March Madness Terminology Explained

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: The Michigan State Spartans celebrate winning the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Duke Blue Devils at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

So you love college basketball, yet sometimes you still run into roadblocks at times when it comes to March Madness jargon? Well, we have you covered when it comes to March Madness basketball terminology.

March Madness – The Cliff Notes Version

AT-LARGE BID

If you didn’t win your conference’s automatic bid but had a great season … never fear because the at-large is here. This is the way a team can still get into the Big Dance, and it is not uncommon for an at-large qualifier to make a run to the national title game.

AUTOMATIC BID

See the above description for at-large bids. The automatic bid comes when your program captures its conference championship. This is the easiest way to sleep comfortably the night before March Madness because you know you’re in. Otherwise, you have to bite your nails and hope for an at-large bid.

AP RANKING

In 1949, the Associated Press began ranking the top teams in the nation. It began as a Top 20 ranking, and in the late 1980s, it expanded to the Top 25 we see today. It provides a source of debate throughout the regular season until NCAA tournament time.

THE BIG DANCE

This is just another nickname for March Madness. And let’s face it, when you win the NCAA Tournament, there is a lot of dancing to be done. It fits.

BPI

The College Basketball Power Index (BPI) is a ranking system invented by ESPN, described as follows: “The College Basketball Power Index (BPI) is a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of performance going forward … Game predictions account for opponent strength, pace of play, site, travel distance, day’s rest and altitude, and are used to simulate the season 10,000 times to produce season projections. Numbers update daily.”

BRACKETOLOGY

This is the art of filling out a blank NCAA Tournament bracket. It’s used to describe the prognostication prior to the tourney, or it can describe what one thinks will happen after the bracket is announced. Either way, filling out a bracket is one of the most popular things fans do when it comes to sports. Do you have what it takes to fill out the perfect March Madness betting bracket?

BRACKET BUSTER

We’ve all had it happen. A bracket buster event occurs when one of the teams you predicted to go a long way in the NCAA Tournament ends up falling prematurely … thus setting up a domino effect that wounds your bracket. 

THE BUBBLE

Teams that have not had the best performance and are unsure whether they will get a spot through an at-large bid are considered “on the bubble”. Bubble teams tend not to sleep well the night before Selection Sunday.

CINDERELLA

A lower-seeded team that performs beyond what is sometimes called a Cinderella or Cinderella team. This isn’t only a March Madness term, but college basketball has probably put the spotlight on the term more than any other sport. These teams immediately become fan favorites and media darlings, and they can be some of the top stories of the sports year.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Xavier Tillman #23 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrate by cutting down the net after defeating the Duke Blue Devils in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The Michigan State Spartans defeated the Duke Blue Devils with a score of 68 to 67. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

CUTTING DOWN THE NET

After a big win, a team will sometimes cut down the net as a trophy of the moment. Sometimes they also cut a portion of the net off for each player and coach on the team. It’s a personal souvenir for the big win.

ELITE EIGHT

When you’re down to just eight teams, you have the Elite Eight. This is usually referred to as the quarterfinal round, but when it comes to March Madness? It is known as the Elite Eight. 

FINAL FOUR

This is held on the final of three weekends during the NCAA Tournament. The winners advance to the national title game two days later.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 04: Senior Vice President of Basketball for the NCAA Dan Gavitt speaks to the media ahead of the Men's Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 04, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images)
Photo by Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images

FIRST FOUR

These are preliminary-round games during the week that leads into the first full weekend of March Madness. 

FIRST FOUR OUT

For the bubble teams that do not make the NCAA Tournament, the first four that are left out end up forming the backbone of the NIT (National Invitation Tournament). The NIT is a second-tier postseason tournament.

HOOK AND HOLD

Sports Illustrated describes the rule as “a new rule change that bans players from clamping an arm onto another player’s arm and restricting freedom of movement during a rebound.” It was introduced after Isaac Haas fractured his elbow in the 2018 tournament.

KENPOM

Named after its creator Ken Pomeroy, KenPom is another advanced statistics site. 

KPI 

The KPI Sports website describes how the formula for their ranking system works:

The KPI formula is designed to assign a value to every game played during a season for each team.  The formula assumes nothing, and there are no preconceived notions or numbers assigned in the preseason.  Each team’s value for each of their games is averaged over the course of a season for each team – meaning that every game played counts the same (unlike the weighted RPI).  Values for the games adjust as more data is compiled.

NET

The NET is another ranking system. The NCAA discusses why they introduced this new system in an article from their official website:

The NCAA has developed a new ranking system to replace the RPI as the primary sorting tool for evaluating teams during the Division I men’s basketball season. The new ranking system was approved in late July after months of consultation with the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, top basketball analytics experts and Google Cloud Professional Services.

ONE AND DONE

When an elite basketball player plays just one season of college hoops and then declares for the NBA.

ONE SHINING MOMENT

The traditional season-ending song of March Madness. It is played after the NCAA title game wraps, and it includes highlight-reel video clips from the season and tournament.

QUADRANTS

Quadrants are a part of the team sheets that the selection committee uses to evaluate a team’s performance. These quadrants use several metrics, including whether games are played at home, neutral courts, or away. Games played on neutral or away courts count more heavily in the evaluation.

REGIONS

Four regions make up the NCAA postseason bracket. They’re named South, East, West, and Midwest, and each region’s champion advances to the NCAA Final Four. This year, because of the pandemic, games are only played in Indianapolis.

RPI

Teamrankings.com defines the Rating Points Index (RPI) as “created by the NCAA, and used to be considered by the NCAA tournament selection committee during the selection and seeding process”. RPI has since been replaced by the NET rating.

SAGARIN

The Sagarin (also referred to as the SAG) rankings are one of the metrics used to quantify a team’s performance on a team sheet. This system was developed by Jeff Sagarin, an American sports statistician.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 8: The NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee meets on Wednesday afternoon, March 8, 2017 in New York City. The committee is gathered in New York to begin the five-day process of selecting and seeding the field of 68 teams for the NCAA MenÕs Basketball Tournament. The final bracket will be released on Sunday evening following the completion of conference tournaments. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

SELECTION SUNDAY

This is a day that can be cause for celebration at some schools, or it can be gut-wrenching for others. For programs that captured a conference title, they know they’re in the Big Dance via an automatic bid, and it’s just a matter of who they play next weekend in the opening round. For bubble teams, they have to wait and see if they got in. There is always drama when it comes to Selection Sunday.

SWEET 16

If you’ve made it past the first week of the NCAA tournament, you’ve made it to the Sweet 16. That in itself is quite an accomplishment, and the benchmark is held in high esteem. The banners hanging high in a school’s basketball arena back it up: Making the Sweet 16 is a big deal, as you’re one of only 16 teams in America that are still alive.

TEAM SHEET

All teams in Division I have a document (team sheet) that contains in-depth nuggets and details about their performance. It is culled from multiple sources. 

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Brian McLaughlin is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of BMac and Herd’s FCS Podcast. He has written for The Sporting News, headed up the PARADE Magazine High School All American teams, covered FCS college football for HERO Sports … and five Daytona 500s. Follow BMac on Twitter @BrianMacWriter. 

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