March Madness is a 68 team, single elimination tournament that takes place at the end of the NCAA basketball season. The tournament is also often referred to as the 'Big Dance'. There are two seperate tournaments for Men's and Women's NCAA D1 basketball, and they are identical in structure. The tournament was first held in 1939, and it has been an annual tradition ever since.
The tournament started with only 8 teams but, as the years went by, it expanded to 68. The goal of any NCAA basketball team is to be one of those 68 teams, and there are a few ways to make it.
Every conference in college basketball has a conference tournament, which puts all the teams in a conference in a smaller tournament. Any team that wins their conference tournament is automatically entered into the tournament. These teams are given "automatic bids." Since there are 32 conferences, these automatic bids take care of 32 out of the 68 teams in the tournament.
The next 36 teams are made up of at-large bids. This is a little more complicated, but basically a committee selects the 36 best remaining teams not already automatically qualified for the tournament. These teams can be from any of the conferences mentioned earlier who did not win their conference tournament.
There are four different regions that make up the tournament bracket, East, West, South, and Midwest. This dictates where the games are played, not where the teams are from. Within each region, each team is seeded 1 through 16. Since there are four regions, there are four number 1 seeds, and four number 2 seeds, and so on.
The March Madness Bracket is simple, each region is essentially its own tournament. Once the four regions have champions, the four regional champions square off in two semi-final games, and then the winners play for the championship. The bracket is set before the tournament so, no matter who wins each game, there is no reseeding. For example, if a 16 seed beats a 1 seed they would go on to play the winner of the 8 seed vs. the 9 seed. Here's how each round looks.
The first four is when eight teams battle to get a chance to play in the round of 64. Typically, the four lowest rated (by the committee) automatic bids play for a chance to be a 16 seed in the round of 64, and the four lowest rated (by the committee) at-large bids play for a chance to be an 11 seed in the round of 64. This allows more teams to be a part of the March Madness action!
In each region, the highest seed (1) plays the lowest seed (16) and the second highest seed (2) plays the second lowest seed (15), and so on. While most of the round of 64 games heavily favor the higher seed we have seen some incredible upsets, including the first ever 16 seed to defeat a 1 seed when UMBC shocked Virginia in 2018.
The round of 32 is played on the first weekend along with the round of 64. It puts the winners of the first set of games against each other. Winners advance to the Sweet 16, held on the second weekend.
At this point in the tournament, teams and players are starting to really prove themselves. Everyone has made it through two rounds, as Cinderella stories begin to show themselves and top contenders show their prowess. A Cinderella story is an underdog that makes it far into the tournament overcoming improbable odds to do so. Take for example the 2018 Loyola Chicago Ramblers, who made it all the way to the Final Four despite being an 11 seed.
The second set of games during the second weekend is called the Elite 8. Now there are only a few teams left and the winners of Elite 8 games win their region and head to the promised land: the Final Four.
The Final Four is a huge spectacle. At this point, there are only four teams left in the tournament with a trip to the National Championship on the line. The pressure is on, and the world is watching.
This is what the whole NCAA basketball season comes down to. Two teams remain and only one can be crowned the champion. After the game it is tradition for the winning teams to cut down the nets, as a symbol of their victory. There are 347 Men's and 351 Women's D1 college basketball teams, and only one can win the National Championship in each of their respective tournaments.
Fantasy Sports are a huge part of March Madness, as anyone who is even a casual college basketball fan will usually fill out a bracket. The goal of filling out a bracket is to pick the winner of every game, and ultimately pick your National Champion. However, this is much easier said than done. While it is technically possible to create a perfect bracket, no one has ever come close. In previous years, no bracket had been verifiably perfect past the Sweet 16. This changed in 2019 when an Ohio man had his perfect bracket "busted" during the Elite 8, when Purdue beat Tennessee in overtime.
As for how to fill out a bracket, popular websites like ESPN, CBS, and Yahoo Sports all have online leagues where you can make a bracket and play against your friends and family. Although the scoring is different on every website, the basic rules are the same. Every correct pick gives a certain amount of points, with each round giving slightly more points than the last. It's always free, so next March go fill out a bracket!