March Madness or “The Big Dance,” is finally here
📖 The history
The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament started in 1939 with just eight teams. The field grew to 16 teams in 1951, doubled again to 32 in 1975 and reached 64 teams in 1985.
- In 2011, four games, known as the “First Four,” were added prior to the first round to give us the 68 teams we see today. The chaos.
The term “March Madness” was first used in 1939 for an Illinois high school basketball tournament but it wasn’t associated with the college tourney until broadcaster Brent Musburger used it during his 1982 coverage.
The first women’s NCAA tournament began in 1982 — notably 43 years after the men’s debut — with 32 teams. The field expanded to 64 teams in 1994, and last year was the first tourney to feature an expansion to 68 teams. Better late than never.
🤔 How it works
All 361 women’s and 363 men’s Division I NCAA squads have the goal of playing in March (and in April’s title games), and there are a couple of ways they can get there.
- Thirty-two automatic berths are given to the 32 teams who win their conference tournaments. Teams that don’t win their conference tourneys hope their season performance will earn them an at-large bid.
A committee of 12 members makes the final (fairly subjective) decision on the aforementioned “at-large” teams using the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). There are sure to be some disappointed squads who don’t get in, so prepare yourself for some, ahem, colorful reactions tonight.
After Selection Sunday, the stakes skyrocket in the single-elimination tournaments. Teams are broken up into four regional brackets — the East, West, Midwest and South — each with at least 16 teams. Lose one game and it’s sayonara to your season, a dynamic that always brings exciting and shocking upsets.
One of the best parts of March Madness? The brackets. While it’s fun to sit back and witness college basketball at its best, it's even better when bragging rights (and money) are on the line.
- The March Madness bracket craze began in a Staten Island bar in 1977 when 88 people joined a prize pool and filled out their own tournament predictions.
- By 2006, 150,000 people entered the same Staten Island bar challenge, where the prize pooled to $1.5 million. The Feds took notice and shut down the unofficial competition, but the bracket tradition was already alive and well.
Millions of people are expected to fill out a tournament bracket this year despite the one in 9.2 quintillion chance of making 100% perfect picks. People from all walks of life join in on the fun, including former President Barack Obama, Jimmy Fallon, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and J-Law, to name a few.
- Whether your picks are based on a team’s record, star players, mascots, uniforms, colors or just vibes, why not join in on the fun?
🏀 A mad legacy
With over 80 years of history and a whole lot of fanfare, there are, of course, noteworthy March Madness records and iconic moments we have to revisit each year.
🏆 Winning dynasties: UConn’s women’s basketball team holds the record for the most national titles with 11, and head coach (HC) Geno Auriemma — who’ll dance for the 34th (!!!) consecutive time this year — has been at the helm for all of them.
- Auriemma’s 2014 Huskies — featuring future WNBA star Breanna Stewart — played a perfect 40-0 season to win their ninth ’ship, and they were perfect again in 2016 for the program’s fourth straight title.
- On the fella’s side, under legendary HC John Wooden, UCLA dominated in the ’60s and early ’70s.The Bruins won seven national titles in a row for a total of 11, the most in men’s March Madness history.
💎 Most magical Cinderellas: Everyone loves an underdog. And last year, the men’s squad from Saint Peter’s University became the first No. 15 seed to ever make the Elite Eight. Their run stole both hearts and top spots on trending lists.
- Donning glass slippers for the gals? Gonzaga’s 2011 Bulldogs, who rode a 21-game win streak as a No. 11 seed straight to the Elite Eight — the only team that year not seeded Nos. 1 or 2 to do so.
😢 Upset city: In 2018, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) gave us the biggest upset in men’s March Madness history. Five years ago, the Retrievers beat No. 1 Virginia by a whopping 74—54, becoming the first and only men’s No. 16 seed to take down a No. 1 seed.
- On the women’s side, Harvard became the first No. 16 seed to ever defeat a No. 1 seed with their 71–67 victory over Stanford in 1998. Underdog who?
😅 Coming in clutch: As for buzzer-beating thrillers, Villanova put on a show in 2016 when Kris Jenkins hit a game-winning three-pointer to push the Wildcats past UNC 77—74 and take home the national title. Then in the 2021 semis, Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs sunk a deep three at the buzzer to snatch the Zags a 93–90 overtime dub from UCLA. Instant classic.
- The queen of Madness game-winners is Arike Ogunbowale (pronounced ah-REE-kay oh-GOON-bow-WAH-lay), who sank two in the 2018 Final Four to give Notre Dame their first NCAA title in 17 years. Mamba mentality.
📺 How to watch
The Madness will crisscross the country from March 14th to April 3rd, with the men’s tournament culminating in Houston, TX, while the women’s tourney will crown their champ just up the road in Dallas. Yeehaw.
All eyes will be on the Selection Shows tonight. As mentioned, the fellas’ bracket will drop on CBS at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the women’s on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET. In Canada, both shows should be on TSN+.
- And once the field is set, you only have a few days to fill out your women’s and men’s brackets. It’s time to lace up those dancing shoes!