Sometimes fairy tales do come true—especially during March Madness. Cinderella teams are the underdogs that get invited to the Dance without much hope of getting very far and then a miracle happens. They turn into spoilers (or bracket busters) for more favored teams. This year the possible Cinderella teams could be: Belmont, George Mason, Morehead State, Oakland, or Old Dominion.
  8. Glass Slippers. If you hear someone ask who is wearing Glass Slippers, they mean: Who is the Cinderella team? (It’s because Cinderella wore glass slippers. Get it?) Just nod knowingly and counter with, “I wonder if there will there be another Butler this year.”
  9. In 2010, the Butler Bulldogs almost walked away with it all until a last-minute buzzer-beater shot from center court bounced off the rim. A very nervous Duke team took the trophy in the end. Butler’s big player went on to the NBA, so they didn’t do as well in 2011, but experience counts for something. You never know when they’ll squeeze their size 14 feet into glass slippers again.
  10. Bulldogs. Feel free to throw this word around as freely as you’d like, especially at the beginning of March Madness. There are eleven teams out there who claim a bulldog as their mascot. The two most talked about Bulldog teams are Butler (because of what happened in 2010) and Gonzaga.
  11. Gonzaga (The Zags).This Washington state team has been a threat for more than 15 years. They may not go all the way, but they can kick sand in the face of a favorite and one good upset can change everything. Toss the Zags into at least one March Madness conversation by asking, “So who will the Zags send home this year?” Then sit back and be proud you were the one who got the ball rolling. So to speak.
  12. Valpo. Valparaiso (in Indiana) set the bar for college basketball drama when Bryce Drew, who went on to play for the Chicago Bulls, made a field goal (basket) as the buzzer went off. The year was 1998 and the unknown Valpo team beat Mississippi by one point, then advanced to the Sweet 16 where they defeated Florida State. It was 19 years ago, but people are still talking.

 

One more thing. Don’t overthink March Madness by trying to figure out why Pittsburgh, which is in the Snow Belt, is classed in the Southeast. This is about basketball, not geography.

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Copyright 2012, Susan DeLay
 
On a weekend road trip up a two-lane highway to an artsy, craftsy village in Wisconsin, I passed through a tiny town called Hebron, population 1,216. There is one traffic light at the intersection of Maple and Main. On the east side is a gas station across the street is walk-up ice cream shop. Posted on the “Now Entering Hebron” sign are the words “Home of the 1952 Basketball State Champions.” And just like in Jackson, Ohio, where the water tower is painted to pay homage to the town’s annual Apple Festival, the water tower in Hebron is painted like a basketball with a nod to their 1952 win.
 
It all happened during March Madness.
 
March didn’t get mad until a high school athletic association in Illinois decided it might be fun for teams in their district to play each other in a tournament. It was March 1908 and back then the definition of a “traveling” team meant they walked or rode horses to competitions.
 
The district pulled together 16 teams, and sent invitations to the tourney. Sweet 16. There was no television. No radio. And since there were no movies, let’s just say finding something to do in the evening could be a challenge. A high-energy, competitive basketball game featuring men in shorts was first-class entertainment.
 
The field of 16 made their way to the University of Illinois to square off for a championship. Playing before sell-out crowds drew the attention of the media because consistent sell-out anythings will usually attract a reporter or two. When the tournament hit the papers, the people in Illinois went crazy. Or mad.
 
Thirty years after things heated up, a guy named Henry Porter, assistant executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association, was surprised and impressed by the public’s continued interest in the area’s little competition. If he were involved today, he would have posted something on his Facebook page or dropped a pithy 140-character tweet about the Illinois high school teams that were rocking his world. But, like I said, it was a long time ago—1939 to be exact. Movies and radio—yes. Television and Internet—no.
 
So an inspired Harry wrote an essay about the tournament. Calling it “March Madness,” he submitted it to the media. Always fans of clever headlines, reporters picked up on the catch phrase and started repeating it in their columns and stories. The name stuck. Good headlines sell papers.
 
It was inevitable that March Madness became contagious. The same year Henry penned his prose, the madness spread from high school to college when the first NCAA championship tournament was held. Prior to that, the NIT was the Prom King of college basketball. NIT, which stands for National Invitational Tournament, was created by New York writers. I assume they were sports writers and not poets, but I could be wrong.
 
Once March Madness infected the NCAA, things changed. The NIT lost its allure and was relegated to the last page of the sports section—right before the obituaries and classifieds. Move over, NIT. The NCAA is basketball’s new crown prince.
 
