March Madness is the nickname commonly used for the collegiate athletic association NCAA single-elimination tournament that is held to determine the Division I men’s and women’s national college basketball champions. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the fascinating story behind March Madness history and do a ‘deep-dive’ into the terms and concepts you’ll need to understand if you’re planning to have anything other than a gimmicky bet on this years’ proceedings.
We’ll also break down the brackets of this most famous NCAA Tournament and look at how the teams are selected. How they are seeded will also get a look-in and we’ll explain in detail how the college basketball champions are finally determined.
SOMETIMES ALSO KNOWN AS ‘THE BIG DANCE’
If you’re a fan of basketball, then this time of year is particularly special. Everywhere you turn, sports fanatics and even people who don’t usually give basketball more than a passing glance are at the water-coolers talking about buzzer-beaters, bubble teams, and brackets! March Madness is extraordinary in its widespread appeal.
The fact that it is a postseason tournament involving amateur college students from the national collegiate athletic association and not professional athletes means it is probably quite unique in the world.
68 teams (plus an extra four lowest-seeded teams that compete in ‘play-in’ games to try and earn a spot via the last-chance-saloon) play in 7 rounds of action and make for one of the most exciting and hotly anticipated sporting events anywhere. In fact, it is a genuine phenomenon that completely and utterly grips the national imagination every March and April. The NCAA basketball tournament has taken the country by storm.
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WHY IS IT MADNESS?
Well, the term sprang up as an attempt to capture some of the excitement that swirls around as the tournament approaches. In the weeks leading up to the first-round matchups, literally hundreds of college basketball teams from all over the USA compete for the right to take their place in the tournament and attempt to become the championship team.
Millions of college basketball fans are driven into a frenzy each year. The nature and style of the tournament are such that a kind of collective madness descends on huge swathes of the nation.
The essence of a single-elimination tournament is this:
YOU HAVE TO WIN AT LEAST SIX GAMES IN A ROW TO BE THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
When a team wins a game, they progress. Just ONE loss and you’re going home! That’s it. Put up or shut up. Put your money where your mouth is time. You get the picture…
It’s this kind of high-stakes, fairy-tale environment with the potential for huge upsets and underdog dream results that drive the hype through the roof for everyone involved, and a huge number of casual observers. College basketball’s biggest prize consistently produces last-second, buzzer-beating baskets, and true moments of the highest sporting drama. From the unmatched euphoria of succeeding against the odds and surviving to play another day or the crushing realisation that your season has brutally come to an end.
SOUND EXCITING? THAT’S BECAUSE IT IS!
Only 16 teams, rather saccharinely referred to as the ‘Sweet Sixteen’, can advance beyond the first weekend. The second weekend drops that group down to leave us with the ‘Elite Eight’ and then we inevitably find ourselves left with the ‘Final Four’.
THE FOUR SEMIFINALISTS ARE THE FOCUS OF THE FINAL WEEKEND
Two jubilant teams are able to take that final step and play in the national championship game.
But let’s take a step back ourselves and take a closer look at –
THE HISTORY OF THE MARCH MADNESS TOURNAMENT
Ohio State coach Harold Olsen is generally agreed to have developed the idea for a knockout tournament with the help of other national coaches in 1939,. The event featured only eight teams at that time and was not referred to as March Madness yet.
The inaugural tournament featured just eight teams. They were: Utah State, Villanova, Brown, Wake Forest Oregon, Texas, Oklahoma, and Ohio State.
Oregon were victorious in the championship game against Ohio State by 46-33.
In 1951 the number of teams selected adoubled to 16 and continued to grow steadilys the tournament expanded until it finally reached 64 in 1985. As mentioned earlier, that number was effectively increased to 65 in 2011 when 4 additional teams were given the chance to play their way into the fray.
The moniker ‘March Madness’ in reference to this particular tournament first appeared in 1982. Brent Musburger, a CBS reporter and Chicagoan sportswriter, used the term during the telecast of a tournament game. He claimed that the name was inspired by a Chicago auto dealer who did announcements for the local high school tournament! It had previously been used to describe the annual Illinois High School Association tournament but no connection to that has ever been proven.
WHATEVER THE TRUTH MAY BE, EVERYONE FROM COLLEGE BASKETBALL FANS AND THE MEDIA TO THE CASUAL FAN HAVE BEEN USING THE TERM FOR THE NCAA TOURNAMENT EVER SINCE.
