Cultural Signs of Spring
Here in Michigan, days are getting longer, robins are appearing in our yards, and the only remnants of snow reside at the edges of parking lots where mountains of snow had previously been plowed up. Physical signs aside, there are also cultural indications that it is now springtime in the American Midwest. Here is the second of three signs.
March Madness. You may have noticed lots of extra attention on basketball around you recently. Men’s and women’s college tournaments have started. The men’s tourney, the second-most popular sports event after the Super Bowl, recently jumped from 64 to 68 qualifying teams. Perennially, the biggest controversy surrounds whether or not your favorite team is selected and then how high (or low) your favorite is ranked in the pairings. The team pairings are arranged in “brackets,” which are printed out and shared among friends and co-workers, often with wagers placed on the outcomes. Looking at the bracketed pairings below, you can see that the left and right margins are filled with specific team names, with the winners of each bracket advancing towards the championship slots in the middle of the chart.
The tournament seems “mad” because of the frenzied beginning to the competition. After a preliminary play-in round with the lowest 8 teams, the first full round begins with 32 games in two days, with lots of TV coverage and highlight reports—a basketball lover’s dream. After the initial Thursday/Friday round, 32 teams are eliminated. After the second round (Saturday/Sunday), 16 more teams are eliminated. The goal is to finish the first weekend of play by advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. The second weekend eliminates eight teams in the third round and four more teams in the fourth round, taking the winners from the Elite Eight to the Final Four.
Reaching the hallowed ground of the Final Four gives prestige and national attention to those universities. This year, none of the top-ranked men’s teams made it to the Final Four. All the top seeds were upset in earlier rounds by underdogs. Two of those underdogs (Butler and Virginia Commonwealth Universities) will play each other in round five for a chance to advance to the championship game. The other two teams in the semifinals are traditional heavyweights of college basketball, the Universities of Kentucky and Connecticut. The semifinal and final rounds will be played in Houston, TX this year. Culture tip: During this three-week period, it’s customary to ask your sports-minded friends and co-workers, “How are your brackets doing?”
New Vocabulary and Cultural Concepts
alliteration = a feature of creative writing which puts together words with the same first letter (March Madness, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four). Americans love alliteration.
perennially = every year
ranked pairings = The top 64 teams are separated into four regional competitions (with 16 teams in each region). The #1 ranked (or seeded) team plays the lowest team, #16 while the #2 *team plays the #15 team, and so on.
mad = often used to mean “angry,” but here it means “crazy”
frenzied = crazy, wild, busy
hallowed = holy, sacred
favored (or favorite) teams = top-ranked teams
underdog teams = teams predicted to lose
to be upset = to lose to a lesser-ranked (non-favored) team