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Tips for Watching a UNC-less NCAA Tournament

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Schadenfreude, adopted heroes, and the trusty old “Anybody But Duke” are all solid options for the next two weeks.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-San Diego Practice Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been almost 72 hours. The frustration has been voiced, the eulogies have been written, and the praise has been given to those worthy of praise. (Thanks again, Joel and Theo.)

Thing is, we’ve still got this thing called the NCAA Tournament and there are now 16 teams contending to succeed Carolina as the champion of college basketball. And now that we’ve mourned the ending of our season, let’s take a moment to say WHAT IN THE NAME OF ZEUS IS GOING ON HERE?!

Consider this: North Carolina, the defending national champion, a 2-seed playing a virtual home game in a city where they had never lost a tournament game, lost by 21 points to a team that went 9-9 in the SEC...and it was barely news! Carolina’s defeat was one of the worst in Tar Heel tournament history and it was, what, the fifth worst loss of the weekend? Raise your hand if you’re happy with the state of your bracket. OK, good. I need you to take a polygraph test for me. I’m not testing your honesty, mind you, I’m testing the accuracy of my polygraph machine, because you’re LYING.

So now that our beloved team is no longer in the hunt, we must take a moment to consider how exactly we ought to watch and enjoy what is already the craziest NCAA Tournament in recorded history. Here are some approaches to consider:

The Feel-Good Story Approach

“Well, if I couldn’t be it, at least it’s a Gryffindor!”

-Angelina Johnson, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter reference in honor of Loyola’s scarves. This is for the good guys. Y’know, the ones who always hold the door open for others, tip 20% for carryout orders, and make sure to tweet about their friend’s upcoming open mic night. Well, for you happy campers, there is always the narrative that makes you smile as the confetti falls for someone else. Loyola is of course the most obvious team to root for in this case (Sister Jean and those scarves!), but I’d also make a case for Gonzaga. Think about how great it felt to get redemption the year after losing the title game. And Mark Few seems like a good dude. Ramblers or Bulldogs are a both solid choices if this is your vibe.

The Nihilist Approach

“Burn them all! Let him be King over ashes and charred meat!”

-Aerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones

Somewhere around the 10-minute mark of the second half in our loss to A&M, this seemed like the best option. If your primary emotion regarding the tournament is anger, this is the one for you. And that means that simply rooting against Duke will not suffice. Others must know our pain.

Example: Loyola-Chicago embarrassingly blows a double-digit second-half lead in the Sweet 16, bringing an end to their scarf-wearing run and causing Sister Jean to refuse the boys Communion the following Sunday. Tears, people, tears. A champion in this scenario would be Syracuse, who shouldn’t have been in the tournament, plays a style no one likes, and has a coach who thinks the world is against him (it surely is). They are an 11 seed who would only be Cinderella if Cinderella had been born wealthy, pissed all her money away, became destitute, THEN got her Fairy Godmother to sneak her into the ball.

The ACC Loyalist Approach

“From deep down in my stomach, with every inch of me, I pure, straight, hate you...but God d****t, do I respect you.”

-Wes Mantooth, Anchorman

I’m not gonna lie, this is not a path I plan on taking. Whenever I watched the College Football Playoff or the late BCS and the crowd started chanting “SEC! SEC!” I thought it was weird. Does Arkansas really think they’re better because Alabama has a ton of titles? Personally, I like cheering against conference foes, not for them.

But I also get it; the ACC is the best conference in basketball, has been for some time, but we still have to endure the ramblings of tie-dye-clad tree worshipper Bill Walton and his references to the Pac 12 as “The Conference of Champions.” Or the fact that Kansas beats up on a glorified mid-major every year, extending their endless Big 12 title streak. So an ACC champion may be good for us all: A rising tide lifts all ships, right?

The best options of our familiar adversaries here would be Clemson or Florida State. Duke is out, for reasons that I don’t need to explain, and Syracuse is not ideal: Boeheim beat Roy in the title game in 2003 and the last thing we need is Boeheim winning a second ring and giving his supporters a stronger case for ranking him among the very best. By contrast, we don’t have much of a beef with the Noles or Tigers. Either or.

The Domestic Tranquility Approach

“He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind...”

-Proverbs 11:29

This is unique to your own personal situation, so I won’t presume to break it down team by team. I will merely say that if you have a spouse, a sibling, a significant other, or roommate that is invested in a team that remains in the field, then it may behoove you to stand in solidarity with them.

I offer a personal story as evidence: My roommate is a Xavier fan. He is a very nice person and is not prone to fits of temper. However, on Sunday night, after the Musketeers blew a double-digit halftime lead to the Seminoles, he angrily informed me that the refs had stolen the game from them. I unwisely offered that the no-show by Trevon Blueitt didn’t help either (remember, we had just lost ourselves and my bedside manner was not fully engaged). He responded by punching a small hole in our wall. My lesson: Next time just nod and say yes.

And finally, of course...

The Anybody But Duke Approach

“I HATE GRAYSON ALLEN!”

-Mother Teresa (Also you and me the last four years.)

Who am I kidding? On Friday night I will be the biggest Syracuse Orange fan this side of Lake Erie, and I’m guessing I’m not alone in that. The Blue Devils in their first two tournament games looked like the team we all feared they’d be when the season began. Bagley and Carter are dominating the interior, Allen and Trent are drilling threes, and even Trevon Duval hit four threes in a game. Sheesh.

On top of that, there’s some parallel history here: Last year Duke beats us two out of three, the second coming in the ACC Semis. We know how that ended. Duke won it all in ‘91 and ‘92. We tagged them back in ‘93. They did the same in 2010 after we won it all in ‘09. They won it all in 2015; we were one shot away from winning it all in ‘16. The never-ending battle of one-upsmanship never ends, and now we’re out and Duke’s in. Nervous? Me too. Let’s go Syracuse!!!