In 1939 coach/teacher Henry V. Porter wrote an essay for an academic magazine entitled “March Madness” and the way he describes basketball fans is as hilarious and relevant today as it ever could have been. He wrote off the “afflicted” basketball fan:
“IN EVERYDAY LIFE, HE IS A SANE AND SERIOUS INDIVIDUAL TRYING TO EARN ENOUGH TO PAY HIS TAXES. BUT HE DOES A JEKYLL-HYDE ACT WHEN THE SPELL IS ON HIM … THE THUD OF THE BALL ON THE FLOOR, THE SLAP OF HANDS ON LEATHER, THE SWISH OF THE NET ARE MUSIC IN HIS EARS … HE IS BIASED, NOISY, FIDGETY, BOASTFUL AND UNREASONABLE — BUT WE LOVE HIM FOR HIS IMPERFECTIONS … THE WRITER’S TEMPERATURE IS RISING. THE THING IS CATCHING. IT’S GOT ME! GIMME THAT PLAYING SCHEDULE!”
AND THAT ABOUT SUMS IT UP TO PERFECTION FOR US
The nickname was picked up from there by Illinois sportswriters, who used it throughout the glory years of the Illinois high school basketball tournament in the 1940s and 50s
In more recent, litigious times, there was a court battle over the ownership of the term. March Madness is now co-owned by the NCAA and IHSA.
Whoever it technically belongs to, it is a part of our culture now and really belongs to us all.
NCAA MEN’S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
What is the job of the NCAA selection committee?
The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Committee is made up of 10-members (10 for the men, 10 for the women) who are responsible for the selection, seeding, and bracketing of the field for the March Madness NCAA Tournament.
They choose the remaining teams via an ‘at large’ bid process.
HOW DO THEY DECIDE WHICH TEAMS GET AN ‘AT LARGE’ BID?
The 10-member selection committees are holed up in a hotel during the selection process and presented with evidence. They must analyse and discuss this information and each member of the committee must then put forward a list of teams that they believe should be in the tournament. This list cannot include their own school. If eight members or more put a particular team on their list then that team is invited to the national invitation tournament.
The selection committees meet before the date picked for the tournament’s first game in order to figure out the teams that deserve to be involved. This is known as ‘Selection Sunday’ and the whole event is televised live nationally!
THIRTY-TWO TEAMS GAIN AUTOMATIC SELECTION TO THE TOURNAMENT BY WINNING THEIR CONFERENCE’S CHAMPIONSHIP.
The remaining 36 invites come from the pool. Before they even begin their deliberations it is almost certain that some teams are assured a spot. Some are clearly going to fail to make the cut. But the interesting teams are the ones ‘on the bubble’ that are harder to predict and could go either way.
With no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes a team being worthy of joining the NCAA tournament field, it can sometimes be hard to predict those borderline cases.
SOME OF THE CRITERIA THAT THE SELECTION COMMITTEES FALL BACK ON INCLUDE:
A team’s Twinning percentage
The teams’ rankings in national polls
Team’s wins statistics versus ranking opponents
Regular season team records
Their conference records
Their on-the-road record
No appeals are heard and there are no comebacks.
THEIR DECISIONS ARE FINAL
HOW TEAMS ARE SEEDED
Once the field of 68 is agreed upon, the selection committees rank, (or ‘seed’) all 68 teams in order. Once they have been seeded this way, the teams are then divided among 4 regions. Their placement is done so as to spread the quality as evenly as possible across the board and make for the most entertaining basketball tournament they can. The top four teams are distributed among the four separate regions, and each becomes the number 1 seed in that region. The next four teams (according to that 1-68 ranking that they were given) are separated similarly and become the number 2 seeds in their respective regions. The process continues like that all the way down the line
A team seeded 16th has only ONCE won a tournament game against a No. 1 seed. That was in 2018 when the University of Maryland-Baltimore County triumphed over Virginia.
A No. 8 seed is the lowest seed to ever win a national championship game. That was Villanova in 1985.
There are only 3 years in its history when at least one number 1 seed didn’t make it to the Final Four. Those years were 1980, 2006, and 2011.
THE 4 REGIONS
The names of the regions are usually based on rather arbitrary geographical areas but occasionally change slightly. For example, ‘East’ ‘South’ Midwest’ and ‘West’, or derivations thereof, are fairly common.
In the men’s tournament, all teams’ playing venues are technically supposed to be neutral. Teams cannot play tournament games on their home courts ahead of the Final Four.
Each week of the tournament, teams play at a different venue and then the Final Four is played at a new venue each year, usually in a major metropolitan area. This venue is decided upon literally years in advance and, because the Final Four games are played in larger venues, it is not likely that one team will end up playing at their home stadium. They may get lucky, however, and find themselves playing in their home state or city!
