By Kacey Kroh, Abshier House, Abshier House

The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) hosts a basketball tournament every year that begins the week of March 15. The tournament is televised on CBS, TBS, TNT, and TRUtv network affiliate stations. The tournament schedule for 2015 is as follows:

  • Selection Sunday — 3/15 (Brackets, Seeds, and Team Selections)

  • First Four — 3/17–3/18 (First Four Out)

  • Second and Third Rounds — 3/19–3/22 (Round of 64 and Round of 32)

  • Regional Semi-finals — 3/26–3/28 (Sweet Sixteen)

  • Regional Finals — 3/27–3/29 (Elite Eight)

  • National Semi-finals — 4/4 (Final Four)

  • National Finals — 4/6 (Championship Game)

Selection Sunday

There are a total of 68 men’s teams and 64 women’s teams in the NCAA tournament. 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. Selection Sunday is also the day when the brackets and seeds are released to the public.

In 2015, Selection Sunday falls on March 15, but in other years, it would be the Sunday before the 15th. For example, if Selection Sunday lands on the 11th or 12th, then the first game would be on the 15th, which would land on a Wednesday or Thursday.

Brackets are the format in which the tournament runs. For example, on the day of the “First Four” there will be four brackets and eight teams playing; the four losing teams then will be removed from the tournament and the four winning teams will move to their new brackets and prepare for the “Round of 64.”

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 #1 spot and the weakest team in that division is ranked #16. The brackets are split up accordingly so the tournament’s powerhouse teams are evenly distributed within the 64 brackets.

In round two, the 64 brackets are split into four brackets of 16, within the 16 brackets, #1 plays against #16, #2 plays against #15, and so on in all four bracket sets.

First Four

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.

Second and third rounds

The second round (Round of 64) is the round where all the 64 teams play in 32 brackets, and the winners of each bracket then move onto the third round; the losing teams are no longer in the tournament.

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

Keep in mind this part of the tournament is hard to follow if you are trying to keep tabs on all 64 teams. Try to only keep tabs on the teams that interest you and follow the brackets more closely toward the end of the tournament. Or, tune into your favorite sports show to get the highlights.

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Use the scoring bracket shown to track your wins and losses. Click here for full PDF of the NCAA bracket. Make sure to make a copy of your picks when you turn in your form for the office pool!

Regional semi-finals and finals

The regional semi-finals, also known as the Sweet Sixteen, is where the final sixteen teams are setup 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.

NCAA 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.