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Grammer: Enjoying the madness before the Madness

Tony Benford, a former standout at Hobbs High School, is now the head coach at LSU heading into the NCAA Tournament. (Associated Press)

I’ve learned two things doing this whole college hoops thing for a living.

One, I love March Madness more today than ever before.

Two, I know less about March Madness today than ever before.

But one thing I have come to understand is that while the nation will bond over busted brackets over the next few weeks during the greatest extended sporting event in the world, I think I’ve come to enjoy the days leading up to the NCAA Tournament — the madness before the Madness, if you will — as much, or maybe more, than the tournament itself.

It’s these few days — the time between Selection Sunday night and Thursday morning tip-off — that bring us water cooler basketball experts at the office, random notes and quotes from those little-known coaches and players on teams we’ve never heard of, and, on a personal level, the unmatched joy of filling out of the bracket with my 9-year-old daughter, who asks the real questions her old man hasn’t even broached, like “What is a Billiken?” or “If a Buckeye is really just a nut, why would any other team be scared of that?”

So, as the NCAA Tournament begins, I thought I’d share some of the that magical March Madness randomness that caught my eye over the past few days.

TACO TUESDAY: On Tuesday morning, as I drove my daughter to school, she said from the backseat, “Dad? Can we fill out brackets tonight when we’re eating our tacos for Taco Tuesday?”

A half hour later, when I was done sobbing uncontrollably on the side of the road with pride for sharing her dad’s love of tacos and filling out NCAA brackets, I realized why she so enjoys doing the latter.

In her first four stabs at it, from ages 5 through 8, she beat me.

Seriously.

And what worries me now is that while filling out her bracket on Tuesday night at our dining room table, she unleashed a new four-pronged strategy for picking games:

• She based some picks strictly on “the numbers,” as she put it. She’s 9 and apparently she already has “numbers.”

• She still made some picks based on looking at mascots.

• Some games were picked based on where her friends went on vacation.

• And some games were picked with the trusty old flip of a coin.

Her Final Four? Florida State over Michigan State and Houston over Virginia with the Houston Cougars winning it all on April 9.

THE HOLE STORY: The coach who stole the show during Wednesday’s mandated NCAA Tournament press conferences was Abilene Christian’s Joe Golding. The sixth-year Wildcats coach, who plays No. 2 Kentucky in Jacksonville, Fla., admitted he has only one suit to wear during the tournament, and that has a huge hole in the pants.

First, he left his other suit in an airport earlier this season when travelling to play Nicholls State. Second, he ripped his only remaining suit last week when jumping in celebration as his team won the Southland Conference Tournament to reach the Big Dance.

“We’ve got one suit place in town, that’s it,” Golding said. “One suit place, and they couldn’t get it done. I guess you’ve got to alter and do some stuff. So I’ve got one suit, my man. … I’m coaching them all in my baby blue suit, and I’m going to have a hole in my butt, man. So it is what it is, man. We’re going to be who we are and go out there and embrace it.”

LOVE AT THE EMBASSY SUITES: With the way the Mountain West’s Nevada Wolf Pack stumbled down the stretch of the season (at least as much as a season with only four losses really constitutes stumbling), they’ll take some love anywhere they can find it.

Playing the Florida Gators in Des Moines, Iowa, the Pack is staying at the Embassy Suites. And, thanks to the in depth reporting of NevadaSportsNet.com’s Chris Murray, we all now know that was the same Embassy Suites Nevada football coach Jay Norvell had his wedding reception in more than 20 years ago.

COACHES LOVE COACHES: There were 32 coaches press conferences on Wednesday, all transcribed by the good folks at ASAP Sports. Of those 32 press conferences, 16 included a reference to the other team as either being “well-coached” or a reference to the other team having a “terrific,” “great,” “amazing” or even “absolutely fine basketball coach.”

THE LOCAL GUY: It may have only happened due to LSU head coach Will Wade being one of the latest to get caught up in the spotlight of the FBI corruption case being investigated around college basketball, but it still happened.

New Mexico’s own Tony Benford, the former Hobbs Eagle standout, is now the head coach of the LSU Tigers in the NCAA Tournament.

LSU star guard Tremony Waters on Benford: “Coach Benford is our new head coach and everyone respects that. We totally loved the change of Coach Benford being there.”

YOU CAN BET ON IT: I know you’ve all only filled out brackets through the years for entertainment purposes only. But, now, for the first time, sports gambling during the NCAA Tournament is legal in New Mexico.

The folks at the Santa Ana Star Casino tell us the sportsbook opens at 8:30 a.m. (it usually opens at noon on weekdays) and while you can’t bet on the NMSU game individually due to their own casino policy, the NMSU/Auburn game is a part of the 32-game, first round “Hoopla” contest they offer.

The sportsbook did take two $50 bets on the NMSU/Auburn game after it was accidentally posted on the board for betting, said John Cirrincione, CEO of Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel. Cirrincione said in an email that they caught the error and took the game off the board.

“We are going to honor those two bets if they win,” he said. He was not sure if the bets were for the Aggies to win.

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