March Madness 101: Everything You Need to Know
One of the greatest sporting events in history starts this Sunday, and if you’re a fan of college basketball, like I am, you’re probably getting excited. It’s time for March Madness, baby! March Madness is a crazy-fun basketball tournament that involves 68 teams and 67 fast-paced, heart-racing, edge-of-your seat basketball games. What I love most about March Madness is that it’s not about big-name, high-profile, professional players. There’s no LeBron James or Steph Curry. It’s just a team of five guys from a college trying to do anything they can to win the next game. Many of the games are nail-biters that come down to the last three-point shot as the final buzzer sounds. If you’re not familiar with the tournament but are interested in jumping on the March Madness bandwagon, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about the NCAA (that’s National Collegiate Athletic Association) tourney.
As I write this, the major college conferences—you’ve heard their names: Pac-12, Big 12, ACC, SEC, etc.—are hosting their end-of-season tournaments, which must be completed by Sunday. The winners of these conference championships will earn an automatic bid to the Big Dance (another term for March Madness). The best teams aren’t necessarily guaranteed a spot in March Madness. Why? Because they could lose during their conference tournament.
A total of 32 teams will be automatically qualified into the tournament field. Gonzaga, Yale, and Northern Iowa are a few who have recently secured automatic spots. That will leave 36 at-large selections to be placed into the tournament by the selection committee. On Sunday evening, the committee, which is composed of 10 athletic directors from various colleges around the country, will pick the remaining teams that get to participate in March Madness.
Sixty-eight teams will initially be a part of the madness. Four of these teams are on the bubble, which means that they have to play an extra game to secure a spot in the tournament. The bubble game takes place next Tuesday, March 15. The real tournament, with 64 teams, starts on Thursday, March 17. Games take place in 32 preselected cities across the United States.
March Madness is all about the bracket. The 64 teams are separated into four regions—West, Midwest, South, and East—composed of 16 teams each. Then the teams are ranked from #1 to #16. The worst team plays the best team. It looks like this: Team #16 plays team #1, team #15 plays team #2, and so on and so fourth. Oftentimes the most exciting games are when closely seeded teams, like #8 and #9, play each other. Bracketology is big business, and offices, men’s groups, and everyone in between host pools. I’m in one. Here’s how it works: You create an online account, and then you pick the winners of each game. There’s a lot of strategizing that goes on. For example, a #16 has never beaten a #1 in the entire history of the tournament, so you should probably have #1 advance forward in your bracket. Everyone from President Obama to Jimmy Fallon to Brooklyn Decker does a bracket. The final four teams are the most talked about and the ultimate goal for every school to reach.
The ranking that is given to each team is referred to as a seed. If a team is called a 5th seed, that means it’s ranked 5th out of the 16 teams in its region. In order to be successful when selecting a bracket, you must pay attention to the seed. A #14 most likely won’t beat a #3, but they don’t call it madness for nothing, and there is the chance that the #14 could win. It’s also a good idea to know a team’s history. There are powerhouse colleges known for almost always having a solid squad, year in and year out. These include Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas. Last year the final four consisted of Kentucky, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Duke. Duke beat Wisconsin and won the championship title for the 11th time. But the madness dictates that you can't just pick the favorites… There will be upsets!
Once the tournament begins, things move incredibly quickly, especially in the first two rounds. There are 48 games happening the first weekend, with games starting early in the morning and finishing late at night. That’s a lot of basketball, and there’s no way to watch it all, so you’ve got to check your bracket and the standings often. Once the field has been narrowed down, the games are more evenly spaced and timed for television viewing, and each round has a special name. There are the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four. The last two teams standing participate in the national championship game on April 4 in Houston. Note that the rules in college basketball are a little different than professional basketball. The games are divided into two halves, each 20 minutes long. The shot clock gives teams 30 seconds to shoot the ball on each possession.
March Madness is the largest single-elimination competition in the world. There is no round robin, and each team only has one chance to win. Winning means the team moves forward to the next round. The one-and-done aspect of March Madness makes it exciting! The players are hungry to win, and each game feels like a life-or-death matter.
When you start to watch the games, you’ll realize that there really is madness! It’s surprising how many of the games come down to the wire and are determined in the very last minute. Games often go into overtime, as well, and there are always some amazing upsets! This occurs when a higher seed beats a lower seed or when a popular team, like Duke, is sent home from the tourney in the first or second round by an underdog. It’s such a thrilling sporting event—I really encourage you to watch!
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Are you a fan of March Madness? Which team will you be rooting for?