From the sidelines…Time to ‘Dance’

It’s that time again.

The NCAA tournament begins today, ushering in three weeks of chaos and drama so perfect that people around the country declare this championship to be the greatest in America.

Over the next three weeks, 65 teams will try for one goal: end the season with a six-game winning streak.

It seems like a simple goal – most teams in this tournament have had at least one six-game streak this year. A couple stretched their streaks to longer than 25 games. Win six games in a three-week span, and you’re the national champion. Doesn’t seem too difficult, right?

Of course, we all know better. If it were simple, we wouldn’t spend our time filling out brackets, or recruiting friends and co-workers for office pools, or checking one of the dozens of Web sites dedicated to trying to predict what will happen this year.

If it were simple, we wouldn’t be sitting at home, screaming at the television as our pick to win it all trails by four with two minutes left in the first round against a school we didn’t even know existed until the week before.

OK, so maybe the screaming is a bit exaggerated, but I do enjoy this tournament a little too much, and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.

For me, the biggest thing is the bracket. You have 65 teams arranged neatly on a little grid, each team playing and hoping for the prize of getting their name written down on the next line after they win.

The brackets are huge. On Sunday, CBS had a countdown on its screen, reminding viewers how long it was before the brackets were announced. Once the teams were announced, ESPN spent most of the rest of the night analyzing and predicting, the announcers trying to sound like they know what they’re talking about.

The brackets are the reason my mom called me in sick from school one day each year with the sole purpose of letting me spend the day watching basketball. I don’t know what she said to the schools, but a part of me hopes she actually told them I would be missing school to watch the NCAA tournament.

The tournament is beautiful because no matter how much you think you know about basketball – whether you’re an ESPN analyst or somebody who only watches in March – you know, deep down, that you have no clue how this thing’s going to turn out.

I picked Stanford to win the title, which likely means the Cardinals will be bumped in the Sweet 16 by Maryland. I have actually had my champion knocked out in the first round before, (Iowa State in 2001, and I don’t want to talk about that anymore), but I’m fairly certain that won’t happen this year.

Fairly certain, but I’m not 100 percent sure. It’s impossible to be completely sure, not with the one-and-done format. This year, Stanford’s top guns could have a bad shooting night, or there could be some weird injuries and suddenly everybody would be trying to figure out Texas-San Antonio’s nickname. (It’s the Roadrunners, by the way, which is the same as my elementary school. I wonder if that means anything?)

I know that everybody and their cousin is picking Stanford to win it all. And while they’re not likely to lose to UTSA, anything’s possible after that.

I could easily see Stanford slipping up and losing the second round game to either Alabama or Southern Illinois. Half the basketball fans in the country would get rid of their brackets in frustration, mumble something questioning why they always play this thing every year and walk away in anger.

But a strange thing will happen. The anger will pass that day or maybe the next. Instead of talking about how their picks were all messed up, people will instead be talking about how great this tournament is. If Stanford could lose so quickly, then anything could truly happen, right? They’ll start talking about upsets from past years, and the excitement will be back.

Then, people will dig their brackets out of the garbage and put them back on their end table, to try to spot where the next upset will occur.