March Madness for Dummies

By: Andrew Koch ~Campus News Editor~

March Madness is upon us. Following Selection Sunday, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, also known as the “Big Dance,” begins, igniting one of the most raucous and popular sporting events of the year. Fans across the country are caught up in the fever of postseason collegiate basketball, but not everyone is well-versed in how or why the tournament works. Below are some of the basics of March Madness for those unfamiliar with college basketball.

How is the tournament structured?

Like the NFL playoffs, the NCAA tournament is single-elimination, meaning teams compete in a one-game series in which the winner advances to the next round, and the loser is eliminated. The pool of teams is organized into a bracket which is further divided into four regions. These regions roughly correspond to the geographic location of the highest-seeded team in that region (e.g. No.1 seed Florida was placed in the South region, and No. 1 seed Arizona was placed in the West region).

Winning teams from each region proceed from the Round of 64 (the Second Round) to the Round of 32 (the Third Round) in the first week of play at various pre-selected sites around the country. Play resumes the following week as winning teams advance to the regional semifinals (the “Sweet Sixteen”) and the regional finals (the Elite Eight), played in one of four regional sites. The remaining four teams will then advance to the national semifinals (the illustrious Final Four), where they compete for a chance to play in the national championship game held in early April.This year’s two semifinal games and the national championship will take place on April 5 and April 7, respectively, in North Texas.

What are seeds?

Each region of the bracket contains 16 teams that have been ranked (or seeded) based on its accomplishments throughout the regular season, and this seed is designed to express how good a team is.

For example, University of Florida, considered the best team in the country, was given a No. 1 seed. Seedings also determine who each team will play, as the No. 1 seed will always play the No. 16 seed in the Round of 64, the No. 2 seed will always play the No. 15 seed, etc.

How do teams get in the tournament?

Teams can be eligible to compete in the NCAA tournament in one of two ways: by winning their conference tournament (and receiving an automatic bid) or by being selected by the NCAA selection committee (receiving an at-large bid).

Each of the two methods are detailed below: Automatic bids: College athletic programs that compete in Division I (like Xavier, University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University) belong to one of 32 athletic conferences.

At the end of the regular season, each conference hosts its own, internal tournament to determine which team will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. In this way, each conference (regard- less of how successful its basketball teams are) automatically has the opportunity to send one of its teams to the national championship tournament.

Xavier now competes in the Big East Conference, which held its conference tournament last week. Providence College won the Big East tournament and was automatically accepted into the NCAA tournament as a result. At-large bids: Teams who are not conference champions can be selected by a special selection committee to receive a spot in the tournament.

The committee, a rotating roster of college athletic directors and conference commissioners, determines which teams are worthy of receiving the remaining 36 spots in the NCAA tournament.

At-large bids are typically given to teams who have achieved a combination of a high score on the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), a formula that determines how good a teams’ opponents are, and a high strength-of-schedule (SOS), a ranking that expresses how many challenging teams a team has played throughout a season.

Because of this, a team like Green Bay-Wisconsin, which has a record of 24-6, can be deemed less tournament-worthy than a team like Nebraska, which has a 19-12 record because Nebraska played more difficult teams throughout the season and has a higher RPI and SOS ranking as a result. This year, Xavier received an at-large bid to play in the First Four.

Wait – the First Four?

In 2001, the NCAA added play-in games (now called the First Four) as a way of incorporating more teams into the national tournament. These teams play against each other in Dayton before the rest of the tournament begins in order to advance to later rounds.

Originally, potential No. 16 seeds played the First Four to decide which teams would advance to play a No. 1 seed in one of the regions, but in recent years the games now are between potential No. 11 and/or No. 12 seeds as well.

This year, Xavier competed in a play-in game against North Carolina State for an opportunity to play in the next round against Saint Louis.

The play-in games have led to some confusion with round naming, as the First Round of the tournament now refers to the First Four games rather than the Round of 64, which is the first round of play for the majority of teams in the bracket.