The Five Stages of March Madness

Of the 96 hours that comprised last Thursday-Sunday, I watched approximately 95.95 hours of basketball (I’ll have to check that number, but I think it’s about right). It was, in two words, an emotional rollercoaster.

There are five stages to watching a March Madness tournament. The speed with which you go through them is dependent on a number of things: your allegiances, the year, your overall psychic health, Gus Johnson, stupidity, Gus Johnson, and your investment (both financial and emotional) in the tournament itself. This year, I’m through four of the stages with stage five set to begin tomorrow, and it’s not even the second weekend yet. This could be a doozy of a year, folks.

Stage 1: Analysis

In which you painstakingly fill out your bracket, poring over every statistic, intuition and opinion you can come up with. Texas’ perimeter D is excellent, so they’re obviously going to be able to shut down Duke’s three-based attack. Belmont’s strengths match up with Wisconsin’s nicely, and they’ve been playing well against good teams, so I like their odds.

This is the most rational stage of March Madness. You’re lucid, fascinated by statistics relevant and irrelevant, and prepared from every angle for every matchup possibility. You learn the NBA prospects on each team, memorize your bracket, plunk down a paycheck or nine in your pool, find truTV (which is apparently a real channel) on your cable, and get ready.

Stage 2: Heartbreak

Common symptoms of heartbreak: a lot of red lines through team names on your bracket, teams you’ve bragged to your friends about being your “upset special” losing by 20 (coughGEORGETOWNcough), screaming at and/or breaking the TV, and extra bitching and moaning about how “basketball’s so stupid, no one ever knows who’s going to win and someone with no knowledge always wins the pool.”

In the 2011 tournament, this happened right about the time the first games started ending on Saturday.

Every year, I have the same strategy: pick a couple of possible upsets to win a couple of games (maybe three wins for a super Cinderella), and otherwise ride good teams and good coaches—especially good coaches. It’s a solid strategy, and panned out nicely this year (Richmond, VCU, Butler, and Marquette are all well-coached teams with good players that are poised to win at least three games).

Really small problem, though: I didn’t pick any of those teams. I didn’t pick any of them to win one game. Instead, my upset specials were Gonzaga, Georgetown, Texas, and Missouri. Don’t look for those teams, because they’re all out after a combination of playing like children, being stupidheads, and hating me.

Stage 3: Revenge

There are a few ways revenge can present itself. Most common is rooting for nothing but upsets based on the theory that if my bracket is totally f-ed, the least the universe can do is screw up everyone else’s too. That’s how I found myself rooting like crazy for VCU to beat Purdue, for UConn (my home state, for Pete’s sake!) to either lose to Cincinnati or at the very least have to forfeit because all their players are injured, and for Jimmer Fredette to lose a limb (I’m not picky about which).

Alternatively (or possibly concurrently), revenge can present as rooting against all the teams that beat your teams, no matter how good the story or how fun the team. For instance, VCU: great team, cool story (mid-major blowing out huge programs to get to the Sweet 16, after having to win a play-in game and everyone saying they didn’t belong), perfect for March Madness, right? Screw ‘em, they beat Georgetown and are thus dead to me. Same applies to Butler, who I rooted like crazy for last year but this year hope they get trapped in their hotel and can’t play, because they beat Old Dominion who I thought was going to lose their next game anyway.

Stage 4: Denial

Revenge is the bottom of the pit of March Madness, and Denial is a small step back toward the light. Denial is when you say “my bracket’s done, I’m just going to root for good teams and good games,” but you don’t mean it. Not really. Maybe you’ve re-adopted one or two of your favorite teams that Stage 1 you couldn’t pick to go all the way (for me, UNC and UConn), but you’re not over it. You’re still counting the money you’re losing, counting the points you need to make up, and possibly plotting ways to flee the country to avoid paying whoever’s running your pool.

Stage 5: Fanhood

You’re back. Being a basketball fan wins out again, and you’re back to enjoying Cinderellas win (because that is, objectively, the best thing about March Madness, basketball, sports, and the world in general), rooting against the teams you hate that Stage 1 You had to pick to win some games (coughDUKEANDFLORIDAcough), and generally getting over your losses. Maybe you’ve sold your home to pay your gambling debts, but by Stage 5 you’ve gotten over it and made your new home/refrigerator box work.

Stage 5 can happen anywhere between the Sweet Sixteen and eight hours after the championship. This year, it’s coming earlier rather than later, since my bracket was shot to death, brought back to life and shot to death again all in the first four days. I’ll get to watch basketball again, enjoy the tournament, and get back to wondering how much a referee would need to get paid to “accidentally trip Kyle Singler so he can’t play anymore and I don’t have to look at his ugly mug” without worrying about my bracket. Because it sucks. Did I mention my bracket was horrible this year?

Weekend two is shaping up a lot better than weekend one. Here’s to the Sweet Sixteen!

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Hi I'm David.