The Non-Fan’s Guide to March Madness

What you Need to Know About B-ball, Bracketology and The Big Dance

It’s the middle of March, which signals to basketball fans everywhere, it’s time for some Madness. March Madness, to be exact.


March 16 (this Sunday) signals the beginning of March Madness, the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship. For fans of the tournament, it can mean office pools, laboring over brackets and long lunches at sports bars. For non-fans, it can be a confusing mix of undefined terms and tournament lingo.

If you fall into the latter category like me, here’s a little help. I did some research to give you the lowdown on what’s going to be happening over the next few weeks. Take notes, and maybe plan a party—you might not love basketball, but it’s a good excuse to get friends together and whip up some delicious drinks and appetizers.

The Basics
March Madness is a 68-team tournament, one-and-done style—if you lose once, you’re headed back to campus. Those 68 teams are broken up into four regions: East, West, South and Midwest.

In each of the four regions, the teams are ranked from 1 to 16, and these numbers are called “seeds.” The lower the number, the higher the team is ranked. The #1 seed always plays the #16 seed to start the tourney. A #1 seed has never lost in the first round.

The Sweet Sixteen
The first four days of the tournament are only the first two rounds. At the end of the fourth day, there will be 16 teams remaining—the Sweet Sixteen. Over the next two weeks, those will be whittled down to the Elite Eight, and then the champions of the East, West, South and Midwest divisions are called the Final Four.

Terms to Know
Bracket: A map of all the tournament match-ups, with predictions on who will win. These are what fans fill out before the tournament—and when someone says their bracket is “busted,” it means they didn’t predict well.
Cinderella: A low-ranked team that wins the first round (and particularly if they continue on deep into the tournament).
Buzzer Beater: A shot made as time on the game clock expires.

Random tidbit: A #16 seed has never won, and only a few #15 seeds have won in the entire history of the tournament. For those making predictions, a popular upset pick is the #12 seed beating a #5 seed.