March Madness is upon us

If you have spent the past several days fretting over your pool selections for this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, you are not alone.

According to the annual March Madness report prepared by Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc., there will be an estimated 50 million Americans participating in those pools this year. The Chicago-based outplacement firm also reports companies stand to lose at least $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the first week of the tournament.

In addition to following the score of every game to see how every line on each bracket is playing out, fans throughout our region, as expected, will have a direct interest in the tournament, a lot of it centered on the South Regional. Ohio State will take a 25-9 record into Thursday’s 12:15 p.m. game against Dayton (23-10) in Buffalo, N.Y., while Pitt (25-9) will take on Colorado (23-11) at 1:40 p.m. Thursday in Orlando, Fla.

The Ohio State-Dayton game carries the added interest in that the Buckeyes and Flyers, located about an hour from each other, have not played since meeting in the NIT in 2008. That’s left Ohio State coach Thad Matta and Athletic Director Gene Smith open to criticism over not being willing to play in-state Division I opponents.

Those critics will get at least a little bit of satisfaction Thursday.

Speaking of the NIT, two teams from our region, West Virginia and Robert Morris, earned spots in this year’s event. Both teams played their first-round games Tuesday. Robert Morris advanced with an 89-78 win over St. John’s, while WVU’s season ended with a 77-65 loss to Georgetown.

And, in the NCAA Division II Tournament, West Liberty earned a spot in next week’s Elite 8 in Evansville, Ind., when it stopped East Stroudsburg 89-82 Tuesday in the Atlantic Regional.

Which brings us back to the Challenger report. While the numbers are, in the reports own words, “scary,” those who compiled the report conclude that it’s OK to for employers to allow employees to participate in the pools and follow the games. The long-term gains in morale and camaraderie far outstrip any short-term attempts to clamp down on pool participation.

So, go ahead and root for your favorite team and cheer on the underdog who will emerge as this year’s Cinderella favorite.

It’s called March Madness, after all.

Sit back and enjoy.