Recapping the Madness of March: My Personal Experience

- Sports

by Devin Braden

March Madness isn’t just an annual basketball tournament, but a cultural phenomenon. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many other sporting events where people fill out more brackets than they can keep track of and watch four straight days of basketball action over the opening weekend. Even our staff at WONC put their basketball knowledge (or lack thereof) to the test with a bracket challenge, with our very own Drew Hackler claiming the title of most accurate bracket. The pure thrill of watching all 68 teams get narrowed down to one champion, with many upsets along the way, makes this event unlike any other.

For my entire life, I’d watched March Madness from the comfort of my couch and discreetly on my laptop in class as my teachers lectured. This year was different, though. The stars aligned and my favorite team, the Marquette Golden Eagles out of Milwaukee, were playing in Indianapolis for their first-round game. Knowing that a chance like this may never come again, I took the opportunity to make the trip down to Indy for the day.

I had no idea what to expect going to the tournament in person, but I was blown away that the magic present on the television broadcasts was even more beautiful in person. After waking up bright and early to make the three-hour trek to Indy, I arrived sporting my Tyler Kolek jersey at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse, the home of the Pacers and now Caitlin Clark. The energy could be felt in the air on the concourse of the stadium, as it was a mixture of fans hoping their team could pull off the upset, while the higher ranked team hoped they could avoid the embarrassment of being bounced earlier than anticipated.

I arrived at my seats in the nosebleeds of the stadium where I was able to get my first glimpse of the court donning the March Madness bracket logo at center court. My #2-seeded Golden Eagles were slated to face the #15-seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, who were making the first appearance in the Big Dance since 2013. The breakdown of fans was even, as both the Hilltopper and Golden Eagle faithful made the trip to see their team play in the best sporting event of the year.

One thing you quickly pick up on is the off-the-court competition of the marching bands. The Marquette band would rip off the fight song, “Ring out Ahoya,” as the fans rallied behind them chanting the famous phrase, “We are Marquette,” at the top of their lungs. After the Marquette band finished, the Western Kentucky band would play their fight song, “Stand up and Cheer,” with the Hilltopper fans waving their famous red rally towels in the air. Once the bands took care of the national anthem, the players prepared for tipoff as ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” boomed through the stadium’s speakers.

As a Marquette fan who watches every game and was “Lost in the Fight,” the first half didn’t go as planned.  The Hilltoppers outplayed the Golden Eagles badly in the first half, with them claiming the advantage at half by seven. I could barely look at Twitter (X, I suppose) as the basketball world clowned Marquette for being fraudulent. I thought we were cooked when Bijan Robsinon of the Atlanta Falcons had a perfect bracket after day one of the tournament and had Western Kentucky pulling off the upset. Thankfully, though, Bijan was incorrect on that pick, as Marquette returned to true form in the second half. They ended up winning the game in dominating fashion with a final score of 87-69.

As much as I hate to say it, I also enjoyed seeing Purdue Boilermakers star Zach Edey dominate against the Grambling State Tigers. As someone who is a part of the Zach Edey hater club, I have to give the big man his flowers for truly being one of the greats in college basketball history.

This experience was one of the greatest sporting events I’ve ever attended, and I’ll always remember the great people I interacted with in both fanbases. The lack of toxicity amongst the fans made this a great experience, as I got several “good luck the rest of the way” responses from Hilltoppers fans. There were fans from all different walks of life being brought together to take in the tournament. I was sitting next to a Marquette alum who went to the school during the 1977 season, the year Marquette won their only national title. Getting to interact with so many different people with so many cool stories was an amazing spectacle.

While the tournament didn’t go as planned for Marquette after defeating Colorado to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, it was still surreal to see it all live and in person. I also did get lucky enough to see the Golden Eagles play in Dallas against NC State in the Sweet Sixteen, but that experience was slightly less fun and will be a story for a different day for obvious reasons.

I encourage anyone who has the chance to see March Madness in person to take the chance when it arises, even when it might not be your favorite team involved. Any basketball fan will greatly appreciate the magnitude of seeing D1’s best players putting it all on the line in an attempt to achieve their “One Shining Moment.”

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