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'March Madness' Grips US

The men's U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament begins this week. This single elimination competition spans more than three weeks, pitting the nation's best amateur basketball teams against each other. VOA's Sean Maroney takes a look at the excitement and the overall madness that is the NCAA tournament.

It is commonly known as "March Madness," the disease striking college basketball fans from the local bar all the way up to the boardroom.

And it does seem as though many people go somewhat insane to support their team.

FAN: "It's the Big Dance. Let's go. Let's dance. Let's do it. Let's play some basketball."

It is the start of the men's U.S. college basketball tournament.

This single-elimination tournament is a fixture in American culture, dating back nearly 70 years. And the madness is driven by the followers of the 65 university teams competing for the national basketball championship.

It has been the storybook for many great programs, such as the one at the University of North Carolina, where former NBA superstar Michael Jordan went to college.

Or the fairy tale for dramatic underdogs. Just last year, George Mason University beat improbable odds to make it to the semi-finals known as the Final Four.

University of Maryland student Nate Baude says it is this atmosphere that helps bring out the emotions.

"It is a small college town around here with a lot of people packed in so it is fierce," he said. "You have got everyone out there. You have got everyone rooting for your team, and you do no have many places to go so everyone is together. That is why it is awesome."

But with so many games, who has time for work or even studying?

Fellow Maryland student Lisa Gordy says everyone must adapt to the non-stop basketball. "The early games, you do your homework during the games," she noted. "And then at night, you are usually relaxing or drinking during the games. That is pretty much it - just watch all the games. It is an overdose."

And for some, like Sammy Myers, 9, the overdose starts early. "When I was about five or six, my dad, he taught me what March Madness was and how it goes," he said.

But really it is about the players who get to compete at college basketball's highest level.

This year's tournament is University of Maryland player D.J. Strawberry's last chance to play for the top prize before he graduates.

"It means a lot to be in the NCAA tournament," he said. "Every college player dreams about it. Every young guy dreams about playing in the NCAA tournament."

And fellow Maryland player Bombale Osby says the players know it is the fans who make the games, and winning, that much sweeter.

"The school is just that much more red, that much more white," he explained. "Everybody has on their Maryland shirts. Everybody, everywhere you go knows that the game is going on."

When you combine it all in the month of March, you get only one word.

"Madness, just madness," added Bombale Osby.