Literary Terms at Play on the Basketball Court

It’ll be raining cats and dogs in Texas, come Monday.

Kentucky’s Wildcats beat the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday, and not surprisingly:  badgers and wolverines are part of the same family (Mustelidea) and the Wildcats had already shown last week how they can handle Wolverines.

The UConn Huskies pushed back the Gator attack.

In the end, the NCAA Championship game will be Cats vs. Huskies.  A classic archetypical conflict.

Did someone say “archetypical”?  Call an English teacher.

The NCAA basketball tournament parallels great literature/ nonfiction by dramatizing literary elements:  conflict, complication, character, suspense, foreshadowing, irony, resolution, point of view—technical foul vs. flagrant foul? An English teacher can use game plans as lesson plans during March Madness.

Basketball covers all the conflicts:

–           man vs. self (Need to play my best game in a single-elimination tournament)

–           man vs. Nature (Gotta push harder and play through any injuries)

–           man vs. Society (Half the people in this arena are rooting against me)

–           man vs. Unknown/Fate (Who’s gonna foul out? Who’s gonna win?)

–           man vs. Man is a defensive strategy in basketball

The players are all sympathetic characters with great backstories, complete with the Mom Angle.  According to the TBS announcers, six years ago in 2008 Kentucky’s Julius Randle confided to his mom that he wanted to play in the Final Four when it came to his home state of Texas in 2014.  Or UConn’s Shabezz Napier, who promised his mom he would graduate after all she had sacrificed for him. Coach Calipari knows the Power of Mom:  “Go hug your mom and dad,” he told Arron Harrison.

Dad’s turn:  Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson’s dad was a superstar for the 1992 Ohio State team that tried to eliminate the Other Five Freshmen in NCAA tournament history—the Michigan Wolverines. Father and son get the same chance to stop a phenom of talented newbies (irony).

With seconds left in the Kentucky-Wisconsin game, Jackson is fouled by Harrison #5 in the three point range and if Jackson goes three-for-three, he can all but seal a Wisconsin win.  Only one second had remained on the shot clock, and now Jackson can take his time at the free throw line (Irony). He’s gotta think the basketball gods are smiling on him.  Especially since statistically, the Badgers are 100% from the free throw line this game.  But the three Weird Sisters of Fate (allusion) come for everyone:  Jackson misses the first of his three shots.

That set up the Wildcats to need a 3 point shot to go ahead.  Harrison #5–yes, the same Harrison who just caused the foul (irony)—passes the ball to Harrison #2, who has only had two points the whole game.  Statistically speaking, he’s not the go to guy for this game, right? (Complication)

But in the previous two games against Louisville and Michigan, Harrison #2 had hit the three-pointer in the waning seconds of the game.  So… (Suspense)

Swish (Onomatopoeia).  Kentucky is ahead.

Back to Jackson who has about 3 seconds to make his own three pointer, to avenge his missed shot, to avenge his father’s team that lost to five freshmen 22 years ago (before any of the players on the court were born), to avoid feeling like Bill Buckner (simile) for an interminable off-season…His shot looks exactly like Harrison’s did a few seconds before…and…and…(Suspense).

No swish. Kentucky wins (Resolution).  Aaron Harrison saved his team with his seconds-left shooting heroics for the third time in three games (Repetition).  He’s like a Greek hero (simile), at first failing his team by only scoring two points previously in the game and then compensating for his failings.

Jackson’s attempt at an heroic shot had downright danced around the rim (personification), but to no avail.  What unseen force bounced it out? Either the laws of physics or the basketball gods (Deus ex machina—more on that later) ricocheted that ball right out of the rim.  Huh?

How did that happen?  Enter:  English teacher.  “Saturday’s missed shot by Traevon Jackson is an example of Deus ex machina, referred to by Horace in his Ars Poetica, when he cautions writers against using a ‘god from the machine’ to resolve their plots unless it’s worthy of a god’s help.Greek tragedy often had a machine bearing a god who resolved conflicts, which sometimes seemed unbelievable.”

But we have to believe what we just saw.  No contrived, finagled ending. Reality television at its best.

I’m an English teacher who knows more about Euripides than I do about basketball, but I think Horace himself would agree that the Kentucky-Wisconsin game was worthy of a god’s ending.

The UConn-Florida game had its literary moments, too.  Florida wins 30 games in a row (repetition).  Florida loses to UConn in December and repeats that performance last Saturday (Foreshadowing. Repetition.  Irony). It’s especially enticing to English teachers when literary elements dovetail.

In the final (literary) analysis, come Monday, when it’s raining cats and dogs (cliché), it will be a 7th seed vs. an 8th seed.  Which literary moment will prevail?  Scenario 1:  7th seeded UConn, who beat 8th seeded Butler for the championship in 2011, beats Kentucky, this year’s 8th seed (Foreshadowing). UConn wants that (Repetition).  Scenario 2: UConn beat Kentucky 56-55 during the 2011 tournament and beats Kentucky again (Foreshadowing).   Scenario 3:  Kentucky avenges the loss by being the 8th seed that beats the very team that voided the last 8th seed’s chance (Irony).

Suspense.  Foreshadowing.  Conflict:  Man vs. Unknown. Theme:  truth is stranger than fiction.  Literary terms at play on the basketball court.  And your nearest English class has a front row seat.  Improbable as it sounds, your English teacher might just be your best color commentator.  Irony, indeed.

It’s anyone’s game.  See you at tip off.  (Cliffhanger).

~ Mary O’Connor (Author)



2 responses to “Literary Terms at Play on the Basketball Court”

  1. Richard Pratt says :

    Mary, I really enjoyed this. Nice job!

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