An Amateur’s Guide to March Madness

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Get ready college basketball fans, the most exciting month of the year is here. After its cancellation last year due to COVID-19, March Madness is back and ready to bring some madness. As one of the only sporting events of 2020 to not crown a champion, the college basketball world is ready to see who’s best. 

March Madness refers to the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, a single-elimination tournament that consists of 68 teams who compete in seven rounds for the national championship. Started in 1939, the annual tournament brings, arguably, the best college basketball teams together to compete for the top prize—and part of the fun is the arguments over who actually gets invited to the tournament. With 67 total games being played in about four weeks, the tournament is fast-paced, making it even more exciting to watch.  

The tournament is set up bracket style; the bracket consists of four regions with 16 teams in each region. Teams are seeded 1-16 based on their performances during the regular season. Starting with 68 teams, as games are played and teams move on, the field dwindles to the top 32, then moves to the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and the Final Four, where one team from each region competes. 

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What makes it so exciting you may be wondering? As a single-elimination tournament, when you lose, you’re out. There are no do-overs, best two-out-of-threes or second chances—teams must win to continue. It is the epitome of “one and done.” This brings an extra bit of intensity for teams and fans alike, as a single mistake can see your favorite team booted out of the running. 

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Another exciting thing about March Madness is the sheer number of upsets that occur. Among the most enjoyable aspects of the tournament is that you never truly know what’s going to happen. While the odds may give a few hints or clues about which teams to watch out for, the single-elimination format means that no team is ever truly safe. A low-seeded team could come out on day one of the tournament and knock out a high-seeded team that many people believed were going to the final four (No. 15 Lehigh beating No. 2 Duke during March Madness 2012 is one of the best examples of this), but that’s just part of the excitement! These upsets make the tournament pretty unpredictable, and they showcase just how interesting and fun the tournament is to watch. 

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March Madness is one sporting event that even the most uneducated sports fans can play along with. Millions of fans each year follow the action of the tournament not just by watching the games, but by creating their own brackets. While it may seem like an intimidating process, predicting the winners can be as much based on luck as actual basketball knowledge. 

You can find an empty bracket on sites like ESPN or NCAA; to play along, all you have to do is choose a winner for each game! Most newbies tend to pick the higher seed (the team with the lower number next to its name) because these teams are likely the “better” ones. You can also choose teams randomly or with another system in mind (like choosing a winner based on which teams’ mascot you like better or who has the better colors in their uniform). There is honestly no wrong way to fill out a bracket. Since upsets are extremely likely to occur, you never know who’s going to knock out who!

Filling out a bracket for March Madness is fun, and it can also lead to some extra cash. Many people join a pool during March Madness. These pools consist of friends, family, coworkers or random ones on sites like ESPN, where everybody pays an entrance fee and competes to see who has the most accurate bracket. Those who correctly predict the teams that make it to the Final Four, the championship, and eventually, the winner of the tournament, win predetermined shares of the pot. It’s a fun way to stay connected with the tournament, compete with friends and potentially earn some money!

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Whether you care about college basketball or you’re simply rooting for the “Cinderella” team (those teams who make it much farther in the tournament than anyone would expect), everyone can watch and enjoy March Madness. 

This year’s tournament will kick off on Sunday, March 14 with the Selection Show (where the final seeds and brackets are released). First-round games will start the following Friday, March 19, with games being played every weekend until the NCAA Tournament Championship Game on Monday, April 5. 


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