It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, March Madness World

The unveiling of the NCAA Tournaments is less than a week away, so we can safely say March Madness has begun.

In fact, three of the 68 men’s teams have secured spots in the field as of this writing—congratulations to Murray State, Longwood, and Loyola Chicago.

On the women’s side, a whopping eight teams are in. Way to go Belmont, Mercer, NC State, UMass, Kentucky, Iowa, Stanford, and Longwood.

Extra special shout-out to Longwood, which is making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance on both the men’s and women’s sides.

There are an impressive 358 men’s teams and 356 women’s teams in Division-I college basketball. That’s the highest level of college hoops you’ll find, and it’s those schools that are participating to try and get to March Madness.

But as I noted above, there are only 68 teams in both the men’s and women’s tournaments. So how do we decide who plays in the big dance?

Well, I should be clear you and I decide absolutely nothing. Instead, the NCAA has a tournament committee that gets to be the end-all be-all of all things March Madness.

Conference shenanigans

Each team is divided into a conference, which tends to be separated by geography. For example, the Atlantic Coast Conference features a lot of schools that are pretty close to the Atlantic Ocean, like Miami, Virginia, North Carolina, and Boston College.

However, because the NCAA and its member conferences are pretty money-hungry, there are sometimes shifts in conferences that don’t really make sense. And even without shifts, the geography doesn’t always add up.

It’s how you end up with a school like Chicago State in the Western Athletic Conference and DePaul in the Big East, despite being about 30 minutes apart from each other in Chicago.

In any case, there are 32 conferences. Each team plays a non-conference schedule, when they can play anyone in the country, and then they play a conference schedule, where they’ll only play the other teams in their conference.

At the end of the regular season, each conference hosts a conference tournament. The teams are seeded based on their conference record and in many cases, all the teams schlep over to a city like Las Vegas, Tampa, or Greensboro, NC to play those conference tournament games. In some smaller conferences, the team with the better seed hosts the conference tournament game. What an advantage!

Every team that wins their conference tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. So…you know, it’s a good thing to win.

Feeling at large and in charge

Once these 32 teams win their games, the other 36 spots are up for grabs by “at large” teams, which is where the selection committee comes in. These very important people look at stat sheets of every single team that’s eligible for the tournament, and they decide who makes it into the tournament, their first-round opponent, and where they’ll play their games.

The selection committee considers a handful of things when deciding these at-large teams. You get bonus points for playing well on the road or a neutral court, since nobody is playing March Madness games at home.

The NCAA also somewhat recently introduced its NCAA Evaluation Tool (or NET) which divides certain types of games into different “quadrants.” A “Quad 1” win is more desirable than a “Quad 4” win, because first is better than fourth.

If a team is in a particularly weak conference, it might schedule a game or two against very good teams to try and boost its resume in the eyes of the committee.

However, we still haven’t seen any teams play on an aircraft carrier since North Carolina and Michigan State did it in 2011. In my eyes, to not get seasick while hitting a three-pointer out on the open ocean should be an automatic trip to the NCAA Tournament. Let’s get this back on the dock(et). #boatpuns

The NCAA reveals all these picks on Selection Sunday. It’s an entire event that requires like eight in-studio hosts and way too much analysis.

The individual teams also host their own watching parties. A handful of schools set up cameras to capture the excitement when their name is announced. But it’s always on at least a six-second tape delay, so we watch them sitting awkwardly, twiddling their thumbs, until their feed catches up with what we’re watching, and they go all kinds of crazy. It’s one of my favorite moments.

There will be plenty of other March Madness shenanigans this month. Here’s a bit of what you can look forward to:

  • A live journal of events from attending March Madness games in person
  • A list of team mascots, ranked
  • Very good plays that almost seemed like game-winning or game-tying shots, only for the other team to rip the first team’s heart out. Pain is fun.

126 thoughts on “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, March Madness World

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