How the NCAA Basketball Tournament Works: Beginners Guide to the March Madness College Hoops Tourney

The National Collegiate Athletic Association conducts championships in the sports that it sanctions. The most prominent are the men’s and women’s college basketball tournament, given the nickname “March Madness” for the excitement that is generates.

NCAA schools play during the season for the opportunity to compete for the National Championship. 65 colleges are selected either based on receiving automatic bids by winning their conferences or being chosen by the selection committee to fill out the slots.

NCAA Automatic Bids

Winners of NCAA conferences are given automatic bids into the tournament. The method of winning is determined by the conference. Although conferences can determine the automatic bid based on the regular season record, most conferences have tournaments, and the automatic bid goes to the winner of the tournament.

These conference tourneys are played after the regular season, in the week or two before the NCAA tournament.

NCAA Selection Committee

After the automatic bid slots have been filled, the Tournament Selection Committee is responsible for selecting the teams that will fill the rest of the 65 slots.

The committee selects the teams that have the best chance of winning, not necessarily those with the best records.

Teams are then assigned to a region and assigned a seed in that region. There are four regions across the United States. Each team is assigned a seed, meaning they are ranked from 1 to 16 (one being the best) in each region.

Since many of the games are played in cities and even home arenas of some schools, the Committee considers where to place a team in relation to geography.

A home court is considered an advantage, and therefore the Committee will only give a home court advantage to a team that has earned it, but having a high seed. A lower seed may have to travel across the country, even if there is a game nearby.

Teams on the Bubble

Going into the Tournament, a team is considered “on the bubble” if it is not guaranteed an automatic bid, and is not one of the stronger teams likely to get a bid from the Selection Committee.

Each year there are a number of these bubble teams that hope to get a bid. Often the teams that are the last chosen have higher seeds than other teams. The teams that are seeded the lowest are usually the smaller conferences with automatic bids.

A bubble team may barely make the tournament, but is usually better than many of the small market conference champions. But, upsets always occur in the tournament, where stronger teams lose to lower seeds.

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