Since the tournament expanded, each region has at least 16 teams and is organised so that higher-seeded teams generally play lower-seeded teams in the beginning. It is also the job of the selection committees to place those teams so that, wherever it is logistically possible, teams from the same original conference are not able to meet and eliminate each other until the regional finals. They are also instructed to try and avoid rematches of games from the regular basketball season or tournament games from the previous year during the first and second rounds.
So it’s a pretty straightforward task then!
IT’S NO WONDER THEY HAVE TO LOCK THEM IN THE HOTEL…
Once they have worked all that out, the teams now find themselves within one of 4 brackets inside each region. This determines their first-round matchups and their potential path all the way to the championship title.
BETTING ON BRACKETS
March Madness represents one of the United States’ most ubiquitous betting events. It seems that almost every household has a piece of the action come tournament time each year.
Multiple games are played simultaneously and the basketball tournament has been at least partially televised on network television since 1969. As television coverage grew, the tournament’s popularity grew with it. It has become extremely common in modern popular culture to predict the outcomes of each game, even among non-sports fans.
MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ATTEMPT TO PREDICT THE WINNERS OF ALL THE GAMES PLAYED BY FILLING OUT THEIR OWN BRACKETS.
Because of the nature of college basketball and the similarities in quality between many teams the results are nigh-on impossible to predict accurately (there has NEVER been a perfect bracket picked in the whole history of the tournament. That’s hundreds of millions of attempts).
There are always upsets and ‘Cinderella’ results every year that make for great entertainment and drama but are catastrophic for any betting strategy. Most people participate in the form of a ‘bracket pool’ contest. Even mainstream media outlets such as CBS Sports, Fox Sports, and ESPN host free-to-enter online versions. Of course, no money is allowed to change hands and so prizes are offered instead. If they’re hoping to drag back a few dollars by attracting viewers then when you realise that it costs them an average of $900 million per year to show the games played, who can blame them?
It has never been easier to watch March madness and get involved. The phenomenon is so powerful that it has even been reported that there is a noticeable increase in the number of people taking sick days and extended break periods during the 3 weeks of play. People are desperate to squeeze in more of those oh-so-exciting tournament moments and follow the eventual champion side all the way to the top.
The conference tournament games are split into several rounds. They are:
The First Four
The First Round – The Round of 64
The Second Round – The Round of 32
The Regional Semi-finals – The Sweet Sixteen
The Regional Finals – The Elite Eight
The National Semifinals – The Final Four
The National Championship
WHO HAS WON THE MOST NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT TITLES?
In the 81 years since the tournament’s creation, 36 different teams have won a championship, but no team has won more NCAA titles than UCLA with 11. Amazingly, the team won 10 of those in a period of just 12 years from 1964 to 1975.
What is March Madness? It is a collective kind of hysteria that is hard to pin down.
Far be it from the team here at The Jump Hub to try and explain the appeal of March Madness. We are just humble servants to its might and powerful draw just like other mere mortals.
In its essence, it is no more than an amateur end-of-season tournament. Teams play off against each other in an attempt to reach the national championship game and find fame and glory by taking the national title. But it is clearly so much more than that. It’s the opportunity for the underdogs to succeed (even though they seldom do). The last-minute dramas and excitement. It’s the knowledge that those small-town fans will carry the students aloft and revere them forever if they succeed. It’s everything that makes sport so great and so addictive.
IT IS A NATIONAL INVITATION TOURNAMENT THAT HAS CAPTURED THE IMAGINATIONS OF AN ENTIRE COUNTRY
And those of the folks involved in the NBA Draft no doubt…
NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT GAMES
For a full breakdown of the 2022 men’s NCAA tournament schedule with dates and TV times – click here
GLOSSARY OF TERMS:
When discussing March Madness, its teams and technicalities, there are a large number of terms, acronyms, and statistics that can be daunting for even experienced parties, let alone newcomers. For those of you wanting to dig deeper into the maDnEsS and make informed decisions while filling out your bracket, here is a glossary of the terms we think you might find useful on your journey.
The Associated Press has been ranking the top basketball teams since 1948. In its current form, the poll ranks the top 25 teams in Division I via a ranking that is compiled from the ballots of 65 sports journalists across the country. The ranking has no official weight in the selection process, and even a No. 1 ranking in the AP poll does not technically guarantee a team a bid to the NCAA tournament. View the current AP rankings here.
