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With March Madness Dreams Dashed, Nevada’s Roads May Be Safer

April 04, 2019
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March Madness is upon us. This year, as in so many years prior, sports fans of all persuasions – from the die-hards who never miss a game to those who are just conversant enough to avoid referring to “basketball rings” [1] – will whittle away countless hours refreshing the same webpage to monitor their brackets predicting the outcome of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. The Tournament can seem custom-built for the sports culture of the twenty-first century, combining a very accessible sport – Have you ever tried explaining the rules of football to someone who has never watched it? – with a highly participatory social experience.

The tournament pits 64 teams against one another in a massive, “power-protect” bracket format. What The overall bracket is broken into four regional* sub-brackets each with 16 teams. (* The actual connection between a school and its assigned region is pretty loose. For example, this year’s Western Region included the University of Nevada, Reno but also the University at Buffalo in upstate New York.) Within each group of 16, the top-ranked team (the No. 1 seed) faces off against the lowest-ranked team (the No. 16 seed). The other pairings include 2 vs 15, 3 vs. 14, 4 vs. 13, 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, and 8 vs. 9. To the extent that each game will most likely be won by the higher-ranked team, the likely outcome of the first round is that the teams ranked 1 to 8 will advance. Anticipating this, the matchups are further bracketed so that No. 1 would face No. 8, No. 2 would face No. 7, and so on. Here’s an example via 

Thus, the matchups are scrambled so that, if all the predictions held, each of the four regional No. 1 seeds would face their No. 2 counterparts in the regional round – also known as the Elite Eight. (In keeping with March Madness lore, each of the phases of the Tournament has its own name: the boringly named Round of 64 and Round of 32 lead things off, but then comes the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and then the Final Four before the championship game.)

But there’s a reason we call this annual basketball frenzy March **Madness** – there’s no such thing as a sure thing. Until last year, one could be certain that a No. 1 would prevail over a No. 16, but even that iron rule has been broken with 2018’s upset victory by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers over the University of Virginia Cavaliers. [2] Even though the higher-ranked teams are objectively “better” than their lower-ranked counterparts – especially when the spread of the rankings is large, like when a No. 3 and a No. 14 face off – their success is by no means guaranteed. One thing that accounts for this is that the rankings are based on roughly 30 regular season games: not an insignificant number, but not a massive sample, either. Most regular season play occurs within regional divisions, and many March Madness opponents had not met in season play before the Tournament. Another factor is that basketball is a sport that can be forgiving to late-game comebacks. And finally, what makes March Madness so exciting and so maddening is that intangibles like “heart” and “hunger” can fuel an upset.

Going into this year’s Tournament, Nevada sports fans had reason for hope. (We’re using the term “Nevada fans” broadly on the assumption that Runnin’ Rebels fans from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas will at least begrudgingly cheer on their in-state rival in the Tournament.) The Wolf Pack of the University of Nevada, Reno began the regular season with 24 wins and one loss, stoking dreams of a big performance in the Tournament and possibly even the final victory. [3] While strong passing had created opportunities for the entire team and allowed star point guard Cody Martin to shine, the Pack’s ball movement “stagnated” late in the season. [4] So did its defense, which allowed 10 percent more points in the final seven games than it had in the rest of the season. [5] Those two bad trends – one foretelling offensive flat-lining, the other warning of a defensive bloodletting – combined in the Pack’s first-round loss to the University of Florida Gators. (The Pack was ranked No. 7 in the Western region; Florida was the No. 10 seed.)

And just like that, dreams of a season to remember were dashed. The Pack, and Nevada fans from north and south, can only regroup in anticipation of the next year’s season a half-year away. While it is in many ways a disappointing outcome for the Silver State, all is not lost. For starters, the state’s casino and restaurant industries will continue to thrive throughout the rest of the Tournament as fans watch the rest of the games unfold, staking bets and enjoying the food-and-fun offerings of sports bars.

Additionally, it means that local fans are less likely to be fanatically invested in the outcome of games, which means they will be less likely to constantly check their phones for updates. That can have a real impact on safety on Nevada’s roadways. Traffic accidents claim some 300 lives each year in Nevada, [6] and according to the Nevada Department of Transportation a driver who is attempting to read while operating a motor vehicle is 3.4 times more likely to crash than a driver who is focused on the road. [7]

Those statistics alone should be a strong reminder to all of us to keep our attention fully on the road. If you or a loved one have been hurt in a car accident, be sure to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about and vindicate your rights.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2016/04/27/with-basketball-ring-ted-cruz-joins-hal...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_UMBC_vs._Virginia_men%27s_basketball_game

[3] http://nevadasportsnet.com/news/reporters/from-title-aspirations-to-first-round-exit-what-happened-t...

[4] http://nevadasportsnet.com/news/reporters/from-title-aspirations-to-first-round-exit-what-happened-t...

[5] http://nevadasportsnet.com/news/reporters/from-title-aspirations-to-first-round-exit-what-happened-t...

[6] https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2019/01/14/514718.htm

[7] https://www.nevadadot.com/safety/handheld-cell-phone-ban/distracted-driving-the-deadly-facts