Thoughts on the Sweet 16

The NCAA basketball tournament's Sweet 16 starts today and I am ready for March Madness again. In the words of Francis "Skip" Hancock from that funny AT&T commercial ? "I'm so stoked."

Last weekend was pretty good for me as 10 of the 16 teams I picked to advance to the Sweet 16 won.

Now all of you can cut me some slack for my erroneous upset picks of Penn over Oklahoma St. and Indiana over Pittsburgh.

This undoubtedly is the best time of the year for me.

I've been a fan of the NCAA tournament ever since I was a teenager, but lately the tourney is even more exciting for me. Why? Because for at least the past seven years or so, I've entered the ESPN Tournament Challenge on ESPN.com.

The Challenge is a great game. Everyone has to pick winners in all the games and regions all the way to the national championship game. You get a certain amount of points for each correct pick.

If you have the tremendous fortune of earning the most points, you will win the grand prize of 10-large ($10,000). There are other monetary prizes for first place and second place as well.

The good thing about the Challenge is that it makes the games even more exciting because a lot is on the line with each victory or loss.

I, of course, have never won the Challenge and I probably never will.

At least one of the teams I pick to make the title game usually ends up losing in the Elite 8 or earlier, costing me major points.

Some years I have lost the contest as early as the first round and I thought it would happen to me again this year. Yours truly picked the Maryland Terrapins to advance to the national championship game and lose to the Kentucky Wildcats.

Imagine my horror as the Terrapins were down by one point to UNC-Wilmington with six seconds left in their first-round game. If Maryland loses that game, my bracket is toast. But, thanks to my new best friend Drew Nicholas and his amazing buzzer-beating shot, Maryland won that game and won its next game, which keeps me alive for now.

After the first round, I was merely in 857,000th place in the Challenge. My good showing last weekend allowed me to move on up like George and Weezy Jefferson ? my rank is now 657,856. Yeah, baby!

Truth be told, I would've been at 500,000 or lower at this point, but I lost six games in the first round by a grand total of nine points. Nine!

I lost three games by two points and I lost three more games by one point.

The one-point losses were especially tough, because the teams I picked had a chance to win their games at the final buzzer.

But, that's the Madness for you ? it can be nice to you at times and sometimes it can drop you like a bad habit.

But you know what? I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

Jeffery Armstrong is a sports writer for the News Daily and the Daily Herald. He can be reached at jarmstrong@news-daily.com.