Every year as March rolls around, the US sporting focus curiously shifts from the NBA to college basketball and more specifically, to the tournament excitingly known as March Madness.
Likely most of your American friends and colleagues, even those that may not be regular basketball fans, become obsessed with teams and players you’ve likely never heard of, all in support of their alma maters.
This year, as we approach another tournament, we thought we would give you a definite guide on the who what and why of March Madness.
What is March Madness?
March Madness is the name given to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)’s annual Men’s Basketball Tournament. It is made up of 68 college basketball teams who compete over 7 rounds in a single-game elimination competition (ie: you lose, you’re out).
The number of teams in the competition is reduced by half each round. From there, the teams are whittled down to: the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, and the Final Four. After that, the last two remaining teams play in the National Championship game.
Interestingly, despite the amount of noise this tournament makes, it only lasts for a little over 2 weeks. This year, the tournament will be held from March 14th to April 3rd and here are some of the key dates to keep in mind if you want to follow the tournament:
- First Four – March 14-15, 2023
- First round – March 16-17, 2023
- Second round – March 18-19, 2023
- Sweet 16 – March 23-24, 2023
- Elite Eight – March 25-26, 2023
- Final Four – April 1, 2023
- Championship- April 3, 2023
Why is March Madness a big deal?
The tournament has been held since 1939 and has become one of the most popular sporting events in the US, mainly due to the excitement of so many games being played in such a short period of time and the chance to see some future NBA greats begin to make a name for themselves.
What fans really love about this tournament are the Cinderella stories. Given the sheer number of teams that start in the tournament, there has been a many instances where smaller, lesser known teams have had well, a Cinderella run deep into the tournament.
Last year in particular, the Saint Peter Peacocks had what many called the greatest Cinderella run in the tournament’s history. This unknown team from Jersey City made it to the Elite Eight and knocked out two of the tournament favorites, Kentucky and Purdue.
Who are the key players?
During March Madness, forget the Knicks, the Nets, the Celtics or the Lakers, these are some of the teams that people will be talking about-
- Kansas Jayhawks: considered one of the most prestigious college basketball teams, they are also last year’s championship winners. The team holds a number of records including the longest streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (at 32).
- Houston Cougars: despite not being one of the more successful teams in tournament history, they are emerging as one of the top favorites this year. They currently have a 22-2 record this season and have never scored below 60 points more than three times.
- Purdue Boilermakers: One of the staple college basketball teams, Purdue has sent 30 players to the NBA including 2 number 1 draft picks. Though they have never actually won March Madness, they are the favorite to make it to the championship game. One of their key players this year is Zach Edey, widely expected to take home Player of the Year.
- Gonzaga Bulldogs: one of the most dominant teams in college basketball. They have made it to the tournament every year since 1999 and have been one of the most winning teams in the past 15 years.
- UCLA Bruins: another college basketball powerhouse, the team has won the most championships with 11 (followed by Kentucky with 8). 10 of UCLA’s wins came in a 12-year golden era for the team which produced a number of NBA pros including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who you may remember was the highest point-scorer in the NBA until this month when his record was beaten by LeBron James).
- Duke Blue Devils: they have the highest winning percentage of the tournament. 11 of their players have been named National Player of the Year and 71 have made it to the NBA draft. They are currently fourth all-time in wins of any NCAA men’s basketball program.
What are March Madness Brackets?
The Sunday before the start of the tournament is known as “selection Sunday”, when the brackets for the tournament are set, starting with the first round matchups. The bracket will allow you to see which teams will meet each other and when as they progress through the tournament (think of it as similar to the draw in a tennis grand slam).
Here is a look at the final 2022 Bracket-
To make it even more interesting, the last few years has seen the rise of bracket challenges (the tournament’s version of fantasy football). Once the bracket is released, fans will enter challenges to try to correctly predict the outcome of every game in the bracket. The person with the most correct predictions wins. Not an easy challenge but definitely a fun way to add an extra level of interest to the tournament.
Don’t stress too much about trying to pick all the winners, according to a recent Forbes analysis, there is a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance that someone could correctly pick the winner of every game.
How to watch March Madness?
CBS (and its streaming platforms) will be the main network showing the tournament, the finals in particular. You will also be able to watch games on TBS, TNT and truTV. If you don’t have cable, you can catch the tournament on Sling TV, Hulu + Live TV and DirecTV Stream.
If you’re wanting to be a little more social while watching, we can guarantee that pretty much any bar worth its sports viewing salt will be showing the games. Similar to the NFL, many will become a hub for one of the better known teams (eg: American Whiskey in Midtown will host Virginia Dawgs fans and The Keg Room, Musketeer fans). Below are a couple of our faves that go all out with the Madness!
- Bowery Beer Garden: this open air bar down in the Bowery has 50 large screen TVs so perfect for watching multiple games at once, especially early on in the tournament!
- The Red Lion: a Greenwich Village staple, this sports bar is great to catch English rugby year-round but during those two and a half weeks in March it is all dedicated to basketball! The TVs are set up so that you have prime viewing no matter where you’re sitting.
- Harlem Tavern: may be a little out of the way for some but this sports bar has a very large internal space surrounded by TVs and a fun outdoor patio.
- Mustang Harry’s: this Midtown hot spot will be showing all the games and usually have a number of food and drink specials for the occasion.
Is there a Women’s Equivalent?
Yes there is! It is the NCAA Division’s Women’s Basketball Tournament and is played at the same time. This year, it will run from March 17th to April 2nd and will also feature 68 teams. In a big move for gender equality in college sports, the 2023 women’s tournament will, for the first time, also be referred to as March Madness.
Some fun facts to help you show off your March Madness knowledge!
- Only 15 of the current 68 teams have won the tournament on more than one occasion
- The UCLA team of 1972 is generally considered to be the greatest March Madness team of all time.
- UConn is the most winning team of the women’s tournament with 11 titles.
- The all-time points scoring record is held by Christian Donald Laettner who played for North Carolina’s Duke Blue Devils. His record of 407 points remains unchallenged to this day.
- The 2022 champions were the Kansas Jayhawks who beat North Carolina 72-69 to win their 4th Championship and first in 16 years
- The lowest seeded team to ever win the title was Villanova in 1985. They were the #8 seed
- The longest drought between March Madness appearances is held by…Harvard! They did not play the tournament from 1946 to 2012 (that’s 66 years!). The current longest drought is Dartmouth who has not appeared in the tournament since 1959
- The record for the most points scored in a tournament is held by Michigan’s Glen Rice who scored 184 points in 1989, helping Michigan to win the title that year