March Madness: How I Became a Cinderella Story

By Elise Nelson on April 11, 2018

This is the story of a girl who has never had an interest in basketball yet decided to join a few March Madness bracket challenges.

Okay, so the girl is me. I grew up watching my older brother play basically every sport our school had to offer, and one of his favorites was basketball. Of course, I attended his games with my family, but I never really paid attention. I tried to follow the game and be a part of the energy. Alas, I’ve never been one to enjoy sports and basketball was no exception.

When my brother graduated from his basketball days, my family’s love of the game continued. My brother had always watched college games—his favorite team to this day is the University of North Carolina Tarheels. He introduced my mom to UNC and they started watching games religiously together.

Soon enough, the whole household became obsessed with UNC (except me). So, when March Madness comes around each year, my family goes a bit nuts…

How I joined the madness        

If you’re unfamiliar with March Madness, it goes like this: 68 men’s basketball teams from Division I colleges around the United States compete every spring in a massive National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. It’s a big deal—the games are broadcasted live on four different television networks, there’s an official app, and the teams travel all around the country to participate. In the end, there’s only one team standing as the National Champions.

It isn’t tradition to just watch the tournament, though. Thousands of fans try their luck every year at predicting the outcomes of each game, all the way to the championship winner. These predictions are called bracket challenges. Everyone submits their own brackets with who they think will win. The more correct guesses someone has, the more points they earn. A battle ensues over who can predict the most accurate bracket.

basketball, sports, teams, players

Image via

This year, my family decided to create our own little bracket challenge using the March Madness app. My mom urged me to join the action, even though I probably can’t tell a west coast team from an east coast team to save my life. In a panic, I turned to my own good friend and sports lover, Jon. And… I borrowed his bracket.

No, this isn’t cheating, as my family so wrongfully accused me of doing! Jon offered to let me copy his bracket picks. I copied it exactly because I was too afraid to stray from his choices. I had no idea what I was doing otherwise! I submitted one copy to Family Smackdown, and another copy to a big challenge that my dad’s friend hosts each year, with about 80 participants.

Understanding a bracket

I’ll admit, I didn’t have a clue how a March Madness bracket worked. Here’s what I learned.

The 68 teams are divided into four regions based on their location: North, South, East, and West. Within those regions, each team is ranked from one to 16—this is known as seeding. Basically, seeding is based on how well a team did during their season. So, the first-seed team is expected to go far in the tournament, while the sixteenth-seed team might not last as long. Therefore, seeding is important to look at when you’re making bracket predictions.

The teams are then scheduled to play against each other in the first round based on opposite seed placements. The first-seed team plays against the sixteenth-seed team, the second-seed team plays against the fifteenth-seed team, and so on. The rest of the bracket is determined by who wins each game, so that’s where your predictions come in.

Team selection can get a little complicated—read about the entire process here.

Wait… I have HOW MANY points?!?!

The first day went well …surprisingly well. I only had a few losses. My bracket (and Jon’s bracket) hit the ground running. Somehow, the basketball fairy godmothers were in my favor, and I had first place in Family Smackdown. Still, I couldn’t believe my run would last, with my usual poor luck.

I did see some downfalls in my bracket after that. I landed in third place in Family Smackdown by the end of the second round. In the other challenge, I was around 30th place. Yikes. Jon and I drew up a new plan—root for everyone else’s brackets to get ruined, and hope we still get some wins.

Once again, the basketball fairy godmothers answered my cry for help and threw me back in the Family Smackdown lead (and I jumped to fifth place in the bigger challenge … What the heck?). And it’s all because of massive upsets.

What the heck is an upset?

Everyone kept going crazy over these “upsets” happening and I had no idea what that meant. The only upset I know is when I eat the last Oreo and realize I have no more Oreos. Apparently, “upset” has a different meaning in basketball.

Simply put, a game is considered an upset when a lower-seed team beats a higher-seed team. This happened during March Madness 2018 a lot … this tournament saw the biggest upsets in NCAA history.

Researchers will often warn people to expect a certain number of upsets during the season and plan brackets accordingly. However, this year took everyone by surprise.

spalding, basketball, shoes

Image via

I happened to be watching when the biggest upset in history occurred. A No. 16 seed team, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, beat a No. 1 seed team, University of Virginia—which has never happened before. Sorry, Virginia. UMBC pretty much became famous overnight. The win busted thousands of brackets, but nobody really cared because they were happy for UMBC.

Another notable team made it pretty far—in fact, their tournament winning streak is being called a Cinderella story. No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago upset several high-ranked teams in the tournament. The Loyola-Chicago Ramblers made it all the way to the Final Four. Everyone rooted for them, too, despite all the busted brackets … mostly because of their biggest supporter and team chaplain, cute little Sister Jean.

Anyone who witnessed these upsets saw history in the making, so apparently, I picked a good year to join.

I’m going mad

What the heck was happening to me? My brackets were doing well, I had a shot at winning, and I was starting to enjoy March Madness a little. I never thought I would say that.

I turned on notifications for the official app so I could see game scores on my watch while I was at work. I caught up with big games on my phone whenever I got the chance and cheered at the winning shots (especially that buzzer-beater in the Michigan-Houston game).

I had absorbed my parents’ excitement when I was home, but my excitement died down a bit when I returned to school after Spring Break. Plus, I was too busy with schoolwork to watch the games. However, I did check the scores in the official app every chance I could get.

The Final Four

I was feeling confident in my potential to win at this point. When Easter rolled around, my family gathered at home to watch the Final Four games (and, you know, celebrate the holiday). The result of the Kansas-Villanova game was going to determine if I would win Family Smackdown.

basketball, bracket, march madness

Image via Elise Nelson

Villanova totally crushed Kansas, and that was it! I won Family Smackdown, much to the dismay of my basketball-obsessed family!

But it wasn’t over yet.

If Villanova won the National Championship, my bracket was going to end up in the top three the big challenge.

I waited all day on Monday, April 2 to watch the big game. Even though I wasn’t home with my parents, I still tuned in to TBS on my television at school. Now, don’t get me wrong—I had no idea what was going on. My housemates had to explain some basketball rules to me. However, I knew when Villanova scored, and that’s when I cheered.

The first half had some close scores against Michigan, but Villanova picked up in the second half and … holy heck … they won! Villanova became the 2018 NCAA National Champions, and so did I (well, at least, it felt that way).

So, long story short… I won twice in one year and my family is never going to invite me to a bracket challenge ever again. Anything can happen during March Madness.

By Elise Nelson

Uloop Writer
Elise is a senior at Albright College in Reading, Pa, studying journalism. She hopes to pursue a career in feature writing and editing for a magazine. Much of Elise's time is dedicated to being Editor-in-Chief of Albright's student newspaper, The Albrightian. She is also a member of Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, and co-hosts a radio show on WXAC 91.3 FM.

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