Busted brackets and frayed nerves, what madness

A course charted in October has finally led us here.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the madness – a time of year we crave for, and within a few hours our nerves frayed.

As brackets are unveiled and matchups set, conversation almost simultaneously pivots toward what teams are ripe for an upset, which team has the chance of possessing Cinderella’s glass slipper and inevitably who will take the national title.

But between the announcement of NCAA tournament selections and the crown of a champion to the sound of “One Shining Moment,” the only thing truly assured is carnage. Brackets filled with such optimism days earlier are crumpled and discarded, or worse set ablaze in a moment of fury.

Most years, picking games is a simple science. Grab a pen and pencil, and select the higher seeded team because the chalk in large part does not lie.

It also doesn’t hurt to sprinkle in an upset or two, knowing certain programs have a history of busting brackets – whether by being a top seed that underachieves or a low seed with a knack for the incredible.

This year, though? No one is safe.

Take for example the selection process. Thirty-two teams punch their tickets, while a large pool of others anxiously wait in the hope their name is called.

Thirty-six others are chosen to complete the pool of 68, with the neglected few left to lament opportunities gone to waste, along with conspiracies regarding the system used to select teams and its brokenness.

Not to say those left out do not have an argument – their resumes being in the discussion proof enough. But as is the case in any argument, whether one likes it or not someone will have the last word – and it is not always in your favor.

A few things are sure – the big boys will inevitably rule the roost.

Before the season started, the likes of North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State and Kentucky were on the short list of those expected to be in Houston for this year’s Final Four.

In a season chock full of twists and turns, the cream was bound to eventually rise to the top. Over the course of the past two to three weeks, no four teams have played better basketball – maybe with the exception of Oregon, which claimed the Pac-12 Conference’s regular season and tournament titles.

More likely than not, we can expect to see them when all is said and done. But the first few days of the NCAA tournament have less to do with the bigger schools, and more about the ones with lower attendance and smaller budget.

Certainly, we remember the team that ultimately wins it all. But those aren’t necessarily the moments that make this tournament special.

It’s seeing the sheer joy of Mercer players dance among themselves following a first round defeat of perennial powerhouse Duke. Or, the once in a lifetime opportunity for Florida Gulf Coast to make a Sweet 16 run against all odds as a lower seeded team.

Maybe for my fellow “old heads,” seeing a buzzer beater the like of Bryce Drew so many years ago to help Valparaiso get past a highly ranked Mississippi squad.

Those are the moments that make March so beautiful, and nerve racking.

I don’t know if there is a more beautiful mess.

Of note

As most eagerly anticipate the NCAA tournament, Coastal Carolina also is preparing for postseason play, hosting Mercer in the first round of the Postseason Tournament. Launched in 2009, the event was created to further allow programs not selected to the NCAA or NIT tournaments an opportunity to further their seasons. Should the Chanticleers win their opening round matchup, they’ll look to continue things in second round play March 18-20. … While the men’s hoops tournament takes center stage, the women will also get their time in the limelight. The South Carolina women’s basketball team is assured of a No. 1-seed after sweeping the SEC regular season and tournament titles. Of course, all will be targeting Connecticut, which is seeking its 11th NCAA crown and fourth in a row. … Region play pushes into high gear for spring sports. Be on the lookout for coverage by way of The Sun News sports crew during the course of this week.

Joe L. Hughes II: 843-444-1702, @thejournalist44