Busting brackets and barriers to try something new


Olive Artman, Staff Writer

I have always disliked sports. I have never cared to watch them if they were on TV, and I never felt inclined to try to understand how they work. I think it’s quite clear that my lack of effort to learn how each sport operates has kept me from joining the “90% of Americans” who tune in to games.

That being said, ever since I started watching basketball, my attitude toward sports has changed quite a bit. 

It all began when my dad was watching a college basketball game on TV. The Indiana Hoosiers were playing against the Illini, my dad’s favorite collegiate team. I had come downstairs to watch a movie, but when I saw basketball on the TV, my usual habit of turning around and going back to my room kicked in.

This time around, for some unknown reason, I decided to sit on the couch and give basketball a chance. I figured that if I was thoroughly discontent, I could just go on my phone until the game ended.

I had started watching the game with roughly 11 minutes left in the first half, and the score was tied 17 to 17. I really wasn’t paying that much attention until I saw Trey Gallaway of the Hoosiers knock down the Illini’s Jacob Grandison while passing the ball to Jordan Geronimo.

That one swift moment of competitiveness between the players caught my attention and had me sitting through the rest of the game rooting for a team that I was completely unaware of until that day.

For the rest of the game, both teams never had more than a seven-point difference between their scores, which made it a very intense and competitive match. 

There’s just a certain sense of pride that kicks in when your state’s team is winning, whether you’re rooting for them or not. Like I said, I’d never really watched basketball, or any sport for that matter, but there was something so captivating about this game that I just couldn’t stop watching it.

It was so exciting to see each team, including the opposing one, score a basket. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time hoping that the Illini would win since my dad was rooting for them.

Even though it was my first time truly watching a game, I could clearly see how driven and ambitious each of the players were on both teams. In NBA games, that same zealousness and competitive spirit isn’t there as much. The rivalry between collegiate teams makes for a more exciting and interesting game. 

After really getting into college basketball, I started to watch one or two games a week with my Dad. This eventually led me to the idea of not only watching, but also participating in the annual March Madness tournament.

I thought it would be a fun idea to see how well my bracket would do, having no experience or knowledge on the teams, the sport, the players, and all of the past games.

My dad’s original plan for March Madness was that my grandpa was going to come over and stay for 5 days to watch the tournament. I hadn’t seen him in over a year due to COVID-19, so I was very excited to spend time with him and to be able to participate in this longstanding tradition.

I went to the Cary Public Library the weekend before the tournament began to print out a bracket. The plan for my bracket was to not have a plan. I wanted to go into this with absolutely no strategy in putting it together.

The only thing I knew about the bracket was that the lower the seed, the better the team. Even with that knowledge, I decided that I would push the teams through based on their record of how many games they had won and lost.

The one exception that I had was Illinois. Even though they were already a one seed, I really liked the players and the team as a whole, so I knew from the get go that I was going to put them in the semifinals no matter what. Boy, was that a mistake.

I obviously chose Gonzaga as the team opposing the Illini in the semifinals. They were on a winning streak of 26 games and hadn’t lost one for the entire season. Almost everyone was predicting them to be the national champions.

I made the rookie mistake of putting Baylor only up to the Sweet 16. I even predicted that Winthrop would beat them. Like I said, I had really paid no attention to each team’s seed. I think my bracket would have been more successful if I had.

My Elite Eight consisted of Illinois, Winthrop, Arkansas, Houston, Gonzaga, USC, Michigan, and Alabama. I put Gonzaga, Illinois, Winthrop, and Alabama in my Final Four. Only one of my chosen teams, Gonzaga, made it into the Final Four.

Overall, I made 30 correct predictions in my bracket and 32 incorrect ones. I’d say that for my first time doing this, I did an okay job.

I’ll be completely honest when I say that I did not watch every game in the tournament. The ones that I focused on the most were the Illinois teams, Loyola and Illinois, along with the teams in my Elite Eight and Final Four.

When Illinois was facing 16-seed Drexel, I had no doubt in my mind that they would win. Even though my dad and grandpa said that there were always upsets, I knew the Illini could easily defeat them.

Just as I had predicted, they beat Drexel, and with a 29-point lead. I was so happy for their win, and it felt like I could almost envision them being the national champs, but this short-lived success came to an end when they faced Loyola.

Before the game started, my grandpa said that even though he was rooting for Illini, he would be happy if either team got far into the tournament. Whoever won would be winning for Illinois.

While I certainly understood and somewhat agreed with his logic, in my heart, I was still holding out for the Illini. The game started and as per usual, my dad was completely silent while watching the game. He rarely talks when Illinois is playing unless I am asking him a question about the game.

I knew better than to talk this time because of how important this match was. It would be like the Sox playing against the Cubs. You want to be happy for whatever team wins, but you can’t help but hope that your favorite team beats the other.

Around four minutes into the first half of the match, I had this strange and unfamiliar feeling that Illinois wasn’t going to win. It wasn’t like they were far behind Loyola, and the game had just started, but something just felt off.

With twelve minutes left in the first half, Illini was still behind Loyola by a few points. From that point on, Illini never really recovered. Their score was behind Loyola’s for the rest of the game.

The final score was Loyola 71, Illinois 58. Loyola ended the game with a 13-point lead. 

I don’t think my dad even sat through the rest of the game after the first half. There was a mutual feeling that things were not looking up for the Illini, and unfortunately, we were right.

I remember shortly after that devastating loss, I had to go through my bracket and cross Illini out of the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four, the semifinals, and the national champions. I didn’t realize how attached I had gotten to this team in only a short period of time.

I think it was at this moment that I truly started to understand why most people enjoy sports. It’s not just about the thrill of the game, but it’s about appreciating both the wins and the losses.

For the rest of my tournament, I focused my energy on Gonzaga. They were my new favorite team since Illini had lost, and as expected, they won every match up until the semifinals.

The closest match as far as points was when they went up against UCLA in the Final Four. Throughout the entire game, both teams were tailing each other. There was never more than a six-point difference between the two teams.

The match ended with a victory for Gonzaga and a loss for UCLA, but Gonzaga only won by three. For a one seed with an undefeated streak, this game was definitely too close for comfort.

On a separate note, I actually give a lot of credit to UCLA for making it this far into the tournament given the fact that they were one of the play-in teams.

Now came the semifinals with Baylor, a one seed, versus Gonzaga, another one seed. I wasn’t even two minutes into the game and I started to feel like Gonzaga wasn’t going to win. This was exactly how I felt when Loyola was up against Illinois.

The score was 7-0 with Baylor in the lead and once again, I just knew that there would be a huge upset. Gonzaga’s record was perfect up until this point and it just felt like things had been going too well for them.

For the rest of the match, Baylor was in the lead and eventually, they won with 86 points and a 16 point lead. Gonzaga lost with 70 points.

I kept thinking to myself how much it must have sucked for Gonzaga to win every game, but then lose the championship. For the second time, the team that I was cheering for had lost. It wasn’t as hard this time since I felt it coming on, but it was still such a shame that things had to end that way for Gonzaga.

The experience of exposing myself to something that I had detested my whole life taught me many things. I learned that sometimes you need to give things another shot even if you’re certain you don’t like them because you never know if your feelings have changed. In my case, they did, and I am so happy that I found a new hobby.

Participating in this year’s March Madness tournament was so much fun. It felt so rewarding to be a part of my dad and grandpa’s yearly tradition of making a bracket and watching the games. After doing this “experiment,” I strongly encourage everyone to try something that they have already tried, but disliked. You may discover a new interest that you had all along.