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Touch of Madness

Watching sports at home can be fun, but for a real March Madness experience, you have to get out of the house. We’ve found some ideas to experience the games, betting, partying and bracket busting.

John Tranchina
February 28, 2019

March is the best time of year to be a college basketball fan, or even just a sports fan in general, because the NCAA basketball tournament gets underway and March Madness ensues. A long, hard-fought basketball season draws to a close with conference championships culminating in Selection Sunday, which launches the start of the NCAA Tournament.

For most fans of the tournament, the best part is the first two days. During the first round, there are no less than 16 games played each day. The schedule starts around noon and goes to well after 10 p.m., ensuring an ongoing barrage of action all day long.

This year, that means Thursday, March 21, and Friday, March 22, are the special days with wall-to-wall basketball ready to be consumed.

Of course, you could watch all the games on TV, laptop, tablet or phone from your own couch, but sometimes it’s more enjoyable to partake of the festivities with others. Aside from hosting your own party, the best options require you to leave the house.

There are many ways to enjoy the action to the fullest, starting with simply buying tickets to the four back-to-back games that are here in Tulsa at the BOK Center March 22.

At the other end of the spectrum, most people, including some who don’t even like basketball, fill out their NCAA bracket sheets and enter in pools looking to win some money and earn office bragging rights, ensuring an entertaining way to follow along with the madness.

In between those two extremes are a host of possibilities for participating in what many feel is the best two and a half weeks in sports.

Here are some ways to fully enjoy the spectacle that is the NCAA basketball tournament.

BOK Center
As noted, the most obvious tip is to go see the games in person, especially since first- and second-round games will be taking place right here in Tulsa, at the BOK Center. There will be four opening round contests played March 22 and then two second round games (featuring the winners from the first day against each other) March 24.

As of this printing, the teams playing here are not yet known, as the final schedule (and assignment of which teams go to which venues) will not be determined until the big selection show March 17.

Usually, the selection committee tries to place some teams with regional appeal at each of the first- and second-round venues, so expect some nearby teams to make it to Tulsa if they qualify for the tournament. For example, when the first two rounds of the tournament were held here in 2017, Kansas and SMU (from Dallas) came to Tulsa, ensuring that some of those teams’ fans could travel here for the games, making for a more interesting, passionate in-arena environment.

No matter which teams end up playing at the BOK Center, though, it should be a fun, entertaining two days of basketball for those looking to enjoy the tournament firsthand.

Road trip to different venues
If your favorite team winds up making the tournament but playing at a different arena, then why not take a road trip to see them in person instead of just watching on TV? Or watch the first- and second-round games here at the BOK Center, then follow the tournament to the Sweet 16 round the following week.

If you’re truly a hardcore fan, you could even go to the First Four games that take place in Dayton, Ohio March 19-20 to see the tournament field get whittled down from 68 to 64 teams. Then head to one of the first-round venues for more basketball.

Cities hosting first- and second-round games include Des Moines, Iowa; Salt Lake City, Utah; Hartford, Conn.; and Jacksonville, Fla., for the games that take place March 21 and 23. The other Friday-Sunday cities are Columbus, Ohio; Columbia, S.C.; and San Jose, Calif.

To keep the road trip going to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds, you could visit Anaheim for the West Regional or the South Regional in Louisville March 28 and 30, or for the games March 29 and 31, head to the East Regional in Washington, D.C. or for a much more manageable trip, the Midwest Regional in Kansas City.

The Final Four is at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis (the home stadium of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings), with the national semifinal games April 6 and the championship game April 8.

Las Vegas
With four games often taking place at the same time around the country during the first two rounds, there is arguably no better place to be in the country than at a Las Vegas sportsbook or one of the countless viewing parties on the Strip. Most locations offer its visitors a comfortable seat in front of big screens, betting opportunities, beer and plenty of food options within arm’s reach.

For many, the excitement is less about allegiances and more about winning money.

But keep in mind that the crowds that stream to Sin City are tremendous. Betting queues can be 30 minutes long. Perhaps most disturbingly, casino companies, seizing a profit opportunity, now sell reserved seating with food-and-drink minimums to guarantee that fans are spending money the entire time.

Local casinos
If you don’t want to travel all the way out to Las Vegas but still want to place bets on the games, or just watch them in a charged casino atmosphere, save yourself a lot of time and money and just head out to one of the local casinos to experience the action.

There will be multiple spaces to watch the games at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa in Catoosa, River Spirit Casino Resort on Riverside Drive, or Osage Casino Hotel just north of downtown.

All of those options will offer great food and drinks, a fun environment and lots of TVs to enjoy all the action, not to mention opportunities for betting.

