In My Opinion

Fowler: Bracket is born, exciting and new

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comMarch 18, 2013 

You can look at the NCAA men’s tournament a million different ways online now. You can make all of your picks electronically – with a keyboard or a tablet or a phone – and never hold an actual bracket in your hands.

If you do it this way, though, I say it is your loss. One of the best feelings a sports fan can have is holding that year’s NCAA tournament bracket in his hands for the first time, scanning it for possibilities and delighting in the sheer absurdity and wonder of this annual three-week exercise.

And there are so many possibilities this year, as there always are. Not sure things, mind you, but possibilities. Roy Williams vs. Kansas. N.C. State vs. Indiana.

Davidson has a somewhat winnable first-round game vs. Marquette and, if the Wildcats somehow manage to get past that, they will play a slightly easier opponent in the second round. Duke plays a team nicknamed the Great Danes.

The bracket is like a newborn baby for such a short time now – there are only about 48 hours between Selection Sunday and the start of the first-round games. Within two weeks that bracket you will turn into a sullen teenager. You won’t want to see it, and it won’t want to see you.

But for now, this is the golden time. The bracket hasn’t done anything wrong yet. It is unsullied. Perfect. It looks so beautiful when it’s asleep.

And looking at it on a screen isn’t the same. You have to touch it to get the full effect.

OK, enough rhapsodizing. This will be a weird NCAA tournament because there are no games in North Carolina – usually Greensboro, Charlotte or Raleigh at least get a sniff of the action.

This time all of the local teams had no choice but to be shipped out a few states away. Only if they survive two weekends do they get to return to the relatively close city of Atlanta for the Final Four April 6 and 8.

I’m not one who likes to over-analyze the seeding committee’s choices, bickering over whether Oregon deserved the No. 12 seed or whatever. Such micro-managing takes the fun out of it to me. In general, I thought the committee did a good job. The ACC only got four teams in, but did Maryland and Virginia really deserve bids? Probably not. I would have seeded Miami as a No. 1 and Gonzaga as a No. 2, but the fact that those numbers are reversed isn’t a huge deal.

There are 68 teams in this year’s tournament, and 67 ultimately go home disappointed. And yet even with those awful odds, the United States bulges with believers today – with fans who truly think their team will become the next George Mason, the next Villanova, the next N.C. State.

Lehigh’s coach told his team before the 2012 tournament to “suspend disbelief.” It actually worked. His No. 15 Mountain Hawks upset No. 2 Duke – in Greensboro. Sometimes, it actually works.

You may as well try it yourself. Suspend your own disbelief for the next three weeks. Enjoy America’s greatest tournament.

One hint: it’s a lot easier to do if you’re holding a real bracket in your hand.

Scott Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler

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