March Madness

I was introduced to college basketball when I was in second grade. Our teacher randomly assigned us two teams to cheer for. The winner got a candy bar. I was so excited because I love competition. Even though I could do nothing to change my team’s chances of winning, I felt like I had it in the bag.

As the tournament went on, I learned what the team names’ numbers meant. One of my rivals got a one-seed and a two-seed; I quickly learned about the likelihood of events occurring and was brokenhearted when his team won.

In fifth grade, we filled out brackets before spring break. I realized that I did not know who I selected, so during my parent-teacher conference, I forced my parents to stay an extra ten minutes so I could copy down all my picks. I kept track over break and saw the horror of the uncertainty of college basketball.

My friend was a Duke fan, so I became a Kentucky fan. This is the same friend who was a Cowboys fan and forced me to be a Bills fan. We would play basketball in his basement, and I would pretend to be Kerry Kittles. I would pull one sock up and leave the other one down.

Throughout high school, I cheered for Kentucky and saw two championships and three consecutive final-four appearances. However, once I arrived at the University of Illinois, they were my team of choice.
After I graduated from college, my wife still had one year left. That was the greatest run Illinois has ever had in the tournament. They only had one loss all year and were favorites to win the tournament. Mandy’s Grandpa had tickets to the Elite Eight game against Arizona at DePaul stadium. He took both of us, and we saw one of the greatest comebacks in NCAA history in person. When Illinois was down 15, he said, “I’m sorry, I thought it was going to be a better game.” Illinois proceeded to stun the fans and earn a big to the final four. It was difficult watching them lose in the Championship game. Still, it made the most exciting championship I had ever experienced.

As the years went on, I got to celebrate Illinois beating Colorado while we were living in Colorado. I also got to see us, as a #1 seed, lose to an eight-seed led by an overweight center. As a three-seed, they have made their first Sweet 16 since 2005. Unfortunately, they would have had to beat the nation’s #1 and #4 teams to make the final four.

I had little hope for the team to beat Iowa State on Friday night. We were on the last night of our vacation, and the game didn’t start until 9:15. This is the time I would normally go to bed, but this was a can’t-miss-live game. Illinois jumped out to the lead and held it throughout the whole game. There were free-throw issues and bad officiating, but Illinois earned the right to face the defending national champions and was one of the last eight teams in the nation.

I did not have high hopes that the Illini would be able to beat UCoon, as they were 8.5-point underdogs, but I was excited to watch. The first half was tough to swallow, as our star was shut down, but we were only down five. Then, an all-time embarrassment occurred. Illinois was outscored 30-0, and I just wanted to hide. It would have been nice to be in a different region, but unfortunately, they did not make the final four this year.

I will continue filling out brackets and hoping for the day that Illinois takes home its first national championship.

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