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We are all familiar with varying levels of madness, but none greater than the March variety, when student-athletes come together to battle it out, leave it all on the floor, and outlast the cliché machine for a college basketball championship.

But not all March Madnesses were created equal… and I’m not even talking about the pathetic inequities in the men’s and women’s tournaments, set by the inept and unevolved NCAA. Some years the Madness is overwhelming and other years, it is not as spicy a varietal.

Today we’re going to dissect March Madness, with the goal of deriving as much Madness as we can.

It’s not as simple of a formula as you may think, though. Yes, upsets equate to Madness, but we can’t just have a bunch of 16-seeds running through the bracket willy nilly. In 2018, when 16-seed UMBC beat 1-seed Virginia (and beat them by 20 nonetheless!) in the men’s tournament, it was the March Madness equivalent to The Purge. But The Purge works because it is only one fictional day a year. Often forgotten is that UMBC lost their next game to Kansas State, and the Retrievers’ season was over. Same for when 16-seed Harvard beat 1-seed Stanford in the women’s tournament in 1998, and lost by double digits in the second round.

Point is, to maximize Madness, we need sustainable underdogs.

We need those plucky 11s, 12s, and 13s to run roughshod through the blue bloods and over their red carpets. The George Masons (2006) and the VCUs (2011) and the Loyola-Chicago Sister Jeans (2018) who can wreak havoc over and over again. Basketball hipsters will tell you that upsets are good in the early rounds and chalk is good in the later rounds, but screw those galaxy brain people. We want upsets and upsets and upsets. It’s called March Madness, not March Wasn’t That Was a Little Weird at First-ness?

(A quick note on when rooting for upsets clashes with rooting for your bracket: Always root for your bracket. All we have in this world is our name and our bracket. By the way, never forget to write your name at the top of your bracket! But odds are that your bracket will be trash by the time Thursday happy hour prices kick in. So when the price of nachos comes down, beginning the chaos on your digestive system, it will also be the time you should be rooting for chaos on the bracket system. Remember: 98 percent of brackets will go pro in something other than sports!)

Upsets are beautiful, but villains are also important to creating Madness.

In reality, March Madness is a beautiful, basketball and Powerade-fueled narrative and one necessity is having someone to root against. Shout out to Duke and Kentucky and the defense-ready floor slappers and the coaches’ sons and whatever drainpipe Rick Pitino is trying to coach his way out of. And on the women’s side, UCONN and Kim Mulkey and whichever team knocked out your team last year. A question worth considering is whether it’s more delicious to have your villains knocked out early, in a blaze of glory, or to be struck down late, when the stakes are higher. Unlike bracket-picking, there are no wrong answers here.

But how will you know when you’ve fully embraced the Madness? Oh, you’ll feel it. It will make home inside your veins. Intrinsically you’ll find yourself leaning into it. You’ll start viewing every game in a pro/con list of chaotic outcomes. You’ll be thinking three 1-and-1 free throws ahead of the actual game and know exactly the outcomes you need from each set in order to set up a soul crushing (or soul enriching!) buzzer beater. You’ll root for those shots of fans and cheerleaders and players’ parents on the brink of emotional instability because you know March Madness doesn’t come without a little March Sadness, and a side of March Schadenfreude-ness. You have to break some eggs to make a delicious egg and cheese sandwich. (You have to pull on some cow udders too, but that’s another story).

In the end, the weeks of Madness will be distilled into a two-and-a-half minute music montage, “One Shining Moment,” the sexiest R&B sports song since “Action, Boys, Action,” the 16th track on Jock Jams 2. It’s the place where you’ll get to see all the insanity, emotions, buzzer beaters, and MADNESS, set to the sweet, seductive and redemptive stylings of Luther Vandross.

And as the song explains,”One shining moment, you reached deep inside / One shining moment you knew you were alive.” Embrace the Madness!

Josh Bard

Josh Bard is a guy. A sports guy, an ideas guy, a wise guy, a funny guy, a Boston guy, and sometimes THAT guy. Never been a Guy Fieri guy, though.

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