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march madness

Build a March Madness Vocabulary

By Susan DeLay

Bracket Busters, Buzzer Beaters, Bulldogs: Build a March Madness Vocabulary

Forget all that nonsense about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb. Who has time to talk about the weather when March Madness descends? March Madness means only one thing—basketball.

Deal with it.

If you’d like to contribute more than potato chips and a platter of pigs in blankets to March Madness get-togethers, I’m here to help. Even if your knowledge of basketball is limited to recognizing that the ball is round, that’s okay. You can still stun your hoops-loving friends during NCAA tournament play by tossing around a few key terms.

Remember, sports is like politics. You don’t need to be smart. You only need to sound smart.

The Dance—From First Round games through the Final Four and onto the Championship Game, you’re at the Dance. There are 351 colleges/universities vying for an invitation to the Dance. More than 280 of them are wallflowers.

Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4. As the tourney progresses, the final field of 64 will be narrowed to 32, then to 16, to 8, and to the Final 4. On April 8, two teams will battle it out in the championship game for the trophy and bragging rights.

Brackets. If you hear the masses discussing brackets, they’re talking about a form with all the pairings of college teams that will go head-to-head during the previously mentioned dance. The pairings go into brackets, created by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). This organization evaluates which teams have done well enough during basketball season to get invited. People study the form, cross their fingers, and place bets on which teams will win and which ones will go home.

The odds of a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion if you were to pick each of the games by tossing a coin or choosing the winner based on the colors of the team’s jerseys. But, if you know something about basketball, besides the fact that the players hit the court wearing the equivalent of culottes, you can improve your odds to 1 in 120.2 billion.

For the record, no one in the history of the universe has ever “officially” selected all the winning teams.

But why not give it a shot?

Number One Seeds. Each division has a top-ranked team, known as a Number One Seed. With four divisions (East, West, Southeast, Southwest), there are four Number One Seeds. In 2024, the top teams are Connecticut Huskies, Houston Cougars, North Carolina Tar Heels, and Purdue Boilermakers. Please give these teams a modicum of respect because there’s a good possibility some of them will make it as far as one of the final 16 teams at the dance.

Unless there’s an upset.

And there will be.

 Cinderella. Sometimes fairy tales do come true—especially during March Madness. Cinderella teams are the underdogs that get invited to the Dance without much hope of getting very far. Then a miracle happens. They turn into spoilers (or bracket-busters) for more favored teams. Teams rarely play until midnight, which is good because we all know what happens to Cinderella when the clock strikes 12.

 Glass Slippers. If you hear people ask who is wearing Glass Slippers, they mean: Who is the Cinderella team? Don’t act confused and wonder why the players are scuffing up a court by wearing glass slippers and not Nikes. Just nod and counter with, “I wonder if there will be another Butler this year?”

Buzzer Beater. A buzzer beater is a shot fired in the final seconds of the game. In 2010, the Butler Bulldogs (Indianapolis) almost walked away with it all, but their last-minute buzzer-beater bounced off the rim. A very nervous Duke team took the trophy in the end. You never know when a team of players will squeeze their size 14 tootsies into glass slippers and come home with the tiara. Okay, the crown. Okay, the trophy.

Bulldogs. Feel free to throw this word around as freely as you’d like, especially at the beginning of March Madness. Fifteen teams claim a bulldog as their mascot. In fact, the bulldog is the most frequently used mascot in NCAA Division One athletics. Four Bulldog teams made the cut for The Dance: Mississippi State, Samford, Drake, and Gonzaga.

Gonzaga (The Zags). No relation to Godzilla, this Washington state team has been a threat since 1999. They may not go all the way, but they can kick sand in the face of a highly-seeded team, and one upset can change everything. Toss the Zags into at least one March Madness conversation by slyly asking, “I wonder who the Zags will send home this year?” Then sit back and be proud you were the one who got the ball rolling. So to speak.

 Valpo. Not to be confused with something you’d feed a bulldog, Valpo is short for Valparaiso (in Indiana). Valpo set the bar for college basketball drama in 1998 with “The Shot.” Bryce Drew, who went on to play with the Chicago Bulls, made a buzzer beater (basket) in the last second. The little-known Valpo Crusaders beat Mississippi (Ole Miss) by one point. People are still talking. 

One more thing.

Don’t overthink March Madness by trying to figure out why the University of Pittsburgh is in the Southeast Division. This is about basketball, not geography.

DeLay-Susan HeadshotSusan DeLay is from the Buckeye State where she took her first paying job at the age of 15, writing a newspaper column called Teen Talk. She lived in the Chicagoland area for 20-some years before giving away her shovel and ice scraper and moving to The Villages.

An industry veteran in publishing services, PR, and media relations, Susan wrote “DeLayed Reaction,” a newspaper column, for 25 years. The column is now a blog at www.susandelay.wordpress.com.

She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, The Florida Writers Association, Pen, Paper & Pals, The Writers League of the Villages, and Working Writers Critique Group. She is currently learning that poems don’t have to rhyme and is working on a novel entitled “Saving Jesus.”

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