March Madness Image on Basketball Court

If you are reading this article, odds are you are a UK basketball fan. And if you’re a UK basketball fan, odds are that nothing gets you quite as excited as March Madness.  From the SEC Tournament, to Selection Sunday, to the best 4 days of the calendar year when there is basketball on from Noon to midnight, March just means more to Kentuckians.

So how the heck did we all just survive the last few weeks with no NCAA Tournament?  We are certainly living in unprecedented times, and if you had told me 6 months ago that there would not be an NCAA Champion this year, I would have assumed it was because Kansas or Louisville had hired too many strippers for their students again.  I would never have dreamed it would be canceled because of something called Covid-19.  I know this has been a difficult time for us all, but let me share why not having a tournament was especially difficult for me.

My Addiction to Brackets

This is my first article for Lex, Buds, & Pick ‘n Roll, and I feel like if I’m going to continue to post more articles for your reading pleasure, I need to be honest and confess something to you. I have an addiction.  To brackets.

Now I know you’re thinking, “Yeah, I love brackets too and love filling out one for my office pool every year, what’s the big deal?”  Well, let me tell you why.  My obsession with brackets extends beyond March.  When I was just a young lad growing up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, I made brackets for everything.  I couldn’t just play a random game of “Sports Talk Baseball’ on my Sega Genesis, I would have to put every team into a bracket that I would hand-create and spend all night playing each game until I had a winner.  I would make my own college basketball brackets that I would play out on the basketball goal in my driveway (in the wintertime these were finished on the Nerf goal in my bedroom).  I filled out imaginary brackets for the NBA, NFL, and even the WWF (spoiler: The Ultimate Warrior won every time).

Starting with my freshman year of high school, I have filled out brackets for all 16 regional high school basketball tournaments every year of my life (I am now 36 and sometimes feel ridiculous filling out brackets for 17-year-old high school kids, but I still do it).

This obsession has now extended into my role as a parent.  My 1st daughter had the good fortune (or perhaps misfortune) of being born in my favorite month of the year.  So, every year for her birthday I make a huge bracket of all of her favorite things.  I have a region for her favorite foods, favorite toys, life events, and things she enjoys.  I rank and seed all 64 things about her.  Yes, I have a problem and hope she realizes I will still be doing this well into her adult life.

But there is just something about a bracket that instills a sense of excitement for me.  The unpredictable possibility that ANY team could advance through, but the order of round after round sorting out the true contenders.  In a world full of gray areas, this is something black and white.  There are winners and losers, and in the end a champion.

The Dominoes Fall

However, as the dominos kept falling on Wednesday, March 11th: Tom Hanks, Rudy Gobert, the NBA canceling its ENTIRE season; the writing was on the wall that there was no chance I would be filling out a bracket this year.  The official announcement came the next day, one week exactly before the first-round games were set to begin.  I was devastated.

Selection Sunday came and went without any brackets to fill out, no one-liners from Coach Cal about how he’s surprised the NCAA didn’t put the Lakers in our region, and everyone complaining that Duke got the easiest bracket AGAIN.  That’s the day it really hit me.  I might have even watched a little bit of old Selection Shows just for a little taste of what the day was supposed to be like.

Over the course of the next few weeks, there were little things that helped.  I spent many evenings finding old tournament games on YouTube to watch, I listened to the replays of some classic games called by Tom Leach on the UK Sports Network, but none of it was the same.  I’m pretty sure that I went through all 5 stages of grief in the next few weeks.

From Grief to Acceptance

As weekend after weekend passed without a single buzzer beater, Cinderella team, or One Shining Moment, I wondered if there was even any point in living anymore.  Now I find myself at Acceptance.  Somehow, a month of March existed without basketball, and I’m still alive. The world kept turning, albeit chaotically.  And while I’m still not 100% over it, I have just come to realize that there will always be an asterisk next to 2020 whenever there’s a list of NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions.

Now, let me be clear. I am not trying to downplay the tragedy of Covid-19 by only talking about how it affected something that in the grand scheme of life doesn’t really matter that much.  Making sure we keep each other safe and healthy is much more important than a basketball game could ever be.  That is and should be our number one priority.  But not knowing if this team could have made a Final Four run or not truly sucks.  And selfishly, I never got to find out if this was the year I finally filled out a perfect bracket (odds are 1 in 2.4 trillion by the way).

Oh well, there is always next year (I hope). In the meantime, if you happen to see a social media post from a disheveled man in his mid-30s asking you to vote on his made-up bracket of the best ice cream flavors or cereal brands in the next few months, please humor him and participate.

He has had a rough month.