I’ve said for years that the first day of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament is my favorite day of the year. Bar none. More exciting than my birthday–ugh, don’t remind me–more exciting than Christmas or the first day when I can swim in a lake. I remember being in high school and trying to convince teachers that we could zip through all the work for the day and then turn on the games. Whomever it was that decided to stagger the first day’s games so that they finished in quick succession should have a Nobel Prize in Physics and Excitement.

This year is different from any other. It’s been a year and a week since I played basketball with other people. Other than the real-world tragedy of COVID, this has been the greatest impact on my life. I use basketball for exercise, therapy, and social time. I have very few outlets for my intense competitive nature without it.

Watching this tournament will feel almost bittersweet because I can see myself reflected in these games more than when I watch the NBA. Go Google Eastern Washington’s roster. I’ll wait. See? Those guys are all miles better than me, but they don’t look like they are. Number 35, I don’t even know his name, is my favorite college basketball player. So there’s an identification that I usually love about this event. Having lost that part will be interesting.

I took down some of my thoughts from watching the first day of the tournament. Teams that ended up winning are listed first.

7 Florida vs 10 Virginia Tech

If you have read anything I’ve written in this space or you know me outside of it, or you watch me while I sleep, you may know I’m a huge Florida Gators fan. Having my team kick off the madness was a perfect start.

After suffering the near-fatal loss of their best player, Keyontae Johnson, this year when he collapsed on the court, the Gators are playing hard. They are missing that one piece though. It’s good to see him on the sidelines and moving around.

Overtime in the first game!!! I feel like I’m mainlining Monster Energy drinks already.

This is the highest my heart rate has gotten during all of COVID.

The Gators pulled it out.

3 Arkansas vs 14 Colgate

I’ve always been more of an Arm & Hammer toothpaste guy. It balances the pH of your mouth…or so a dentist once told me. Still, I’m rooting for Colgate and this first half is going well. They are building a solid lead.

OK, they just gave up that lead at the end of the half.

Connor Vanover on Arkansas is listed at 7’3” and 245. pounds. I think they meant 145. Someone get him a halftime milkshake.

OK, things are really going south now. Arkansas is crushing them in the second half.

Arkansas’ jerseys just have their logo of a Razorback on them, no words. It’s a nice move. Really clean look.

1 Illinois vs 16 Drexel

Nothing interesting about this game.

Did you all see the disparity in the weight rooms for the men’s and women’s tournaments? It went around Twitter the other day? In this digital age, how can you think you’re going to get away with that. It’s insane. It would have been better if they hadn’t even put that rack of weights out. I mean seriously.

The power of social media is that it actually led to change. The NCAA listened and actually installed a weight room for the women’s tournament. They don’t actually get full credit for listening since it took them getting called out to do it. I am glad it happened though.

 6 Texas Tech vs 11 Utah State

Utah State has 13 turnovers in the first half…and they are winning by three! That can skew things either way really. Maybe they can clean it up and stretch the lead in the second half. Or…they got very lucky in the first half, hit some tough shots, and they will not be able to sustain it going forward.

Utah State did not sustain it. They lost fairly easily. The Texas Tech coach does have the worst mask I’ve seen so far. Get a real mask man! Your team could get wiped out by COVID!

15 Oral Roberts vs 2 Ohio State

The first half in these games seems not to matter. Everyone is so amped up. So far the higher seeds are settling down in the second halves.

I was totally wrong about that. Oral Roberts kept up the pressure. Ohio State had a chance to try to ice the game with foul shots. Instead, it’s going to overtime.

Oral Roberts! Mrs. Roberts is a lucky woman! The first big upset!

1 Baylor vs 16 Hartford

I barely watched this game as it was a snooze fest. The one interesting thing is that Baylor was hit hard by COVID. I am curious how their team will respond. It has taken a toll on people’s conditioning and they are playing again in a day. Will that matter? We shall see.

8 Loyola Chicago vs 9 Georgia Tech

I honestly didn’t even know Georgia Tech was in the tournament until this game started. I filled out two brackets and breezed right past them. Especially since they are playing 2018’s Final Four darling. This was a no-brainer!

