March Madness for the casual fan

We'll soon be in the throes of March Madness, that time of year when even people who don't watch college basketball watch college basketball.

And well they should. The NCAA tournament is the most exciting sporting event of the year, with the possible exception of the Super Bowl. And the tournament lasts much longer - an important consideration for those of us who use "I'm watching the big game" as an excuse to get out of yard work. At NCAA Tournament time, there's nothing but big games for three solid weeks.

Casual fans, however, may have trouble following all the jargon tossed around by television commentators. Well, you can rest easy. As a former player and coach, I've prepared the following glossary of common "roundball" terms (from the Latin roundus ballus, meaning "not a football").

Man-to-man: A defensive system in which each player guards a corresponding member of the opposing team. The politically correct term would be "person-to-person," since women play it, too, but that hasn't caught on yet. As usual, this column is on the cutting edge.

Zone: A defensive system in which each player guards an area of the floor. Zone defenses are often effective, since areas of the floor are notoriously poor shooters.

Full-court press: When reporters and cameramen are lined up from one end of the court to the other. Their purpose is to cushion the fall of a player diving out-of-bounds after a loose ball.

Pick and roll: What coaches frequently do on the sidelines, when they don't know the TV cameras are trained on them.

Thirty: A 30-second timeout. Not enough time to go to the bathroom.

Full: A full, or 75-second, timeout. Now you can go.

TV: Television timeout. Enough time to go to the bathroom in Belize.

Even for longtime fans, some terms appear to have changed meaning over the years. Used to be that only your Bill Waltons and Isaiah Thomases were "great." Now the term is routinely applied to any player who occasionally scores in double figures, as in "Billy, that Jones sure is a GREAT backup point guard!"

And how about "dominant?" These days, it seems any player over 6-foot-9 is suddenly a "dominant" center. I recently tuned into a game at the start of the second half, just in time to hear the announcer intone self-importantly on one team's "total domination." The score? 37-33.

Finally, there's my favorite, "special," as in, "He's a really special player, Jim." I wonder how a young man thus described would feel to know that, in many public school systems, "special" is a euphemism for mentally disabled.

Anyway, now you can watch the tournament and act as though you actually know what's going on - which is really not as hard as it sounds. The guys with the perfectly coifed hair and matching blazers have been doing it for years.

Lawrenceville resident Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.