March Madness 2019 FAQ: Your guide to the NCAA Tournament

It’s April, but March Madness is still upon us. For big college hoops fans, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. For the more ambivalent or completely clueless, all the talk of brackets, sleepers and Cinderellas — not to mention friends, loved ones, or co-workers yelling “onions!” — can be a little intimidating. So this is a guide to answer some questions you might have about America’s biggest sports tournament.

I’m embarrassed to even ask, but what is March Madness?

March Madness is the term that has come to describe the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, which begins in mid-March and runs over three weekends into early April.

When does March Madness start?

That depends on your perspective, but there are a few play-in games beginning Tuesday, March 19 (more on that later), then the first full day of games this year is Thursday, March 21. The Final Four is played on Saturday, April 6 and the national title game Monday, April 8.

Are any of our local schools going to be in the field?

Yes! Virginia (1 seed), Virginia Tech (4 seed), Maryland (6 seed) and VCU (8 seed) all made it in (as well as Old Dominon (14 seed), if you consider them local).

Old Dominion and VCU were eliminated in the first round. Maryland fell in the second round to LSU.

Virginia Tech advanced to the Sweet 16 at Capital One Arena where it fell to Duke.

Virginia advanced to its first Final Four since 1984. The Cavaliers played Auburn in Minneapolis, Saturday, April 6, and won. Virginia is heading to the NCAA national championship game for the first time in the school’s history.

How many teams play in the NCAA Tournament?

The field has expanded incrementally over the years, from just eight teams in the inaugural, 1939 tournament, up to the 68 that exist today.

Update: The field is set. Click here to check out the full bracket.

Wait, 68 teams? How does that work?

Right. So, in 2011, the tournament expanded to 68 teams to increase the number of at-large bids. As a result, the four lowest-rated automatic bids (all 16 seeds) and the four lowest-rated automatic bids (anywhere from 11 to 14 seeds, depending on how the rest of the field shapes up) compete against one another in play-in games called the First Four, held in Dayton, Ohio, the Tuesday and Wednesday before the rest of the tournament begins. That winnows the field to 64, from which an eventual champion emerges six rounds of play later.

How do teams qualify for March Madness?

Of the 68 available bids, 32 go to the winners of the 32 conference tournaments, which take place in the two weeks before the national championship begins. That leaves 36 at-large bids, which are chosen by a selection committee made up of athletic directors and conference commissioners from around the country. They group teams into four regions, the winners of which play in the Final Four.

How are the teams seeded?

The selection committee rates the teams based on their performance in the regular season and conference tournaments, using a number of different metrics. You may hear talk of Tier 1 through Tier 4 wins and losses, which are graded out based on quality of opponent and location of the game played. The NCAA also introduced a new metric this year called NET, which is intended to be an upgrade over the flawed RPI number used in years past. Ultimately, it’s a judgment call, and with efforts to prevent regular season rematches, sometimes the seeding can be controversial.

Who won March Madness 2018?

For the second time in three years, Villanova cut down the nets, beating Michigan for the national title. UCLA (11) has the most championships all time, while Georgetown (1984) and Maryland (2002) are the only local schools to have won the NCAA Tounament.

Where are the NCAA Tournament games played?

Tournament games are played at neutral sites, which move around from year to year. In 2019, first weekend games will be played in Hartford, Salt Lake City, Des Moines, Jacksonville, Tulsa, Columbus, Columbia (SC) and San Jose. For the tournament’s second weekend, games will be played in Anaheim, Louisville, Kansas City, and Washington D.C. The Final Four is in Minneapolis.

Wait, there are games in Washington D. C.?

Yep. For the first time since 2013, D.C. hosted NCAA Tournament games, with the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight at the Capital One Arena Friday, March 29 and Sunday, March 31, respectively.

What do Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight mean?

Teams that survive the first weekend of the tournament to make their regional semifinals are deemed the Sweet Sixteen. If they win their first game of the tournament’s second weekend, they earn a spot in the Elite Eight. In our case, the four surviving team from the first weekend of play in the East Regional will play the regional semifinals and finals at Capital One Arena, with the winner going to the Final Four.

Isn’t there also a women’s tournament?

There is indeed. It didn’t start until 1982, but features 64 teams with a similar selection process. Perhaps the biggest difference is that higher rated seeds host for the first two rounds before the tournament moves to neutral sites. Maryland is a perennial Final Four contender and is a 3 seed in this year’s field, meaning they’ll play either one or two games (if they win the first one) at home in College Park.

How do I watch the games?

This year’s tournament will air on CBS, TBS, TNT and True TV, with the later rounds consolidating to the more major networks.

How do I access a March Madness 2019 bracket?

Brackets are posted on sports sites like ESPN and CBS Sports as soon as the field is set on Selection Sunday. There are usually downloadable PDF formats you can print, and there are often free tournaments you can enter online for the chance to win prizes.

Is it illegal to enter a betting pool for money?

Despite the continuously changing sports betting laws both nationally and locally, technically yes, it is still illegal. This piece from 2016 gets into some of the particulars, but if you’re planning to play in a pool for money, doing so with friends or co-workers in a controlled setting eliminates nearly all of the potential issues.

What do people mean when they say “Cinderella?”

A Cinderella is a team that becomes the darling of that year’s tournament, often a school that isn’t particularly well-known coming in. Last year, UMBC’s historic first-round win and Loyola-Chicago’s incredible Final Four run as an 11-seed qualified each for the label (everyone remember U Must Be Cinderella?).

Can a Cinderella team win the whole thing?

UMBC became the first ever 16 seed to beat a 1 seed last year, when they shocked Virginia. One 15 seed has made the Sweet Sixteen (Florida Gulf Coast, 2013), one 12 seed has made the Elite Eight (Missouri, 2002) and four 11 seeds have made the Final Four, including a pair of local schools (George Mason, Loyola Chicago, LSU and VCU). The lowest seed ever to win the national title, though, was 8 seed Villanova in 1985.

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