College basketball fans rejoice upon the arrival of March, which marks the dawn of conference tournament season and, of course, the NCAA Tournament.
The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, commonly referred to as “March Madness,” has been played each year since 1939. The tournament is a single-elimination event consisting of 68 college teams. The tournament takes place in seven rounds with each team vying for the right to advance and ultimately play for the national championship. When the teams are whittled down to only four remaining, the penultimate round is played, aptly known as the “Final Four.”
The best 68 teams, out of more than 350 collegiate teams across the country, are not necessarily the teams that compete in the NCAA Tournament. Teams are split into 32 conferences, and each of those conferences earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. That bid goes to the postseason conference tournament winner or the regular season champion. The remaining 36 teams are chosen by a selection committee, and these teams earn what are known as “at-large bids.” That process is subjective, and each year much debate ensues once the teams are announced.
The order of play can be a little challenging to the novice. Firstly, the four lowest-ranked automatic bid teams will compete against the four lowest-ranked at-large teams in games referred to as “The First Four.” These games are held on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the tournament unofficially opens on Thursday. Teams are split into four regions of 16 teams each. Those regions are seeded, which means they are given a preliminary ranking for the purpose of game draw. According to the NCAA, the committee endeavors to achieve reasonable competitive balance in each region. The teams will be distributed to build the bracket. The seeds are ranked within each region, with the best team in a given bracket being assigned a number one seed. Because it is a single-elimination tournament, upsets are the norm in March Madness, and there’s never a guarantee that any of the top seeds, much less all of them, will make it to the Final Four.
The term “March Madness” was given to the game of basketball by Illinois high school teacher Henry V. Porter in 1939. However, it was only after CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger used it during coverage of the 1982 NCAA Tournament that March Madness became synonymous with this beloved sporting event.
Since the inception of the tournament, 36 different teams have won a national championship. UCLA has won the most national championships of any school, hoisting the trophy 11 times. Selection Sunday occurs on March 15, 2020, and the Final Four will begin on April 4 in Atlanta.