Basketball For Dummies
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) hosts a basketball tournament every year that begins the week of March 19. The tournament includes 68 men’s teams and 68 women’s teams. (The NCAA expanded the women's field from 64 to 68 in 2022.)

The men’s tournament is televised on CBS, TBS, TNT, and TruTV network affiliate stations; the women’s tournament will be available on ESPN, the ESPN app, ABC (for the title game), and Sling TV.

©Melinda Nagy / Adobe Stock

The schedule for the 2024 men’s NCAA March Madness tournament is as follows:

  • Selection Sunday: March 17 (brackets, seeds, and team selections)
  • First four: March 19-20
  • First round: March 21-22
  • Second round: March 23-24
  • Sweet 16: March 28-29
  • Elite Eight: March 30-31
  • Final Four: April 6
  • National Championship: April 8
The schedule for the 2024 women’s NCAA March Madness tournament is as follows:
  • Selection Sunday: March 17 (brackets, seeds, and team selections)
  • First four: March 20-21
  • First round: March 22-23
  • Second round: March 24-25
  • Sweet 16: March 29-30
  • Elite Eight: March 31-April 1
  • Final Four: April 5
  • National Championship: April 7
March Madness empty bracket with Dummies logo

Selection Sunday

Each year on Selection Sunday, 32 teams gain automatic entry into the tournament due to winning their conference’s championships. The remaining teams rely on a selection committee to be granted entry into the tournament.

This process takes place on the Sunday before the March Madness Tournament begins and, therefore, is appropriately named Selection Sunday. It is also the day when the brackets and seeds are released to the public.

Brackets are the format in which the tournament runs. For example, on the day of the First Four games, there will be four brackets and eight teams playing; the four losing teams will then be removed from the tournament and the four winning teams will move to their new brackets and prepare for the next round of games.

After the First Four, the regular tournament begins with 64 brackets including the winning teams that played in the First Four. The winner from each bracket will move on to the next set of brackets until eventually all teams have been “weeded” out and only two remain to play for the championship game.

Seeds are essentially committee rankings. The teams in each division are ranked in descending order, with the strongest team (or team most likely to win) ranked in the number-one spot and the weakest team in that division is ranked number 16. The brackets are split up accordingly so the tournament's powerhouse teams are evenly distributed within the 64 brackets.

The First Four round

The First Four refers to the number of matches/brackets played — not number of teams. The First Four includes the eight lowest ranking teams in the men's division that play against each other, and the four losing teams are removed from the tournament.

This part of the tournament is also known as “First Four Out” since four of the teams will lose out of the tournament before it even has really begun.

The First Four Out was designed to get the 68 men's teams down to 64 so that the number of teams is the same as in the women's divisions. The brackets and dates, therefore, can be the same for both the men and women divisions. This part of the tournament applies only to the men's teams.

In the First Round, those 64 teams play against each other to move on to the Second Round.

Second round

In the Second Round, the remaining 32 teams play in 16 brackets, and the winners of each bracket then move on to the regional semi-finals (Sweet 16 round); the losers again are removed from the tournament.

Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds

The regional semi-finals, also known as the Sweet Sixteen, is where the final sixteen teams are set up in matches against other teams within their regional divisions. The divisions are broken up into geographical areas and listed as follows:
  • East
  • West
  • South
  • Midwest
The winners of the regional semi-finals are then moved to the regional finals where only eight teams remain, known as the Elite Eight. These eight teams play head-to-head to determine the winners, and the remaining four teams from all regions are matched up in the national semi-finals.

The Final Four

After regional finals, the remaining four teams from all regions are eligible to play in the national semi-finals. These remaining four teams are known as “The Final Four,” and this is where many people start watching the tournament. The final four teams then play, and the two winners from the national semi-finals move on to the national finals.

Championship game

The national finals or championship game is where the final two teams play to determine the winner of the current year's March Madness tournament.

The NCAA has changed the format of the game several times in its history, as well as the name. In recent years the name of the tournament has been simply “NCAA Division 1 Tournament,” but the more popular March Madness title will always remain.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Richard "Digger" Phelps is the former coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men's basketball team. Today, he's a college basketball analyst for ESPN.

John Walters is a writer at The Daily, an iPad-only national publication. He was a reporter and staff writer at Sports Illustrated for 14 years.

Tim Bourret is the sports information director at Clemson University.

This article can be found in the category: