What Is March Madness?: A history of the basketball tournament

The month of March is a rather big deal when it comes down to college basketball, with many around the US – and even in certain corners of the world – experiencing a level of excitement regarding the sport that is unmatched.

The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, also known and branded as NCAA March Madness, is a single-elimination tournament played each spring in the United States featuring 68 college basketball teams from the Division I level of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), to determine the national championship.

The tournament was created in 1939 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches and was the idea of Ohio State coach Harold Olsen. Played mostly during March, it has become one of the most famous annual sporting events in the United States.


How does March Madness work?

The tournament teams include champions from 32 Division I conferences (which receive automatic bids), and 36 teams that are awarded at-large berths. These “at-large” teams are chosen by an NCAA selection committee announced in a nationally televised event on the Sunday preceding the “First Four” play-in tournament and dubbed Selection Sunday.

The 68 teams are divided into four regions and organized into a single-elimination bracket, which determines when a team wins a game, which team it will face next. Each team is “seeded”, or ranked, within its region from 1 to 16.


Which teams have won the whole thing?

During March Madness, the term “Cinderella team” is frequently used to describe a team that is unexpectedly able to win games despite being unlikely to do so during the regular season (when compared with the top seeds composing each region). Some lower seeds, however, have won the tournament. To date, a handful of under-seeded teams have won the championship: NC State (1986), Villanova (1985), Kansas (1988), and Connecticut (2014).

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has been the most successful college in the NCAA tournament; 11 national titles, including 10 since 1980, when the 40-minute game clock debuted. The University of Kentucky is second all-time with eight national titles, followed by the University of North Carolina and Duke University who have won six and five, respectively. Many teams claim successive national championships without winning at least two years in a row; these “double crown” winners are not recognized by the NCAA.

Gonzaga will be looking to add their name to the list of honors this season after coming so close last year. The Bulldogs were pipped by Baylor in the National Championship 86-70, however those who decide to look for the best March Madness odds available this time around will find that many believe the college basketball program is best positioned once again as the favorites to finally overcome the final hurdle this season.


What is the biggest upset in March Madness history?

The 2018 NCAA tournament perhaps saw the biggest upset in March Madness history take place, as the 16-seed UMBC managed to defeat the 1-seed Virginia with a score of 74-54.

The result was the first time in which the 16-seed had managed to defeat a 1-seed, with the record beforehand throughout history having been a perfect 135-0 throughout college basketball history. Indeed, with the 16-seed a possibility that nobody has ever really deemed possible when it did happen, it was a real shock, especially as there was a 20-point margin between the two teams at the final buzzer.


When did March Madness expand to 64 teams?

March Madness had originally started out with a total of just eight teams when it was first created and established in 1939 and has since gone through a number of changes over the years.

The first change, though, did not actually take place until 1951 when the field had been doubled to include 16 teams. March Madness would continue to expand over the next couple of decades before it increased to a total of 64 teams.

In 2001, the Mountain West Conference had joined Division I and received an automatic bid which then pushed the total number of teams to 65, meaning a single game was added prior to the first round. However, 2011 saw three more teams added, thus providing three more games to complete the First Four Round.