There will be no shortage of establishments in Tulsa showing all of the games on their large TVs, so that could be another fun way to enjoy the festivities. Just grab a table at your favorite place, order a few drinks and/or appetizers and watch the drama unfold. (Photo: Valerie Grant)
There will be no shortage of establishments in Tulsa showing all of the games on their large TVs, so that could be another fun way to enjoy the festivities. Just grab a table at your favorite place, order a few drinks and/or appetizers and watch the drama unfold. (Photo: Valerie Grant)

Rent a hotel room
To really immerse yourself into the tournament action, just completely escape from society for a few days and rent a hotel room. You can watch the games either in the hotel lobby, the hotel bar or in your own room in your PJs if you want, and you never even have to go outside.

Sports bars and restaurants
There will be no shortage of establishments in Tulsa showing all of the games on their large TVs, so that could be another fun way to enjoy the festivities. Just grab a table at your favorite place, order a few drinks and/or appetizers and watch the drama unfold.

At work
Instead of leveraging the NCAA’s annual tournament and turning it into a genuine bonding experience between colleagues, most organizations pretend it isn’t happening. Research has consistently demonstrated that we are more effective at our jobs when we feel attached to the people around us.
If you can’t get time off to watch the games, you can still find ways to enjoy the action while you’re still working. Of course, the first method to participate at work is to join the office pool, or start one of your own if you have to. Make sure you fill out your bracket before the games start and get some of your other co-workers involved in the fun.

In addition to organizing a vibrant workplace gathering, there are also opportunities for making better use of the office tournament pool. Instead of having employees pay an entry fee (which discourages nonfans from joining in), get your company to sponsor prizes so that everyone participates. Then, go beyond recognizing individual contestants and reward the team or department with the highest average score. This way, employees have reason to root for one another, fostering a sense of collaboration.

Then, if you really have to work during the games, you can always keep track of the action via social media or even your favorite sports websites. It won’t be as much fun as watching the games, but you can still keep abreast of the action. And maybe if you see a game is tied in the final minute or if there’s a potential major upset brewing, you can discreetly pull up the game on your computer or mobile device to sneak in a few minutes of watching a dramatic ending.

At home
If you’re totally a homebody, then fine, take up residence on your couch, get some snacks and watch the games. But don’t be a recluse. Invite some friends over, get your brackets out to compare, and make it a party.  

Bracket Shake Up

It’s time to get your picks in for the 2019 NCAA Tournament. But what if you don’t want to make those picks in the same way you do every year?

Tossing in your $5 (or $20 or $50 or a whole lot more) for an NCAA tournament pool is an American tradition. But like many traditions, this one has gotten stale. Most pools work in the exact same way: Everyone fills out a bracket, each correct pick is worth a pre-determined number of points, and whoever ends up with the highest total at the end of the tourney wins.

But that’s not the only way to gamble on March Madness. Below, we’ve collected alternate ways to bet on the tournament, ranging from the head-slappingly simple to the absurdly complex.

The every-game-counts method
In the typical pool, the point totals increase incrementally by round: You get one point for each game you pick correctly in the Round of 64, two points for the Round of 32, four for the Sweet 16, eight for the Elite Eight, 16 for the Final Four, and 32 for the championship game. The easiest way to switch things up: Make everything — from the 1-16 matchups in the first round to the title game — worth a single point.

The round-times-seed method
This is a close relative of the standard bracket challenge, in which the point totals increase as we get deeper into the tournament. In this version, you multiply the points you get for picking a winner by the winning team’s seed. For example, if you correctly predict that a No. 10 seed wins in the Round of 32, you get 20 points — the standard two points for a victory multiplied by 10.

The blind-draw method
Put the names of every tournament team in a hat or bucket and have each participant draw one at a time. After everybody has picked once, repeat the process until there are no teams left. Blind-draw pools are scored like traditional pools — each win notched is worth a pre-determined number of points. At the end of the tourney, the spoils go to the person with the most points.

The square method
The tried-and-true Super Bowl method comes to March Madness. Print out a grid. Fill each of 100 squares with a participant’s name. After all the squares are taken, randomly assign numbers 0 through 9 to each column, followed by doing the same for each row. Now each square represents a specific score in the game based on the column and row numbers. Then, for every game, assign one team to the y-axis and the other to the x-axis. If you match the last digits of the winning and losing team’s final scores, you’re the big winner.

The auction method
Every team is up for grabs, and you can bid on whom you want. In some variations, each participant has a maximum budget, and you can blow that allotment on a couple of the best teams or diversify with a large group of Cinderellas. Then, each game that one of your teams wins is worth a certain percentage of the total pot.

The team draft method
After drawing for draft order, each member of your group selects a handful of teams, presumably starting with the highly ranked squads, then moving on to the lower seeds. The draft continues until all the teams in the tournament are divvied up. Each participant must have the same number of teams. (If there are leftovers, those teams sit on the sidelines, irrelevant to everyone.) You earn points for each game your teams win.

The fantasy draft method
As if you’re not in enough fantasy leagues. In this case, forget secondary offensive stats and defense — just draft a bunch of players and tally up how many points they score. You aren’t necessarily looking for the best player, but rather the guy who is going to play the most number of games and score the most total points.