March Madness is a 68 team single elimination tournament that takes place at the end of the NCAA basketball season, also known 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.
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. 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. This can be from any of the conferences mentioned earlier who did not win their conference tournament.
There are 4 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 4 regions, there are 4 number 1 seeds, and 4 number 2 seeds, and so on.
The March Madness Bracket is simple. Each region is essentially its own tournament. Once the 4 regions have champions, the 4 regional champions square off in 2 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 8 teams battle to get a chance to play in the round of 64. Typically, the 4 lowest rated (by the committee) automatic bids play for a chance to be a 16 seed in the round of 64, and the 4 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 fun!
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's games heavily favor the higher seed, we have seen some incredible upsets, including the first ever 16 seed to beat 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, and on to 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. An example of this were 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, also known as the Final Four.
This is what the whole season has come down to. Only 2 teams remain and only 1 can be crowned the champion. After the game, it is tradition for the winning teams to cut down the nets, 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.
Fantasy Sports are a huge part of March Madness, as anyone who is even remotely a college basketball fan will fill out a bracket. This means pick the winner of every game and then pick your national champion. The objective is to pick the winner of the most games correctly, although this is much easier said than done. It is possible to create the perfect bracket, but no one has done it yet. Actually no one has ever been close at all. No one had ever been perfect past the Sweet 16 until this year, when an Ohio man lost his perfect bracket 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 your 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 a little more points than the last one. It's always free, so next March, go fill out a bracket!