March Madness Explained: Your Guide to the NCAA Tournament

Get the scoop on the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament before the first game starts in mid-March. March Madness is here!

The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, better known as March Madness, is an annual college basketball tournament that has grown into one of the most popular sporting events in the country. The first game is on March 16, and the tournament will end with the championship game in Houston, TX on April 3.  

The Breakdown

Each year, 68 teams are chosen to take part in this single-elimination tournament. The 32 champions of the Division I conferences are automatically entered, while the other 36 teams are granted at-large bids. This means the selection committee looks at the rest of the Division I teams and picks who they see as tournament-ready.

From there, the teams are split into four regions: East, South, Midwest and West. They play throughout six rounds. The tournament officially begins on Selection Sunday, which is always the Sunday before the first game. At that time, the selection committee announces regional brackets and gives every team a seed number from one to 16. A team with a one is the highest-ranking team in the region while a team with a 16 is the lowest. Each region has its own seed ranking.

There are, however, several games played before the traditional tournament begins. The lowest seeded teams compete in four play-in games, known as the First Four, for placement in the regular tournament bracket. 

After that, it’s on. The regional semi-final teams are called the Sweet Sixteen, and from there they fall into the Elite Eight and Final Four. The two winners from there move into the National Championship. 

The University of Oregon was the first-ever national champion for college basketball, beating Ohio State University 46-33 on March 27, 1939. When the tournament first started, only eight teams were invited. Over the years, that number continued to grow until 2011 when the NCAA settled on 68 teams. Though looking at history, that number is likely to only grow, especially since the organizers were looking to include 96 teams in 2010.

Place Your Bets

The tournament has also become popular for those looking to make a bet, from single games to entire brackets, and it’s believed to be second only to the Super Bowl. The American Gaming Association estimated that 47 million American adults would wager $8.5 billion in 2019.

Beyond betting, filling out a bracket has grown into a fun and common practice in offices across the country. This new cultural touchstone goes from workplace chatter to pop culture competition. In the past, former-president Barack Obama released his own brackets while in office and Warren Buffett offered $1 billion to anyone with a perfect bracket several years ago. 


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Written by Christopher Bobo

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