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A beginner’s guide to understanding madness in March

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MARCH 16, 2023

March. Music to the ears of college basketball fans. The most chaotic yet exciting time of the year for college hoops. The bearer of heartbreak and euphoria. The originator of madness.

Since 1939, the NCAA has hosted a men’s Division I basketball tournament where teams across the nation compete for the right to be named national champions. The tournament has come to be known as March Madness.

Every March, fans come together optimistically filling out what they hope to be a “perfect” bracket for the upcoming tournament.

The bracket is a prediction, or for many, a rooting guide, for the outcome of the tournament. No real strategy goes into filling out a bracket, as no one has ever recorded a bracket with 100% accuracy since the NCAA has tracked brackets — have fun with it.

March Madness has been the setting for some of the biggest upsets and Cinderella stories in basketball. Emotions pile high for almost four straight weeks as teams prepare for the biggest tournament of the season. The goal is to be the newest team to participate in one of the most iconic college basketball traditions: cutting off the net after winning the championship.

The tournament is played in a single-elimination format, meaning that one poor outing can result in a one-way ticket home.

This is where the madness begins.

The single-elimination allows the team that played better — not the historically better team — to win and advance. This results in an upset. An upset occurs when a lower-ranked team, an underdog, knocks out a higher-ranked opponent. This is a recurring theme in every iteration of March Madness, so keep a lookout.

Diving deeper into how the tournament is formatted, let’s look at the selection of teams and how they are made.

Every tournament hosts 68 teams, all of which have an equal chance to compete in the national championship. The first 32 teams selected are “automatic bids,” meaning they have won their respective conference tournament and have secured their spot.

The remaining 36 spots, “at-large bids,” are selected by the NCAA selection committee. Before the tournament, the selection committee reveals the 36 teams they have chosen to include. After all 68 teams are confirmed, the committee is then responsible for seeding those teams in order. This starts the tournament off.

March Madness is divided into seven total rounds of action: the First Four, Round of 64, Round of 32, Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four, and National Championship.

The First Four are games played between the bottom four ranked at-large bid teams, and the bottom four ranked automatic bid teams. The elimination of four teams in this round will narrow the pool down to just 64 teams and will create four equal regions of 16 teams ranked from one to 16, kickstarting the fun of the tournament.

The Round of 64 showcases matchups from all four regions, where higher-seed teams play matching lower-seed teams (No. 1 plays No. 16, No. 2 plays No. 15 and so on). This is done so that the teams who have performed better will be rewarded with an “easier” schedule to start.

The Round of 64 will result in 32 teams being eliminated, some of whom will be a victim of an upset, setting up a possible March Madness run for the underdogs. This will go on until just two teams remain in the championship game.

The winner will be named national champion and will carry that title and its bragging rights for the next year.

Now you got it! Go out there, make a bracket, cheer for your team and enjoy the most exciting month of basketball.

Contact Eric Hayrapetian at 


MARCH 16, 2023