Even if you’re not a college basketball fan, odds are you have heard the term, “March Madness.” Each year beginning in the month of March, for four weeks the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) holds Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments to determine the national champions of college basketball, and these tournaments are nicknamed, “March Madness.”
The NCAA tournament officially begins with the announcement of the bracket, which is the rankings and first game match-ups of the teams who have earned the chance to play in the tournament. The bracket also introduces which teams will play in which locations throughout the country for their tournament games.
These brackets become a national basketball fan obsession, with people entering contests trying to guess the outcome of each game in the bracket, ending with the overall national champion and a tiebreaker score prediction.
Many businesses, websites and groups of friends host contests where people can either enter for free or for a fee to compete against their friends or complete strangers to see who can score the most points with their bracket predictions. Prizes for winning these contests range anywhere from bragging rights to cash or merchandise.
The NCAA tournament is notorious for big upsets. Because teams in this tournament are paired against teams from different conferences who they would not normally play against, the outcome of any given game can be very unpredictable. The way the teams are paired up in the first round tends to favor the higher-rated teams, for example a number-one rated teams plays against a number-sixteen rated team, however upsets are not uncommon in the first and second rounds of the tournament. This makes for match-ups that are both fun and difficult to predict, and is part of the reason the tournament is nicknamed, “March Madness.”
Getting Invited to the Party
Thirty-one NCAA men’s basketball teams get automatic invites to play in the NCAA tournament because they won their respective conference. Another 37 teams are chosen through a selection committee based on their conference record, road record, ranking in national polls, wins versus ranked opponents, and RPI (rating percentage index).
This selection committee also decides what ranking each team will get, called a seed, and which of the four regions each team will be placed in. Each region contains between 16 and 18 teams, with the top-ranked team in each region getting a number-one seed. A lower seed who manages to advance far in the tournament is termed a “Cinderella” team.
Recent years have added four extra teams to the original 64 teams who used to comprise the tournament. These four extras play off in and opening round to earn the chance to officially play in the tournament. After the 64 tournament teams are officially decided, the real tournament begins.
The NCAA tournament usually begins the third Thursday in March with an intense full two days of games that pares the field of 64 teams down to 32. The next two days games are played that pares the field down again to just 16 teams, often referred to as the “Sweet 16.” Games resume the following Thursday, the second week of the tournament, where the field is then pared down to the Final Four teams. The following, third, week of the tournament features the four teams left racing for the National Championship. Even though the Final Four games are played the first Saturday in April, they are still a big part of March Madness. The National Championship game is then played the following Monday.
This year marked one of the most memorable tournaments to date as UConn Men and Women’s basketball teams won the national championship.