At-large bids refer to the 36 ‘at-large’ teams that did not win their conference tournament and gain automatic entry to the NCAA tournament. At large teams have to rely on the selection committee, who will analyse each at-large bid carefully and decide the remaining entrants based on their own criteria and judgements.
Teams that win their respective conference tournaments at the conclusion of the regular season automatically earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Basketball Power Index is a term that was coined by ESPN. It refers to a hypothetical ‘average team’ and how other teams measure up against it both statistically offensively and defensively. This result is used to project how successful the team will be moving forwards. BPI is calculated by finding the difference between these two measurements.
Bubble teams are those that find themselves on the cusp of qualifying for the tournament, but for whom it can still go either way. They are sometimes referred to as being “on the bubble”.
A Cinderella team is one that lives the fairy-tale and does way better than expected. March Madness history is littered with them.
Defensive efficiency tells us the number of points that a player or team conceded per 100 defensive possessions.
The fourth round of the tournament, with only eight teams left in the competition, is known as the Elite Eight.
The fifth (penultimate) round of the tournament, with only four teams left in the competition, is known as the Final Four.
A final chance for one of eight teams that did not make the cut to sneak into the competition. A round of play in games before the official opening round begins determines the outcome.
First four out
The first four out find themselves ranked 69-72 when the selection committee are seeding all the teams. Only 1-68 can be included and these are the first four to be cut.
Key Performance Indicators based on a complex formula that rank every team’s wins and losses on a scale of -1.0 (worst possible loss) to +1.0 (best possible win). These scores are averaged out across a season to give a score to a team’s winning percentage.
Last four in
The last four in are the final four teams to receive at-large bids to enter the tournament. These teams usually find themselves on the bubble as Selection Sunday approaches.
The NCAA Evaluation Tool is a complex ranking system that relies on game results, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiencies, and the margin or ‘quality’ of wins and losses. It also takes into account the strength of the schedule and game locations. This particular system of ranking replaced RPI as the primary ranking tool for the selection committee.
Points scored per 100 offensive possessions.
A reflection of the number of possessions a team has per regulation period (40 mins)
A system of comparing two or more players who do not play the exact same minutes per game. Each statistic is divided by the minutes played per game and then multiplied by 40. This gives a reflection of their performance if it were extended to a full regulation game and allows players to be more accurately compared side by side.
This refers to the pre-tournament games involving the First Four.
Quadrants (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4)
The NCAA uses a four-tiered system to better evaluate game results. It uses the NET to sort games from Quadrant 1 at the top through Quadrant 4, with games away from home carrying more weight.
Q1 includes home games against teams in the top 30 of NET, neutral-site games against the top 50, and road games against the top 75
Q2 includes home games against teams ranked 31-75 in NET, neutral-site games against teams ranked 51-100 and road games against teams ranked 76-135.
Q3 includes home games against teams ranked 76-160 in NET, neutral-site games against teams ranked 101-200 and road games against teams ranked 136-240.
Q4 includes home games against teams ranked 161 or worse in the NET, neutral-site games against teams ranked 201 or worse and road games against those ranked 241 or worse.
The NCAA tournament bracket is composed of four regions. South, East, West, and Midwest. The first four rounds of the tournament are played in regions, and the Elite Eight games effectively serve as the regional championship games.
The rankings that are given to the 68 teams who earn bids to the NCAA tournament are often referred to as seeds. So the 4th placed team would be 4th seed and so on. The seed determines where the team will play in the bracket and which teams they will meet en route to the finals. Typically this is done to prevent top teams from eliminating each other too early in proceedings and means bad news for the lowest seeds who will meet the top ones. When the teams separate into their regions, there are now 4 seeds of each number. For example; number one seed in South region. Number one seed in Midwest region etc…
The 10-member NCAA selection committee (10 each for the men’s and women’s tournaments) is made up of school and conference administrators who are put forward by their conference. They are responsible for selecting, seeding and bracketing the field for the NCAA Tournaments.
The Sunday after all the conferences are decided and play is finished. The selection committees announce the tournament field live on television.
Strength of record (SOR)
Another invention of ESPN, SOR is a measure of a team’s accomplishments based on how difficult it is to replicate their win-loss (W-L) record. SOR reflects the chance that an average 25th ranked team would have to match or better that team’s record. It is shown on a 0 to 100 scale, where 100 is the best.
Strength of schedule (SOS)
SOS reflects the difficulty of a team’s schedule when considering the win percentage of their opponents.
The third round of the tournament, with only 16 teams left in the competition, is known as the Sweet Sixteen.
The team sheets are a one-page document that helps the committee to get a complete picture of a team’s performance during the season.