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March Madness for dummies

What exactly is the tournament that locks the country in for a month every spring?

Perhaps the second most important sporting event in the United States — behind only the Super Bowl — is on the horizon yet again. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament, also known as March Madness, is set to take place once again. Selection Sunday has already happened, and the Round of 64 starts Thursday. Matchups are then played every weekend leading up to the Final Four and National Championship game, which will take place April 1 and 3, respectively.

This year is even more meaningful than last for the City of Charlottesville, as Virginia has earned a No. 4 seed in the tournament and will play Furman at 12:40 p.m. Thursday in its first game. Since the Cavalier community will be so engaged in the tournament, let’s answer every question you may have about the most magical sporting event in America.

How are teams in March Madness chosen?

Sixty-eight teams make the field in a single elimination tournament that actually started Tuesday with the First Four. These eight teams play a game before to get into the true round of 64, and from there teams get whittled down round by round until there’s only one remaining. Teams can qualify by either earning an automatic bid by winning their conference championships or earning one of 36 at-large bids.

The NCAA Tournament Committee is responsible for determining who those 36 teams are, and use a variety of factors — such as overall resume and advanced statistical metrics such as KenPom — to pick the best squads that did not win their conference tournaments. Though we lost the ACC Tournament, Virginia earned an at-large bid comfortably. 

Why is it called March Madness if the championship game is in April?

Good question. I don’t know.

Virginia is a No. 4 seed, but so are three other teams. What gives?

There are four total regions in the tournament, with each representing a certain geographic area so that teams do not have to travel quite as far. The structure of those regions is the same — each has 16 teams, seeded 1 through 16, that play each other in a best-to-worst format. This means No. 1 seeds play No. 16 seeds, No. 2 play No. 15 and so on.

Virginia is a No. 4 seed in the South region, but there are also three other regions being played at the same time. Unless the Cavaliers make the Final Four, though, they will not play another team from another region. 

I see we’re playing Furman. Are they any good? Are WE any good?

The Paladins won their conference tournament to earn the Southern Conference’s automatic bid. What Furman specializes in is two-point shooting, as they have the highest field goal percentage in the country. Oddly enough, though, the squad isn’t very big, with guards making up the majority of scoring. In order to potentially upset Virginia, fifth year guard Mike Bothwell needs to have the game of his life.

The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have certainly had both highs and lows this season but were on a five-game winning streak before a cold shooting night against Duke in the ACC Tournament. The loss of graduate forward Ben Vander Plas to injury certainly hurts the Cavaliers’ depth, but improved defense in the latter part of the season provides reason for optimism. Furman’s offense is elite, but the Cavaliers can match that on their end, potentially leading to the Paladins being thrown off their game.

Speaking of the Cavaliers, how far will they go in the tournament?

There are competing opinions, which is what makes the tournament so fun! As a fan, I of course hope that Virginia wins the national championship. But according to their seed, they should bow out in the Sweet 16. The Cavaliers could even fall in the first round, since Furman is a solid squad. Likely, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

You mentioned these things called upsets. Do those happen often?

No, and that’s what makes them so special. The idea of an upset goes beyond just basketball, and compares the universities to each other. Consider Saint Peter’s last year, for example. A lowly No. 15 seed, this small, Catholic university team from Jersey City, N.J. was paired against Kentucky in the first round, arguably the greatest college basketball program of all time. A true David and Goliath situation, no one gave the Peacocks a chance. And what did they do? Simply become the first No. 15 seed to make the Elite Eight in history. 

Who will be this year’s Saint Peter’s?

Well, that’s the thing about upsets. No one truly knows. But if I had to throw out a team, watch out for Colgate. While the Raiders don’t play much defense the No. 15 seed’s offense is electric and can absolutely put a scare into any team it plays including its first round matchup with No. 2 Texas.

In what ways can I participate in March Madness?

Filling out a March Madness bracket is one of the most popular ways in America to become involved in sports. Last year, approximately 36.5 million adults filled out a bracket on various sites such as ESPN and CBS. In addition, many communities — such as workplaces or team fanbases — often make groups that every member can join. There they compete within themselves to have the best bracket. You can fill out one online very easily, but we’ll be watching to make sure Virginia is going to at least the Final Four. Will I do it? Probably not. But if you want to claim you’re the biggest Virginia fanatic, you have to predict that the Cavaliers will hang a banner.

Now I’m extremely excited. How can I watch?

Games will air on one of four networks throughout the tournament — CBS, TNT, TBS or trutv. If you have cable, you can watch on any of those channels throughout March Madness. If not, though, March Madness Live is also an option. This is a website that streams every game if you have your provider information from home. Either way, each game will be televised live.

Thanks for all of the information! I can’t wait to see who wins it all.

Neither can I! Now it’s time to celebrate the best three weeks of the sports calendar in the traditional American manner of watching the early games during your Thursday afternoon classes. It’s truly the best time of the year.


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