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What is March Madness?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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March Madness refers to the excitement of the final few weeks of the college basketball tournament in the United States that features many major schools. It is called madness simply because there are so many games going on throughout the country, usually during the same time, in rapid succession during the month of March. Teams that win must not celebrate too much, as a loss means the end of the season. The NCAA basketball tournament is a single elimination event.

The season-ending tournament provides a much different atmosphere than that of college football, where only two teams have any shot at winning the national championship at the end of the regular season. At the start of the post season in basketball, there are effectively 64 teams which have a shot at the national title. If one gets hot, and others get cold, anything can happen. Hence, March Madness generates a substantial buzz because there is always a certain amount of uncertainty.

The NCAA tournament touches all four corners of the country, with games in various geographic regions. Schools may or may not be assigned to their home geographic region, depending on the way the draw is constructed. Usually, the number one seeds in each quarter of the draw are assigned to play their opening games near their home regions, but nothing is guaranteed.

In addition, conference tournaments often take place just before the NCAA basketball tournament. This gives teams that would not normally make the 64-team field one more shot before the NCAA tournament begins, further adding to the urgency of March Madness. Teams winning their conference championships automatically receive a berth into the tournament, no matter what their regular-season records may have been.

Also adding to the buzz around March Madness is the fact that every year a team seemingly comes from nowhere to make a run deep into the tournament. This team is often called a Cinderella team, because it surprises everyone. While these teams rarely win it all, they do make for some memorable moments, thus adding to the intrigue of March Madness.

In addition to the term March Madness, various rounds of the NCAA tournament also have distinctive names. The third round, in which there are 16 teams left, is called the Sweet 16. The next round is referred to as the Elite 8. Then, there is the Final 4.

The Final 4 play two games over three days to determine the national champion and close out March Madness. As with sports victory, March Madness continues with on-campus parties well into the night in the college town that is successful. Basketball rivals football in terms of its ability to generate interest. Therefore, many people join in the frivolity.

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Discussion Comments
By BambooForest — On Apr 07, 2011

Basketball really is not popular where I live, so I never understood what this term meant. I suppose if I paid more attention to basketball I still might, but I always sort of associated it with spring fever. Not quite the same, obviously.

By elizabeth23 — On Apr 05, 2011

I never understood March madness. It seems like filling out that tournament bracket is as much luck as anything else, and I don't find that sort of thing very interesting.

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