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A beginner’s guide to March Madness

Answering some frequently asked questions before tournament time

<p>Coach Tony Bennett's Virginia team is a Final Four contender again this year.</p>

Coach Tony Bennett's Virginia team is a Final Four contender again this year.

It’s March and your friends want you to fill out a March Madness bracket. You have no idea what you’re doing. Sure, you were in the student section cheering on the Cavaliers a couple of times first year, and you even sat at Boylan for four hours with your friends to save a table for the Duke game. 

However, there are so many schools in the tournament you’ve never even heard of — Wofford? Fairleigh Dickinson — and some you couldn’t point out on a map, like Prairie View A&M and Gardner-Webb. You want a winning bracket this year, and I’m here to help. 

When does the tournament start?

The first game tips off Thursday at 12:15 between 10th-seeded Minnesota and 7th-seeded Louisville, and there will be games all weekend. According to Fortune, the average American worker spends six hours watching March Madness at work, so expect to see some of your classmates glued to their laptops watching basketball in class for the next couple weeks.

How do I watch?

Every game is on one of four networks —  CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. Unless you’re a huge fan of Impractical Jokers, even the most hardcore basketball fans forget truTV exists until March, so don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it. You can also watch games online or in the March Madness Live app. 

How many teams are there?

It’s complicated. Technically, there are 68. Eight teams compete in four play-in games Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, to advance to the actual bracketed field of 64 teams. The 64 teams are divided into four regions of 16 teams each, seeded 1-16 by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.

The different rounds have names, right?

Yes, besides the first and second rounds and the national championship game. The last 16 teams left are known as the Sweet 16, the last eight are the Elite Eight and the final four teams remaining are, understandably, called the Final Four.

How good is Virginia this year?

Pretty good. The Cavaliers have earned a 1 seed for the second straight season and were ranked number one nationally for most of the year. However, Duke is the top overall seed in the tournament and beat Virginia both times the two teams played this year. You wouldn’t be crazy to pick Virginia to win it all this year, but the Cavaliers have never reached the Final Four under Coach Tony Bennett.

Who does Virginia play first?

Virginia opens NCAA Tournament play against Big South Conference champions Gardner-Webb, making their first March Madness appearance ever after beating defending champion Radford in the conference title game. Senior guard David Efianayi led the Bulldogs in scoring with 18.4 points per game. 

How likely is Virginia to make the Final Four?

Barring a major upset, Virginia’s toughest test is going to come against second-seeded Tennessee in the Elite Eight. The Volunteers are led by athletic forwards junior Grant Williams and senior Admiral Schofield and junior point guard Jordan Bone, who could create matchup problems for Virginia defensively. If Virginia can get past Tennessee, the Cavaliers will be a deserving Final Four team.

Who’s most likely to win the national championship this year?

All of the 1 seeds, Duke, Gonzaga, Virginia and North Carolina, and 2 seeds, Michigan State, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky, this year have national championship potential. None of these teams is a terrible pick for the title, but the best teams in the nation this year come from the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

Duke has the top three high school recruits from this past season playing together. Freshmen Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish are all going to be top-five NBA draft picks in a couple months. Barrett was the ACC’s leading scorer in the regular season, and Williamson is the consensus best player in college basketball, though he missed several games to injury during the regular season. 

North Carolina is led by forwards senior Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson and freshman guard Coby White and looks poised to make a Final Four run. The Tar Heels also won two games over Duke this year while Williamson was out.

What teams are most likely to pull off an upset?

Murray State sophomore point guard Ja Morant is a likely top-five NBA draft pick after this season, and he could have a big game to lead the 12th-seeded Racers past 5th-seeded Marquette.

Belmont has a play-in game to win first, but the Bruins are a team capable of beating sixth-seeded Maryland in the first round. They have the second-best scoring offense in the country, and senior guard Dylan Windler shoots 43 percent from three-point range.

Seventh-seeded Wofford are a feel-good story, coming out of the mid-major Southern Conference to crack the top 25 nationally by the end of the regular season, but Seton Hall has faced tougher opposition all season in the Big East Conference and came two points away from winning the conference title against Villanova Saturday.