But the madness at the high school level wasn’t cured. Nearly 34 years after Henry coined his alliterative title, the Illinois High School Association (ISHA) started using “March Madness” in an official capacity. It started showing up in programs and on merchandise. By the time someone got around to writing an official history of the basketball tournament, the IHSA had trademarked the term. Smart move. March Madness went viral from California to Maine and since the IHSA owned the trademark, lawyers and licensing fees came out of the woodwork.
 
When you’ve got a good thing going, why not do more because as everyone knows, you can’t have too much of a good thing. The NCAA expanded from 16 teams to 32 in 1975 and 10 years later, it doubled to 64 teams. More colleges were involved, more fans jumped on board, more media showed up and eventually using the term Madness seemed almost tame.
 
But schools that have risen to the top are never the same. Fifty years ago, Hebron High, a school of 98 students, was caught up in the frenzy of March Madness and took home the trophy.
 
And they have the water tower to prove it.

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Copyright, 2011, Susan DeLay

If you’d like to contribute more than cheese dip and a platter of pigs in blankets to March Madness get-togethers, you can. Even if you watch only 10 minutes of college basketball each year, and then it’s only while you search for the remote control, that’s okay. You can still sound like you know what you’re talking about during NCAA tournament play.

Get comfortable with the words below, and amaze your sports-loving friends and family. Keep in mind; you don’t need to be smart. You only need to sound smart.

1.    March Madness—March Madness is the weeks in March when it’s basketball, basketball, and nothing but basketball. Deal with it.

2.    You have to start somewhere, so if you don’t have anything else in your March Madness vocabulary, remember these words:

a.    The Dance—From First Rounds through the Final Four and onto the Championship Game, you’re at the Dance. Think of each game during the NCAA tournament as a song at the Dance. (Don’t worry; you can sit out some of them.)

b.    Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4. As the tourney progresses, the field will be narrowed to 16, then 8, then 4. And finally…the final championship game, which is actually in April.

3.    Brackets. Like bears coming out of hibernation, brackets make a comeback every March. Once the initial roster of college teams is matched up, brackets appear with the same speed as it takes the driver behind you to honk after the light turns green. Brackets allow you to weigh in on every game, not just the championship final.

4.    Number One Seeds. Each division has a Number One Seed. With four divisions (East, West, Southeast, Southwest), there are four No. One Seeds: Ohio State (East), Duke (West), Pittsburgh (Southeast), Kansas (Southwest). Please give these teams a modicum of respect because there’s a good chance they’ll get to the Sweet 16.

5.    Cinderella. Sometimes fairy tales do come true—especially during March Madness. Cinderella teams are the underdogs who get invited to the Dance without much hope they’ll get very far and then they turn into spoilers (or bracket busters) for more favored teams. This year the possible Cinderella teams could be: Belmont, George Mason, Morehead State, Oakland, or Old Dominion.

6.    Glass Slippers. If you hear someone ask who is wearing Glass Slippers, they mean: Who is the Cinderella team? (It’s because Cinderella wore glass slippers. Get it?) Just nod knowingly and counter with, “I wonder if there will there be another Butler this year.”

7.    In 2010, the Butler Bulldogs almost walked away with it all until a last-minute buzzer-beater shot from center court bounced off the rim. A very nervous Duke team took the trophy in the end. Butler’s big player is now in the NBA, so they may not do as well in 2011, but don’t discount their experience. They could be wearing Glass Slippers again this year.

8.    Bulldogs. Feel free to throw this word around as freely as you’d like, especially at the beginning of March Madness. There are eleven teams out there who claim a bulldog as their mascot. The two most talked about Bulldog teams are Butler (because of what happened in 2010) and Gonzaga.

9.    Gonzaga (The Zags).This Washington state team has been a threat for more than 10 years. They may not go all the way, but they can kick sand in the face of a favorite and one good upset can change everything. Toss the Zags into at least one March Madness conversation by asking, “So who will the Zags send home this year?” Then sit back and be proud you were the one who got the ball rolling. So to speak.

10. Valpo. Valparaiso (in Indiana) set the bar for college basketball drama when Bryce Drew, who went on to play for the Chicago Bulls, made a field goal (basket) as the buzzer went off. The year was 1998 and the unknown Valpo team beat Mississippi by one point, then advanced to the Sweet 16 when they defeated Florida State. It was 13 years ago, but people are still talking.

One more thing. Don’t overthink March Madness by trying to figure out why Pittsburgh, which is in the Snow Belt, is classed in the Southeast. This is about basketball, not geography.

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