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Peterson: Here comes the magic of March Madness

There’s something magical about March Madness.

When else would we closely follow a Butler versus Bucknell matchup? When else would we realize that there’s a school named Florida Gulf Coast? And when else could I convince my mom to join the family in trying to predict the results of 67 basketball games?

Each and every year, March Madness captivates us for several weeks — distracting us from work, school and really anything productive — with intriguing new storylines, clutch superstars and an eternally strong format. There is more than likely a correlation between my lowest grade ever on a final and the start of March Madness the day before that final in winter quarter of last year.

March Madness’ fast-paced, win-or-go-home format produces nonstop action and provides easily the best playoff format in all of sports. While its championship might not be nearly as exciting as the Super Bowl, the process of reaching the championship in March Madness entails the most action, with five victories (not counting some teams’ play-ins) needed to reach the NCAA title game in just a short period of time.

And of course, March Madness allows us to dream of creating the perfect bracket and winning Warren Buffet’s $1-billion prize. The thrill that accompanies a bracket turning out just like you predicted draws millions of people to hastily pencil in teams they may have never even heard of before. Friends and families create groups to see who can make the most accurate bracket. Even the President gets involved in filling out brackets. ESPN dedicates shows to bracket advice. The word “bracketology” has become a common phrase despite its absence from the dictionary.

The number of people who follow March Madness also completely blows away the number of people who follow regular-season college basketball. While many sports fans closely follow their favorite college basketball teams, others choose to wait until March Madness to show interest in college basketball, only occasionally checking results throughout the season to help them create their brackets down the road. The Super Bowl is similar in this regard, but the entire NFL playoff format is not. March Madness appeals to uninformed fans who don’t know the difference between Kentucky and Western Kentucky, and avid college basketball fans alike.

In addition to having the perfect format, March Madness seemingly never runs out of impeccable storylines. Over recent years, we’ve seen the rise of the underdogs with schools like George Mason, Butler and VCU making unheard of runs to the Final Four. We’ve also witnessed the crowning of many superstars, such as Carmelo Anthony with Syracuse and Stephen Curry with Davidson.

Is there anything that America loves more in sports than underdogs and superstars? Nothing beats the storyline that accompanies an underdog facing a superstar, like North Carolina State defeating Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston, or an underdog team with a superstar player, like Stephen Curry on Davidson. March Madness brings out the greatest underdog stories of any sport with its little-rest, single-elimination format that allows underdogs who get hot at the right time to roll quickly toward the Final Four before they can lose momentum.

This year, March Madness is as superstar-filled as in any past years. Doug McDermott, the likely Wooden Award winner and only the eighth player to ever score 3,000 points, leads his Creighton Bluejays into the tournament. Arguably the greatest freshman class in history, with the likes of future NBA stars Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon and Tyler Ennis, enters with each player’s team in relatively good positioning to make a run to the Final Four.

The storylines aren’t lacking in the upcoming March Madness either. Wichita State became the first team to finish its regular season a perfect 31-0. The Florida Gators became the first major-conference team not named Indiana to go undefeated in an 18-game conference schedule. The Kansas Jayhawks are led by the potential No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the upcoming NBA draft.

This year’s March Madness could be among the best ever. After tournaments that saw double-digit seeds making the Final Four, an unknown school in Florida Gulf Coast becoming a national sensation with “Dunk City” and a freshman-dominated Kentucky squad cruising to a national title, who would have thought we could possibly do better?

That’s the magic in March Madness. Every year seems like it could never possibly be topped because of its thrilling rollercoaster ride. Then somehow, with the fixed attention of both the nation’s diehard sports fans and casual bracket-fillers, the next March Madness lives up to the expectations and delivers a superstar-laden, storyline-filled and action-packed tournament. We couldn’t ask for anything more.

Michael Peterson could actually have asked for Stanford to make the Big Dance, but instead, we’ll just have to wait and see how the Cardinal does in the Pac-12 tourney. Remind Michael of his Cardinal pride at mrpeters@stanford.edu and Tweet at him @mpetes93.

About Michael Peterson

Michael Peterson is a sports desk editor at The Stanford Daily. He has served as a beat reporter for football, baseball and men’s soccer and also does play-by-play broadcasting of baseball and men’s soccer for KZSU. Michael is a sophomore from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. majoring in computer science. To contact him, please email him at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.