68 teams, 67 games, 20 days, Welcome to March Madness

The tournament was only hours old but already brackets were being ripped up and the best laid plans were left in tatters. This wasn’t supposed to happen. They weren’t expecting this but then again, this is March Madness.

The NCAA Men’s basketball tournament is the highlight and finale of the college basketball season. Of the 351 schools that started the year, only 68 make it this far. Of those 68 teams, 32 of them earned their place by winning their conference. The rest were awarded a place by a committee in what is know as Selection Sunday. The teams are then split into four sections and seeded. The four number one seeds this year are defending champions Villanova, Gonzaga, Kansas and North Carolina. All of those teams will expect to make the final four. Meanwhile, the lower ranked teams seeded anywhere from 12 to 16 will not be expected to make it further than the first round. But that’s where the madness comes in. It’s rarely that straightforward.

In each of the last four years for example, a number 15 seed has knocked out a number 2. There has also been at least one example of a number 13 knocking out a number 3. Also, a number 4 seed has been knocked out by a number 12 in 12 out of the last 16 years. However, in the entire history of March Madness a number 16 seed has never knocked out a number one seed. That would just be too far.

By 8pm on Thursday night, with not even half of the first round games played, there were already two upsets. 5th seeds Minnesota had been turned over by 12th seeds Middle Tennessee while 11th seeds Xavier had dumped 6th seeds Maryland out of the competition. Northwestern, who were the big story on Selection Sunday after making their first NCAA tournament  in their 116 year history, were also busy causing an upset, they knocked out Vanderbilt to reach the round of 32.

All of this matters. It’s safe to assume that everyone has filled out a March Madness bracket. The bracket industry is huge. A study released before the start of this year’s tournament estimated that American businesses will lose up to $2.1 billion in productivity over the next few weeks. This is assuming as many as 81.5 million workers will have spent an hour researching and filling out their brackets, as well as time spent watching the mid-day games later in the week.

Every game is worth watching because during March Madness you’re not only following your own team but you’re following every prediction you have made. With games taking place all day every day, this makes the process of following and participating in March Madness incredibly addictive.

The excitement is peak over the first day, while the dream of completing a perfect bracket is still alive. It doesn’t last long however. That’s because the odds of completing a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion ( or more precisely,  1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 ). In last year’s tournament, the longest run of correct predictions before a perfect bracket was broken was 25 games, that’s just into the second day. The year before, someone on ESPN’s online tournament made it through 34 games. That remains the longest a verified bracket has remained perfect.

I myself lasted eight games, which was pretty decent. I was the last person out of my league of 13 other players to have a perfect bracket, that was before Maryland were upset by Xavier. I had backed Maryland to make the last eight as well, which was a real blow to my score. The only reason I had backed the Terrapins in the first place was because I had been to the University of Maryland a few years ago. I had very little idea that Maryland were in fact a poor choice to even make the second round, let alone the elite eight.

But that’s the thing. No one really knows what they’re doing. You can spend hours pouring over stats and researching your selections before you fill out your bracket or you can simply look at the teams and decide your winner based on the colour of the uniforms or the hotness of the cheerleaders. It really doesn’t matter.

You’ve probably got the same chance of winning as everyone else.




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