For college basketball fans, the most anticipated month of the year has finally arrived: March Madness. Over the next two and a half weeks, 64 teams will play 63 games to determine this year’s college basketball national champion.
Whether you’re a first-time watcher, a die-hard fan, or a certified bracketologist, use our tournament guide below to brush up on what you need to know for this year’s tournament, and use our March Madness Bracket spreadsheet to make your picks (and track ours).
March Madness is the name for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. 68 teams earn tournament bids through either their regular season performance or by winning their conference championship. Teams are seeded #1 through #16 in each of four regions. In the first round, the Round of 64, the highest seeds are paired with the lowest seeds. #1 seeds face #16 seeds, #2 seeds face #15 seeds, and so on.
If there’s one thing to know about March Madness, it's that you should expect the unexpected. That’s because the tournament is played in a single-elimination format – one loss, and you’re out. So while on paper it may seem like the Final Four will be the four #1 seeds, all it takes is for one of them to have a bad game and they’re gone.
Maybe you’ve heard someone say that a team in the tournament is “going dancing”. Or maybe someone described a team to you as “Cinderella”. This doesn’t mean that Tennessee is going to tango on the court, or that Gonzaga and Georgia State will show up in matching glass slippers.
Like many things in sports, March Madness has a whole lingo of its own.
The tournament is often referred to as The Big Dance, so when a team earns a tournament bid they’ll say that they’re “going dancing”. The term dates all the way back to 1977 and was originated by Marquette coach Al McGuire.
An upset is when a lower seeded team beats a higher seeded team. While higher seeds are almost always favored to win, every single tournament has its share of upsets. Sometimes these upsets are massive, like in 2018 when UMBC became the first #16 seed to ever knock out a #1 seed, Virginia. That may have left a bit of a chip on Virginia’s shoulder – they came back the next year to win the whole thing.
A Cinderella team – named after the fairy tale character – is one that goes a lot further in the tournament than is expected of their seed. Along the way, a Cinderella team has to pull off a series of upsets over higher seeded teams. One of the most notable recent Cinderellas was Loyola-Chicago, who made it to the Final Four as a #11 seed in the 2018 tournament.
One term you should take literally: cutting down the nets. When a team wins the tournament, they get up on a ladder with a pair of scissors and cut the net off one of the baskets on the court.
Bracketology is the process of predicting every game in the tournament by filling out a bracket. There’s no “right way” to make your picks – some people rely on statistics, others trust their gut feelings, and some just pick teams whose logos they like.
No matter how you fill out your bracket, it's basically statistically impossible to get every pick right. That’s because there are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, or 9.2 quintillion, possible combinations. So don’t sweat it if your bracket is busted on day one of the tournament – even making it out of the Round of 64 with a perfect bracket is near impossible.
Even though you probably, scratch that, definitely won’t make a perfect bracket, one of the best parts of March Madness is giving it a shot. We’ve created a March Madness bracket of our own to help you make your picks. Create a copy of the workbook to make your own picks, and check our Spreadsheet.com features like Related rows by double clicking on each team’s name to learn more about them.
We’ll be updating the Live Bracket sheet throughout the tournament so you can stay up to date on the results of each game in real time. There’s also information on when and where to watch each game so you don’t miss a moment of the action. Want to see how your picks stack up against ours? Take a look at the Our Picks sheet to see who we’ve picked to win it all, and who we think will upset the competition.