JENKINS: A 'March Madness' primer for the uninitiated

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

With this weekend's Final Four, the monthlong college basketball orgy that only people who work for CBS are allowed to call "March Madness" finally draws to a close. It's the one time of year when even people who don't care about basketball care about basketball.

If you're not an aficionado, however, you may have trouble following all the jargon. For you, I offer the following glossary of terms commonly used by roundball experts (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 a spot on the floor. Often effective, since spots on the floor are notoriously poor shooters.

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

Pick and roll: What coaches frequently do on the sidelines, when they don't know the TV cameras are 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 if you've been following college basketball all your life, you might not recognize certain terms. For example, "great" used to apply only to a Bill Walton or a Michael Jordan. Now it's used to describe any player who occasionally scores in double figures, as in, "Billy, that Jones sure is a great backup point guard!"

Then there's my favorite, "special," as in, "He's really a special player, Jim." I wonder how the player would feel to know that, in educationese, "special" is not exactly a compliment.

Finally, for true basketball junkies -- defined as those who actually listen to the post-game interviews -- I have a few pointers on interpreting coach-speak.

Coach's comment: "I have to give credit to their defense."

Translation: We couldn't have scored 50 if the other team had left the building.

Comment: "He brings a lot of intangibles to our team."

Translation: He couldn't play dead in a cowboy movie, but his father owns a car dealership.

Comment: "Sometimes these things happen."

Translation: I have no idea what happened.

Comment: "I'm proud of our effort."

Translation: We lost.

Comment: "There are more important things in life than basketball."

Translation: We lost by 20.

Now, as you watch the tournament with your friends, you can act as though you actually know what's going on. That's not as hard as it sounds. Those guys with the perfectly coiffed hair and matching blazers have been doing it for years.

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