March Madness after all: 'Quarantourney' live-streamed video game NCAA tournament is what we needed

Yahoo Sports
(YouTube.com screen shot)
(YouTube.com screen shot)

It started a week late, but March Madness is up and running. Virtually.

The real 2020 NCAA tournament was canceled, but if you had YouTube running on Thursday afternoon, there was No. 9 seed Oklahoma Sooners pulling away from the No. 8 Providence Friars in overtime for a 94-87 first-round win on a video game. Kristian Doolittle of Oklahoma scored 32 points. And yes, there was a point spread on the internet. Sorry to anyone who took Providence -2.

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Derek Howard and BonaCommenter (he goes by his Twitter handle) are St. Bonaventure alums who run SBUnfurled, a site and podcast dedicated to Bonnies and Atlantic 10 hoops. When the A-10 conference tournament got canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, they simulated the A-10 tournament through a video game and streamed it. They got about 25,000 views, Howard said. Fans asked if they could simulate other canceled conference tournaments like the Big Ten and SEC, but they resisted.

Then the NCAA tournament was canceled.

“So, with being in quarantine, at home, nowhere to go, we thought why not just try the whole damn NCAA tourney?” Howard said in an email.

With that, the “Quarantourney” was born.

About 100 hours went into setting up tournament simulation

Howard had to enlist some help if he was going to get all 68 teams — all with full, real-life 2019-20 rosters — in the video game.

Howard, BonaCommenter and Rhode Island fan Evan Provost started inputting the ratings, tendencies, team uniforms, arenas, courts and logos. Howard, a counselor by day, is a graphic designer as a hobby so he was able to make the courts and jerseys look just as they would have in the real NCAA tournament. The platform is recognizable as the “NBA 2K” video game.

Rusty Tutton from bracketforecast.com was recruited. Tutton and three fellow bracketologists served as the selection committee, setting the teams, seeds, sites and times for the tournament field.

Between the ratings, graphics, the bracket and schedule, Howard said it took about 100 hours of preparation work from the group. They were all-in on the project. They even had a 41-minute selection show that included a look at the teams that were snubbed (Northern Iowa, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Purdue were the last four out).

The “Quarantourney” is doing its best to be a fun replacement for the canceled 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s remarkable how much of it mimics what the actual tournament would look like on your television.

‘Quarantourney’ thought of all the details

There have been a lot of tournament simulations online since March Madness was canceled. Those simulations put out a list of results to peruse and argue about for a few minutes. The “Quarantourney” stands out because you can watch it unfold live. Given the graphics of the 2k game, it doesn’t look that much much different than the real thing.

All of the details were considered for the “Quarantourney.” There are all 67 games including the “First Four.” The schedule for the first round follows about the same tip times as usual for the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament, also known as the best two days on on the sports calendar. Four YouTube channels were set up for the live simulations (and a fifth “buzzer beater” channel, like NFL Red Zone) since games overlap like they do in the real NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a TruTV joke to be found.

There are some challenges in doing lineups — admittedly, they couldn’t know the exact rotation off the bench for all 68 teams — but they were as true to the real rosters as possible. BonaCommenter said an online gamer named SkillazKill gave them permission to use about 35 college rosters he had already modified. There are school fight songs in the game (they got Nick Lorensen of MidMajorMadness.com to put together a playlist ... no detail was ignored), and you’ll even hear the familiar CBS March Madness theme thanks to a rigged Bluetooth speaker and an old laptop. BonaCommenter provides entertaining play-by-play for the games.

There are some unavoidable issues. Since they used the platform of an NBA video game, there are four 10-minute quarters (the NCAA should probably use that format anyway), the shot clock is 24 seconds and sometimes you’ll see NBA logos randomly. Minor quibbles.

“Ours is definitely the most involved and accurate live simulation out there,” Howard said.

(YouTube.com screen shot)
(YouTube.com screen shot)

And yes, there were bracket challenges, and (of course) betting. @ThatBoy24 on Twitter set up a betting exchange where players could match bets against each other for the virtual games. And if you’re missing seeing point spreads on any games, even virtual ones, this is a fine sight:

(Point spreads for the "Quarantourney" from @ThatBoy24 on Twitter.)
(Point spreads for the "Quarantourney" from @ThatBoy24 on Twitter.)

Need something to do during a quarantine? It’s not the NCAA tournament, but it’s pretty fun.

Day one results of the ‘Quarantourney’

On day one, there was a typical 5 vs. 12 upset. In an early game on Thursday, 12-seeded Yale won straight up against 5-seeded BYU, rallying after starting the game with a 23-2 deficit. The point spread was BYU as a 7.5-point favorite, for those interested.

LSU also had a minor upset as a No. 9 seed taking down No. 8 seed St. Mary’s.

There was also a near miss at the buzzer by Utah State’s Sam Merrill as Penn State held on for the win.

It isn’t the same as the NCAA tournament. No banner will be raised. But in a strange world with practically no games being played, it is the best live thing going in sports this week.

No. 1 seed Dayton tips off day two of the “Quarantourney” against No. 16 Boston University Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern on CBS, er, March2K20 YouTube Channel 1. Dayton is a 22.5-point favorite. After that there will be 15 more games, just like the first Friday of the NCAA tournament.

“People seem to love this idea!” BonaCommenter said. “I just hope it's something that not only distracted us from a tragic crisis but is also helping people get through this too.”

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