*Note from the future*: Loyola’s defense is fantastic. On Sunday, Illinois just couldn’t crack their ball screen coverage. Their effort on the trap was tremendous.

This might be a good time to point out that I usually have an idea what is going on in college basketball. I watch some games, check out teams and players I’m interested in. I watch as many Gator games as I can. This year? Nothing. I think I saw two games. You could have given me 35 chances to name the top four seeds in the tournament. I might have gotten Gonzaga because I heard they were pretty good. It’s a bizarre feeling. Did I still put money on my bracket? Of course.

12 Oregon State vs 5 Tennessee

Every year there is a 12-5 upset. Mark this one down. Also, is Ron Slay still on Tennessee?

That joke is in there for about five people to get. They always say in comedy writing to construct your jokes so they have the smallest audience possible, right?

4 Oklahoma State vs 13 Liberty

As of halftime in this context, I am flummoxed. My hot take is that if you can score only one point in a half against the Liberty Flames, I have trouble seeing you as the #1 pick in the NBA draft. That is the case for Cade Cunningham. I have not watched him play this year, I’ve only heard the rumors. So, yeah I was unimpressed.

He has turned it around somewhat in the second half, scoring 14, including a stretch of nine straight. I see some things I like in his game for sure and we all have bad halves. I’ll give him more time.

9 Wisconsin vs 8 North Carolina

One of the better uniform matchups in this tournament. I miss basketball so much. I can’t wait to play again. I had a dream recently that I played again. I could barely hit the backboard.

2 Houston vs 15 Cleveland State

I wonder if you’re a 15 seed and you see another 15 seed win before you, if you think, “awww shoot.” Because the chances are so small of two 15 seeds winning. Does it feel like that other team has taken that spot already? Like when someone in front of you wins a scratch-off ticket before you buy one. But it’s a scratch-off ticket you’ve been training for all these years.

Cleveland State did not upset Houston.

13 North Texas vs 4 Purdue

Oh my god! Is that overtime’s music! This time it’s a 13 seed battling a 4. This has been one of the craziest first days of a tournament that I can remember. A 12, 13, and 15 seed have all won. It feels like the basketball fates have not watched much college ball this year either and also chose winners at random.

10 Rutgers vs 7 Clemson

This game sounds more interesting if it was played on the football field. Not if these basketball teams played there, that would be ridiculous. These are football schools, but I did read a tweet that said Rutgers is decent these days. That is true apparently. Thanks to that tweet, I did win one game on my bracket today.

11 Syracuse vs 8 San Diego State

Did you know Kawhi Leonard went to San Diego State? OK, sure, but did you know his middle name was Anthony? Did you know that they have a player named Nathan Mensah? It turns out he’s the smartest player in Division I. Can you tell it’s getting to the end of a million hours of basketball? Anyway, none of that matters because Syracuse took them down.

The fact that the coach’s son, Buddy Boeheim, was a star in this game is simultaneously super annoying and very cool. What an incredible moment for a father and son to share. No sarcasm there. His brother, 2-3 Zone Boeheim, must have also been proud.

3 West Virginia vs 14 Morehead State

Mrs. State is a lucky woman!

Can you imagine if basketball was still played with peach baskets? You had to climb up and take the ball out. That would slow the game down almost as much as the replay reviews do. It may just be an urban legend too. I did no research on that.

Uh oh, pull back from the abyss, Cody. Just a little more to get through.

5 Villanova vs 12 Winthrop

The final game of the day. I can barely see straight. Luckily, my world could be spinning and I might not know which way was up, but I would know that Villanova would be good. At least one of these guys will be the sixth man on an NBA roster in 2023.

The End

I did it. What a day. It had everything I ever want from a day of March Crazy Things Happening: I lost money, three overtimes, close games, some blowouts, school spirit, and goofy tall white guys getting excited. Most importantly of all, I now know how Pinocchio feels about Coke. I swear, that commercial will haunt my dreams. I hope that the rest of the weekend is just as fun. I can’t possibly write 6,000 words on it or I will be kicked out of the internet and my butt will fall off.

Two days later…
My butt did not fall off, everybody!
The rest of the tournament was awesome. It was fantastic. Splendid. Madness. One more week and we get to do it all again. Have a great day.