Men's Basketball Sports

March Madness explained for the non-sports fan

Senior Corey Davis Jr. led Houston in its win Georgia State and has been its scoring leader all season. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

The NCAA Tournament is going on right now, but for those of you who don’t follow college basketball, here’s a rundown on how the tournament and March Madness work.

The format

March Madness is the prime time of the year for college basketball, when the best teams from across the nation meet to in an elimination-style bracket.

The winner advances, and the loser goes home with many of its seniors never to play another game of competitive basketball.

The bracket starts with the best 68 teams. Those teams are ranked from first to last and then separated into four regions, each comprising 17 teams.

The lowest ranked eight teams play in the ‘First Four’ games to whittle it down to 64, and then the main bracket starts. There, the teams go head-to-head until just two remain. Those teams go to the championship game.

Houston is highly rated in the tournament, defeated Georgia State in the first round and is the favorite heading into round two against Ohio State on Sunday.

The Cougars have already made it to the final 32 and are expected to make it to at least the Sweet Sixteen, with a spot in the Elite Eight being a real possibility.

Those are the basics of the tournament, but there are a lot of little things that go into putting it together

Who to hate

None of UH’s traditional rivals are in the tournament, but if you want to fit in by hating another team or rooting for an underdog, here are some picks.

Duke is the powerhouse, the blue blood and the favorite in the tournament. March Madness’s hook is its Cinderella stories, and Duke winning would be the exact opposite of that.

Oklahoma is a team in the Big XII conference, which Houston tried to get into in 2016. So, UH fans can rejoice any time a team from that conference loses.

Michigan landed a heartbreaking victory over Houston in last year’s tournament, and nothing tastes better in sports than revenge.

How it comes together

Teams can make it to the tournament via two ways: winning its conference tournament or earning an at-large bid.

There are 32 conferences, so 32 teams get to the tournament that way. The selection committee picks the remaining teams from the best of the rest.

The committee is made up of university athletic directors from various conferences, which have to step out of the room whenever their school is being discussed and stay quiet during discussions of fellow schools in their conference, unless they are directly asked a question.

Each member serves for five years, and seats rotate between conferences.

The committee looks at how many wins a team has, how it won and also the strength of that team’s opponents when determining the at-large teams.

Once the 68 teams are selected, they are broken into four regions: East, West, Midwest and South. The groups are made so the top four teams in the tournament are in separate regions, then the next four are separated, and so on and so forth.

The teams are also separated to prevent a team from playing an opponent they played in the regular season, until that team reaches the Elite Eight round. Because of that safeguard, teams are not completely placed according to seed.

Houston is a No. 3 seed, meaning it was somewhere between No. 9 and No. 12 overall in the rankings.

The higher the seed, the more the committee ensures that the teams get to play close to home. Because Houston was a three seed, it got to play in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is the closest of the host cities.

There are different host cities for each round and even multiple for the first few rounds due to the sheer number of games.

The name March Madness gets thrown around a lot, but it technically starts at the conference tournament, not the NCAA one we’re watching currently.

This is because every team in the conference plays in the tournament, and any team can win the automatic spot.

So, a team that was 12-18 in the regular season, which would have zero chance of winning an at-large bid, could win the conference tournament and qualify for the NCAA tournament. That would take away an at-large spot that usually would go to a more deserving team that performed well in the season.

Or a team on the bubble, which is ranked somewhere between 65 and 72 by the committee, could win the tournament to seal its spot and get out of the bubble, while pushing other teams out of the tournament.

Hence, March Madness technically starts at the conference level.

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