Our Guide to March Madness
We've got you covered! Get ready for 63 games of knockout-style college basketball with our Guide to March Madness.
March is one of the best months of the year on the sporting calendar, with so much going on all around the world. The AFL season starts, the Champions League and EPL begins its final stretch, and the NBA heads into the business end of the season.
However, the most exciting event of the month arguably takes place on the college basketball court, with the annual March Madness tournament.
What is March Madness?
Apart from having the greatest competition name in world sport, March Madness is a three week knockout-style tournament to determine the best team in college basketball.
The best 64 college teams from the United States are seeded and divided up into four regions (South, East, West and Midwest) and are matched up against teams within that region in one-off playoff games. In the first round, the highest seeded team plays the lowest seed, with the second highest seed playing the second lowest, and so on.
The winner of the game survives and advances to the next round, while the loser heads home and probably drowns their sorrows back on campus.
This format continues into the second round, where the winners then advance to the ‘Sweet 16’ (as there are a total of 16 teams remaining in the whole tournament - four from each region).
The winners from those games then meet in the regional final - also known as the ‘Elite Eight’.
Following this, the ‘Final Four’ sees the four regional winners squaring up in the tournament semi finals, with the winners advancing to the National Championship game two nights later.
The winner of the National Championship game is crowned the best team in college basketball, and wild celebrations follow.
So why is March Madness so Exciting?
While the format of March Madness seems like a normal sporting tournament concept, it is the scheduling of the games along with the endless hours of basketball and one-game playoff urgency that make March Madness a must-watch event.
After a teasing appetiser known as the ‘First Four’ (which determines the last entrants into March Madness), the tournament begins on Thursday March 15th (Friday in Australia), with the first round taking place over two consecutive days, evenly split into 16 games per day. The first game on each of those days tips off at 12pm US Eastern Time, with the last game tipping off at 9:55pm. That’s over 12 hours of wall-to-wall live basketball, two days in a row!
And just when you thought it was time for a break, the second round begins the next day, with 16 games evenly split across Saturday and Sunday. 48 games of basketball over four consecutive days, need we say more?
After the pandemonium of the first two rounds, the teams (and viewers) get a much needed rest, until the following Thursday (Friday March 23rd in Australia), when the Sweet Sixteen takes place across two consecutive days, with four games per day.
Similar to the opening rounds of the tournament, this then rolls into the weekend with the next stage (Elite Eight) taking place on the Saturday and Sunday. With back to back scheduling and round the clock TV coverage, you can see how the name ‘March Madness’ is very appropriate.
Once the Elite Eight is complete, the Final Four is set, with the semi finals taking place back-to-back on a Saturday evening (following a long five day wait). While we’re all forced to fight through a five day college basketball withdrawal, the Final Four is worth the wait, as both semi finals are played in the same venue, with only a short break in between.
The winners then meet in that same venue on the Monday night.
The uniqueness of the Final Four also lies in the venue itself, as the games (including the National Championship game) are played at a different venue every year, which is usually a football stadium with an enormous capacity. Last year’s Final Four took place at the University of Phoenix Stadium - home to the Arizona Cardinals NFL team - in front of a crowd of over 77,000 people.
This year’s Final Four will take place at the Alamodome in San Antonio, which has a capacity of 64,000. While those sitting in the nosebleed section probably won’t be seeing a lot of basketball, the atmosphere and prestige of a Final Four weekend guarantees a sold-out stadium every year.
This Year’s Contenders
You can never look past college basketball powerhouse Duke in any March Madness tournament, and once again they are the favourites go the whole way. Duke’s fierce rivals - North Carolina (where Michael Jordan played his college ball) are the defending champions and also can’t be counted out despite an inconsistent regular season.
2016 champions Villanova not only have one of the best college names, they also have a strong team, and will be looking to repeat this euphoric buzzer-beating victory from 24 months ago:
From an Australian point of view, Saint Mary’s of California has long-been an Australian-centric basketball program, and was home to NBA stars Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova. The Gaels currently have six Aussies on their roster, and although they are not expected to go deep into March, the knockout-style format of March Madness gives every team hope.
Another college basketball powerhouse to keep a close eye on is Kentucky, led by the charismatic, expensive suit-wearing John Calipari.
Kentucky has been a breeding ground for some of the best NBA talent, with Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and John Wall all learning their trade under the guidance of Calipari. While this season has not lived up the Wildcats’ high standards, their passionate (and sometimes hot-headed) coach will make sure they don’t go down in March Madness without a fight:
How Popular is March Madness?
Very popular. Infact, last year’s National Championship game between North Carolina and Gonzaga (another great name for a college) was watched by 26 million viewers in the US, and it is estimated that March Madness brings in USD $900 million in review for the NCAA. And yet, the players are not a paid a cent.
Another reason for the tournament’s popularity and ridiculously high ratings is the ‘Bracket Challenge’, which well and truly takes over the United States every March. The Bracket involves picking the winner of every game before the tournament begins, and hence you also have to correctly predict the teams that will advance in each round.
Many big companies offer millions in cash and prizes for anyone who predicts a perfect bracket, while offices throughout the US hold smaller competitions and tipping contests for their employees. It is believed the odds of predicting a completely perfect bracket range from one in 128 billion to one in 9.2 quintillion. So good luck with that!
- Duke will win the tournament.
- There will be a great underdog story who goes deep into the tournament.
- John Calipari will get ejected at some point.
- There will be a scandal (because college basketball is never far away from a scandal).
- The debate of whether or not the athletes should be paid will grow louder.
- We will spend a lot of time in front of the TV, with a lot of snacks.
March Madness 2018 Dates - Australian Time:
- First Round: Friday March 16th - Saturday March 17th
- Second Round: Sunday March 18th - Monday March 19th
- Sweet 16: Friday March 23rd - Saturday March 24th
- Elite Eight: Sunday March 25th - Monday March 26th
- Final Four: Sunday April 1st
- National Championship Game: Tuesday April 3rd
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