Guide to March Madness
Buzzer-beaters, upsets and the best college basketball players in the country — March Madness has it all. That’s why the annual single-elimination NCAA Division I men's and women's college basketball tournament draws in over 10 million viewers each year. So whether you’re new to college hoops and wondering what all the madness is about or just looking for some tips before you fill out your bracket, we’ve got you covered.
On the women’s side, the March Madness tournament features 64 teams competing for the national title. Typically, 32 teams are granted automatic berths to the tournament after winning their conference championship (it’ll be 31 this year due to COVID-19), while the remaining half of the field is composed of at-large bids, chosen by a selection committee.
The men’s tournament features a field of 68 teams, but the set up is v. similar. The men have an extra play-in round called the “First Four” in which the four lowest ranked teams compete to enter the 64-team field. Wondering why there’s no “First Four” on the women’s side? Same. We're ready when you are, NCAA!
So why do we call the tournament March “Madness?” Well, there’s always plenty of chaos. Once the field is set, teams are divided into four regions and assigned a ranking (one through 16) within their region. In the first round, the No. 1 seed plays the No. 16 seed, No. 2 plays No. 15 and so on. You’d expect the No. 1 seed to easily defeat the No. 16 seed, but that’s where the madness comes in. There are always plenty of thrilling upsets in the tournament.
- Our favorite upset? In 1998, No. 16 Harvard women’s basketball defeated No. 1 Stanford 71–67, the first time in March Madness herstory a No. 16 seed had ever defeated a No. 1. Let’s hear it for the underdogs.
What's the deal with the brackets?
Part of what makes March Madness so fun is that fans can get in on the action by creating their own bracket, choosing which teams will advance through each round and who will ultimately win it all. With so many upsets in March, people have started thinking outside of the box when it comes time to make their picks, making selections based on everything from mascots to team colors.
- You can even take inspo from former President Barack Obama's picks. Obama, who is an avid basketball fan, releases a bracket each year, a tradition he started from the Oval Office. Nothing but net.
We fly high
Here are some March Madness fun facts to get you ready for the Big Dance:
- While millions of people try each year, the odds of filling out the perfect bracket have been calculated to be one in 9.2 quintillion. May the odds be ever in your favor...
- Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner is known for blocking shots in the WNBA, so naturally she holds the March Madness record for blocked shots in a single game. In 2010, Griner swatted away 14 (!!!) shots in her Baylor squad's win over Georgetown. Talk about a block party.
- The UConn Huskies women and the UCLA Bruins men have the most March Madness title wins, with 11 each. And both teams have posted multiple perfect seasons en route to their championships, with the Huskies boasting six undefeated seasons and the Bruins going unbeaten four times. And Hannah said nobody's perfect...pfft.