The March college basketball tournament is one of the biggest and most exciting events in the world of sports. On selection day, we are introduced to the 68 teams that will be competing. Right through to the penultimate round where the last four teams play for a chance at the championship, the competition is a display of fantastic basketball, a rollercoaster of emotions.
With so many games and so many variables involved, it’s understandable that you might not know exactly how the tournament works, when and where it takes place, and how you can get involved while you watch the action go down in stadiums across the country.
What is the March college basketball tournament Season?
Before we get into the ins and outs of the tournament itself, it is important to know what it is and where it all began.This college basketball tournament is the culmination of the Division I men’s basketball season, and has taken place every year since 1939. It features 68 of the best college basketball teams from around the country, competing in a single-elimination tournament, across 67 games divided into 7 rounds over 21 days.
But why the reference to a mad frenzy? Well, the term was first used by an Illinois high school official named Henry V. Porter in 1939. However, it wasn’t until CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger – himself a former sports writer from Illinois – used it during live coverage of the tournament in 1982 that the term stuck.
There wasn’t always such a busy roster though, and it has expanded incrementally over the years to reach the modern total of 68 teams. In the first-ever event, there were just 8 competing teams, with Oregon University’s team beating Ohio State University’s team 46-33 in the final. As the years went by, more teams were added, with the field doubling to 16 teams by 1951. In 1985 the team count was upped to 64, and it was not until 2011 that the last 4 slots were added.
How Do Teams Qualify for this College Basketball Tournament?
There are two ways a team can make it to the tournament, as well as a seeding process that dictates who will play who in the first rounds.
The first is through an “automatic bid.” Division I basketball consists of 353 teams from all over the U.S., grouped into 32 conferences. But winning your conference championship in any one season doesn't guarantee you a place in the tournament.
Each conference holds its own separate post-season tournament, with the eventual winner receiving automatic qualification. This means that any team could end up snatching a spot in the finals, even if they had a mediocre season beforehand.
This process accounts for just 32 of the 68 teams – so what about the other 36? That’s where the “at-large” bid comes in.
After all the conference winners have been decided, the remaining slots are filled by teams chosen by a 10-member selection committee, which convenes on the Sunday before the tournament begins to decide who deserves to take part in the college basketball tournament playoffs.
There is no “formula” for the selection process. Instead, the committee looks at stats accumulated over the regular season and picks those teams that have played well enough to warrant an invitation. The selection process remains extremely controversial, with many people believing the criteria is far too subjective, often leaving teams and fans alike feeling slighted.
Seeding (Ranking) the Teams
With the full field selected, each team is assigned a seeding and placed in one of four regions which determines their opposition in the first round. How that seeding takes place is really quite simple.
On this particular Sunday, before any tournament games are played and after all 68 teams have been selected, the teams are then ranked 1 – 68 based on performances in both their regular season and postseason tournaments.
The best or highest-ranked, college basketball team is given the first seeding, the second-best, the second and so on until all 68 have been ranked. Four teams are eliminated in the opening round – leaving a field of 64 to fill out the brackets. These are then divided up into four regions of 16 teams each, ranked 1 through 16. This will be their starting seed for the tournament.
The benefit of a high starting seed is that your opening games are – theoretically – going to be against weaker competition. In order to reward teams who have performed well in the regular season and conference tournaments, the top-seeded team in each region plays against the bottom. The second-highest seed is then placed against the second-lowest seeded team, and so on until the matches for the first round of the tournament are filled out. This is why, theoretically, the higher-seeded teams are going to have an easier start to the tournament, than the lower seeded teams who will not have performed as well leading up to the tournament.
But upsets do happen, and the first seed of any region might be beaten out by the lowest seeds. Low seeds that go on an unexpected run of wins are called “Cinderella” teams, which can make for some of the most exciting play – after all, everybody loves an underdog.
When Does the March College Basketball Season Officially Start?
This year, the tournament begins on March 15th - when all 2020 contenders are announced on live television and the brackets and opening matches are decided.
The first round kicks off with 64 teams playing 32 action-packed games on the following Thursday and Friday. Three weeks of utter frenzy ensue thereafter, with the field being whittled down in intense single-elimination games, rounding down the field from sixteen, to eight, to four, and eventually on to the final where two teams compete for the championship.
How can You Get Involved in the College Basketball Tournament this March?
