NORMAN — The ballgames reached the Bahamas years ago. As a boy, Buddy Hield would watch the NCAA Tournament. Those big shots we’ll never forget? Mario Chalmers’ to keep Kansas alive, Scottie Reynolds’ to send Villanova to the Final Four, John Lucas’ jumper that sent OSU to the same? They were beamed to the Caribbean, too.
The games, the Bahamians figured out.
The brackets? The seedings and the committee selections and the politics and the RPI and the strength of schedule and darkhorses and the upsets? Not so much. But that, too, is changing. March long has gone mad in America, and now it’s going mad across the sea.
“It’s a fun deal back in the Bahamas, especially now that I’m playing,” said Hield, OU’s budding sophomore star. “Everybody back home’s watching. One of my friends, one of my coaches back home, called me, said, ‘what bracket are you in?’ But I think it’s getting bigger. I think everybody’s got Oklahoma going to the championship.”
Well, that kind of devotion won’t last forever. The bracket, trying to pick the winners of this three-week basketball odyssey, is an American obsession, and team devotion eventually gives way to the desire to be right.
But as the 2014 NCAA Tournament dawns, it’s no stretch to have the Sooners extending along the bracket for awhile. OU hasn’t won an NCAA game since 2009, but the Sooners are seeded fifth in the West Regional and a solid favorite to beat North Dakota State in their tournament opener at 6:57 p.m. Thursday in Spokane, Wash.
It’s got to be quite a rush for boys who once experienced March Madness via bracket predictions to now experience it on the NCAA hardwoods, making or breaking the brackets of others.
“It’s a big stage,” said OU freshman point guard Jordan Woodard.
Not every Sooner grew up fixated on the tournament. Cam Clark said he watched the games a little and never filled out a bracket. But Woodard did.
“Me and my family used to make brackets and compete who had the most wins and stuff like that,” Woodard said. “So I used to catch almost all the games. It was fun. The best time of the year.”
March certainly is in the running for best sports month. For all of college basketball’s many flaws, the tournament – the upsets, the underdogs, the heroes made and the dreams shattered – is must-see television. For three weeks, and especially the first four days, starting Thursday, we stop and watch drama that Hollywood only dreams of creating.
These Sooners now are in the middle of that plot. Instead of writing down names on the entire bracket, they will determine who moves along one particular line. The line with “Oklahoma” on it.
But those who followed the tournament years ago know the tendencies. One of the 12-seeds almost always upsets a 5-seed. The big upsets that make this tournament great is what makes the Sooners vulnerable in Spokane.
“We’ve been talking about it really this whole year,” said OU center Ryan Spangler. “If we play like we can, do everything possible, play hard, play defense, move the ball around, we’re going to be fine.”
Spangler is one of those kids who followed the tournament. He knows the history. That a 16 seed never has won but that a 15 occasionally has advanced. And on down from there, the upsets come more and more frequently.
“Yeah, your better teams should be seeded higher,” Spangler said, but “the way I look at it, if you’re in the tournament, you’re a good team, and you can beat anybody. They can say a 12 might not be as good as a five. But if they’re in the tournament, they’re good. We’re going to have to fight to get a win.”
Fight is a good word for it. Picking a bracket is fun competition. But the bracket no longer matters to the Sooners. Only the games. Just like the Bahamas before Buddy Hield stepped on the big stage.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.