#Strange Truth Beauty Keats March Madness or (“How an English Teacher Can Work John Keats into a Postgame Analysis of the NCAA Basketball Tournament)

Truth is stranger than fiction. Translation: fiction can be ignored when it’s implausible and truth cannot. Just ask English poet John Keats about truth.

Nowhere is truth more beautiful than during the NCAA College Basketball tournament. The great truth about March Madness is that one has to believe the scoreboard and not the seeds. Pregame seeds are fiction; final scores are truth. Or, as Keats said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

Before anyone dismisses the connection of Keats to NCAA college basketball as implausible and something only an English teacher would contrive, consider that it was English teacher John Wooden, head coach at UCLA, whose Bruins won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period, including an unprecedented seven in a row. One cannot ignore those credentials. Shall we move on?

In Round 1, when UAB (#14) beat Iowa State (#3) and UCLA (#11) beat SMU (#6), the truth of the final scores was stranger than the fiction of the pregame seedings. That both games were decided by a single point is even stranger. That both games had the exact same score of 60-59? Truth at its strangest. That both teams would meet in Round 2? Beauty. No fiction writer could ever have gotten away with that.

Think about it: when fiction is contrived, the reader feels cheated and discredits the author as a poor writer who concocted an implausible story. “That could never happen,” complains the reader.

Even though fiction writers have the discretion of using situational irony (e.g., Romeo and Juliet end their families’ hatred with their love), some actual events would crumble in the world of fiction, such as this scenario from Round 1: two fathers (Steve Alford/UCLA and Ron Hunter/Georgia State) coached two sons (Bryce Alford and R.J. Hunter), both of whom got the game-winning shot, both games being huge upsets (UCLA #11 beating SMU #6 / Georgia State #14 beating Baylor #3), both games being decided by a single point. An editor would wreak havoc with those coincidences. Keats, however, called the shot: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

Here are some other incontrovertible numbers that made for good (non)fiction. Like the shot clock which counts down, here are five facts in descending order from Round 1:

  • five: # of games won by one point (a new record) ; # of upsets;
  • four: First Four team Dayton advanced to Round 2;
  • three: # of busted brackets after Round 1;
  • two: # of games with the same final score in Round 1;
  • one: all this madness in just one round

Repeat: Truth ranks great fiction because fiction can be ignored when it appears implausible. One cannot simply ignore the truth as implausible. Even if one does ignore it, the truth does not obligingly go away. The uncomfortable part is that there’s no author to complain to when it comes to the truth. It’s maddening.

Did someone say “mad”? In March, all madness leads to the NCAA college basketball tournament. Keats wasn’t a sports writer, but he might as well have been. All the post game analyses of how and why a fourteenth seed can beat a third seed and an eleventh seed can beat a sixth seed are neatly packaged in Keats’s last two lines in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,–that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

A sports writer short on copy to meet a deadline could simply quote Keats. In laymen’s terms, it is what it is, and it’s a beautiful thing. End of story.

To those who cling to the fiction of seeds: on some cosmic level, the second round game between UCLA and UAB echoed the original seeding. How? The margin between the teams was the same as the brackets intended. According to the brackets, in the first round, if the third and sixth seeded teams beat the eleventh and fourteenth seeded teams respectively, then the second round game would be a third team playing a sixth team–two teams separated in the seedings by three. In truth, the two Cinderella teams UCLA (11) and UAB (14) were separated by the same predicted margin of three. Instead of #3 vs. #6, it was #11 vs. #14. The ratio of three remained in tact. A sort of parallel universe. Kind of like when two odd numbers add up to an even one. The two upsets were odd, but the margin remained an even keel at three. Strange but true. Or rather, strange and true.

Repeat: Strange. Truth. Beauty. Keats. March. Madness.

~Mary O’Connor


One response to “#Strange Truth Beauty Keats March Madness or (“How an English Teacher Can Work John Keats into a Postgame Analysis of the NCAA Basketball Tournament)”

  1. Joe Daly says :

    That was beautiful and…truthful and…not a bit maddening.

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