By KENNY WALTER
It has been said that the weather in March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, but the same can likely be said for the NCAA Tournament.
The tournament, commonly called March Madness, is appealing to both basketball fanatics, college graduates supporting their alma maters and people — both men and women — looking to score big on their office pool brackets.
However, unlike other playoffs and tournaments in the sports world, many say the first round on March 17 and 18 is more exciting than the NCAA championship game, which likely won’t conclude until close to midnight on that Monday, April 4.
“We start out very busy for the first Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” said David Emery, owner of Otto’s Bar and Grill in Ocean Township. “Everybody is real excited about it, everybody is talking about the bracket busters.
“We’re busy kind of through the Sweet Sixteen, but even the Final Four on a Saturday isn’t awesome for us and then the championship game is nothing. It is just way too late for people to go out on a work night.”
Emery said that the national championship game that is being played on the first work night of the week –Monday–with tipoff being close to 9:20 p.m. is not a fitting end to the three-week, 68-team gauntlet featuring 67 nationally televised basketball games.
Emery explained why he thinks the excitement of the tournament wanes throughout the three weeks.
“I think a lot of it is the novelty just kind of fizzles out like everything else does,” he said. “When it first gets going, everybody is talking about, there’s pools everywhere and gradually, as teams get eliminated, people are talking about it less.
“They make it very difficult with that championship game to have some excitement on a Monday night.”
Dave Krupinski, a graduate of Christian Brothers Academy and an avid basketball fan, said that the NCAA Tournament is something that appeals to more than just basketball fans.
“I think it is a sporting event that kind of captures an audience that goes beyond the college basketball fans,” Krupinski said. “Someone like your mom or girlfriend or whoever will fill out a bracket even if they don’t know anything about college basketball.”
According to the American Gaming Association, Americans bet more than $2 billion on more than 70 million brackets filled out prior to the 2015 tournament.
Emery said the first few days of the tournament, people can be seen constantly checking their brackets.
“We don’t run anything internally, but there is no doubt people all have their office pools out and are keeping track of what’s going on,” he said. “As the field starts to dwindle down, people lose focus, as teams get eliminated, their brackets become a disaster and they start not to focus on it.”
However, TV ratings remain strong for the final three games of the tournament. Last year, according to www.sportsmediawatch.com, more than 28 million people watched the national championship game between Duke and Wisconsin and more than 22 million people viewed the Final Four game between Wisconsin and Kentucky and more than 15 million people viewed the other Final Four game that Saturday between Duke and Michigan State. Duke defeated Wisconsin in the title game on a that Monday evening last April.
Nichole Masarik, service manager at the Fox & Hound Sports Tavern of Edison, said the first few days of the tournament are always busy.
“It is throughout the day because the tournament is all day long, in two-hour increments,” Masarik said. “People are in and out throughout the day.
“It stays pretty consistent throughout the entire tournament because a lot of people follow March Madness, but it also depends a lot on the teams that are in it as well. There are certain teams that bring in bigger crowds.”
Masarik said teams like North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State, all of which will be involved in this week’s tournament, draw some of the bigger crowds. She said the championship game often is entirely dependent on the teams playing in it.
“It really depends on what the championship game is,” Masarik said. “I’ve seen it where it is packed, and I’ve also seen it where it is a little bit slower.”
Last year’s game tipped off at 9:18 p.m., and in recent years, many championship games in different sports have crept past 9 p.m. start times in an effort to cater to West Coast viewers.
However, some basketball fans will watch the tournament and the championship game no matter what.
“If it is the championship game, I’ll watch,” said Long Branch Director of the Office of Economic Development Jacob Jones. “Sometimes with the conference games, it’s tough to stay awake, but if it is the major conferences or the NCAA championship game, I’ll stay up to watch it.”
Jones, who played 17 games in the NBA in the early 1970s after a storied career at Assumption College in Massachusetts, said at least at the beginning of the tournament, everybody has a rooting interest.
“The energy is high, everybody plays the pools, everybody has a team that week,” he said. “It’s a great time of the year, it’s almost like Christmastime.
“It’s nice to see young energy in the college games. Everybody has a stake in some games somewhere.”
Jones said for basketball fans, March is the beginning of the end of the season for all levels of basketball.
“For basketball purists, this is the best time of the year,” he said. “You just had the Shore Conference playoffs in high school and the ongoing states, you got your conference playoffs in college and then the NCAA and, of course, you eventually have the NBA.
“It is a very exciting time of the year for basketball, you have some great games in March.”
Krupinski, who is the owner of DEK Marketing Group and has worked with various grassroots basketball organizations, including Under Armour and Five Star Basketball, said the tournament wanes a little in the middle, rather than at the end.
“I think it might hit a little bit of a lull. If your team gets bounced out in the second round, maybe you’re not watching the Sweet Sixteen, but I think you pick it back up for the Final Four,” he said.
The interest in the NCAA Tournament can also be seen at the high school level.
Nick Georgiu, a guidance counselor and first-year head coach of the Middletown South High School boys’ basketball team, said while students don’t pay as much attention to college basketball during the year, the first few days of the tournament there is always excitement.
“I think everybody gets excited for the tournament, some of them do their pools,” he said.
“Especially now all the kids have their laptops, so you know how great those first couple days are when the games are starting a 12 o’clock and the kids are trying to watch it on break and stuff. That first week is just the best.”
However, Georgiu said by the time the championship game rolls around in early April, the basketball fans will likely be back to following the professional ranks more.
“The stuff they are watching and reacting to right now are all Warriors and Steph Curry,” Georgiu said.