There are a couple of ways you can get involved, besides just watching the games. Speaking of watching though, every game will be streamed live and can be watched on nearly any internet-connected device, no matter where you are. So there’s no reason to ever miss a single play, and you can take in all the action as it unfolds.
Every year millions of basketball fans across the world take part in a game of their own where they predict who will win each game and fill out their own bracket. This can be an awesome bit of fun to have with your friends while the games unfold, comparing the accuracy of your predictions. Maybe you can even be the first person ever to predict a perfect bracket? But there are tons of ways to get involved, even if you’re looking for stakes a little higher.
Who Has Won the Most Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournaments?
There have been 80 tournaments held since 1939, and over that time 32 different teams have come out on top. No team, however, has won more than UCLA. They hold 11 titles, 10 of which come from a run of only 12 years from 1964 – 1975.
The last was in 1995, when they beat the Arkansas University team in the final with a score of 89-78 in Seattle, WA, and finished the tournament with a record of 31-2 under the guidance of Jim Harrick.
But the answer to the question: “Who won the college basketball tournament last year?” is the Virginia University team, who beat the Texas Tech University team 85-77 in overtime. Whether or not they’re back for another run at the championship title will depend on their performance in the postseason tournament, and whether or not they get a bid.
Some Terminology to Make Sense of the Action
With all the craziness of the intense single-elimination games to keep up with, it might be a bit difficult to keep up with the game off the court – discussing the teams, brackets and the bevy of stats that come with them.
We’ve already covered some of the important mechanics like the at-large and automatic bids, but there are some key terms you might need to know such as a team’s NET ranking, KPI and BPI. You might have heard some of this jargon before without knowing exactly what they refer to. That’s why we have compiled a cheat sheet of the most useful terms, to help you talk the talk while your teams walk the walk.
AP Ranking: Since 1948 the Associated Press has been ranking the top 25 basketball teams in Division I. 65 sports journalists from across the country fill out ballots ranking their top teams to form the selection from which the final rankings are compiled. This ranking process doesn’t affect the selection process in any way, so receiving rank 1 in the AP poll doesn’t necessarily mean that the team will be invited to the tournament.
BPI: A team’s BPI refers to college basketball’s Power Index, which is a statistic that measures how far above or below the average every team is. This ranking also serves as a way to predict how well a team will perform in the upcoming tournament. The strength of a team’s offense and defense are measured against the average across all teams, and then the difference between those two measurements gives you the BPI for that team.
The bubble: When a team is said to be “on the bubble” it means that they are likely to make the cut as one of the 68 teams, but that their invitation is not guaranteed.
Cinderella: A Cinderella story occurs when a team that starts the tournament with a low seed, or that isn’t expected to do well, outperforms their predicted potential for the tournament and knocks out some of the higher-seeded teams.
Defensive efficiency: A team’s defensive efficiency stat is a record of how many points they allowed per 100 defensive possessions.
KPI: Every team’s wins and losses are ranked by KPI Sports on a scale of -1.0 to 1.0 and averages these scores across a season to calculate that team’s winning percentage. Factors that affect the formula of calculating this stat include the opponent’s winning percentage, opponent’s strength of schedule, scoring margin, pace of game and location.
NET: NET is a new ranking system from 2018-19 that relies on statistics such as the strength of the schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency and the quality of wins and losses – much like a KPI ranking.
Offensive efficiency: Like a team’s defensive efficiency, their offensive efficiency is calculated by points scored per 100 offensive possessions.
POM: Kenpom.com, run by Ken Pomeroy, gives an overall rating to every Division I team based on statistics they put up during a season. The website is devoted entirely to advanced basketball statistics and is used by the selection committee to help evaluate rankings for the Sunday when selections are made.
SOR: Strength of record is a stat that is determined based on how difficult or easy their win/loss ratio was to achieve.
Team Sheet: The selection committee uses single-page documents that sum up statistical information and a team’s performance during the season to assist them in making decisions about the teams to select for the at-large bids. Each sheet contains in-depth information about a team’s strength of schedule and their performance in home/away games throughout their season.
We hope that you are looking forward to filling out your bracket for the college basketball tournament and that you’re as excited as we are with the tipoff getting closer and closer. If you plan on doing a little sports betting this March and want to get a bit of practice in before the real thing hits, then come and play with us at BetMGM.