"March Madness" refers to NCAA's Division basketball tournament (Credit: NCAA/ Fair Use/ Wikipedia.org)

The NCAA Division I men's and women's basketball championships are the most widely-watched collegiate sporting events in the United States. The popular tournaments turn even the most casual basketball watchers into die-hard fans of teams with which they have no affiliation. Here is everything you need to know about the championships, popularly known as "March Madness."

"March Madness" history

The phrase "March Madness" was first used by a coach to describe a state-wide high school basketball tournament in Illinois in the 1930s. In the early 1980s, sports announcer Brent Musberger borrowed the phrase during a men's NCAA championship game, and the name stuck.

The women's basketball championships also occur in March. But until recently, the term "March Madness" only referred to the men's tournament. In 2022, the NCAA finally allowed the women's tournament to use the "March Madness" phrase and logo.

The format

March Madness is a single-elimination tournament. This means that if a team loses a game, they are out of the competition. The championship begins with 68 teams. Four of those teams are eliminated in the tournament's opening round, known as the First Four.

The remaining 64 teams are split into four regions of 16 teams each. The teams are then ranked 1 through 16. The first-round games pit the top teams in each region against the bottom teams. For example No. 1 seed plays No. 16 seed, No. 2 seed plays No. 15 seed, and so on. Theoretically, this gives the higher-ranked teams the best chance to proceed to the next round. However, every year there are numerous unexpected upsets.

This year, three of the four men's teams competing in the Final Four on April 1, 2023, are first-timers. They include Florida Atlantic, San Diego State, and Miami. UConn will be making their fifth appearance, their last being in 2014 when they won their fourth national title.

The women's Final Four will see defending champions South Carolina and first-time entrant Virginia Tech. Louisiana State is making their first appearance in 15 years, while Iowa will be there for the first time in 30 years.

March Madness fan brackets

March Madness is the most widely-watched collegiate sporting event in the US (Credit: Blervis/ CC-BY-SA-4.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

Every year, millions of Americans try to guess who will win in each of the 63 games of the NCAA tournament. However, experts estimate that the odds of successfully predicting the outcome of every game is 1 in 9.2 quintillion. Hence, it is not surprising that there has never been a verified perfect bracket. Gregg Nigl of Columbus, Ohio, has gotten the closest with 49 correct predictions in 2019.

Resources: NCAA.com, NPR.com, Wikipedia.org