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If you’re one of those people that’s never understood the madness behind March Madness, but don’t want to be the loner who doesn’t get it, look no further.
If you’re one of those people that’s never understood the madness behind March Madness, but don’t want to be the loner who doesn’t get it, look no further.Kevin JairajUSA TODAY Sports


March Madness for dummies

If you’re one of those people that’s never understood the madness behind March Madness, but don’t want to be the loner who doesn’t get it, look no further.

March Madness happens every year in March. Look, the title says this is for dummies, so don’t get mad at me for explaining the obvious. If you’ve clicked on this, it’s because you don’t understand how this tournament works, but you want to, whether it’s because you want to fit in with a group or learn how to make your own bracket - there are no shortage of reasons and it’s never too late to learn about the madness. Allow me to help!

NCAA Basketball Tournament

The first thing you need to know is that March Madness is a college basketball tournament, run by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). There is both a men’s and a women’s tournament which happen at the same time, with the dates slightly differing (full 2024 schedule is below). There are several rounds (which I will go over) played by 68 college teams. That eventually leads to the “Final Four”, when just four schools remain, who play each other to see who will go on to play in the national championship game.

How are the 68 teams chosen?

32 of the 68 teams chosen are “automatic bids”, meaning they were the teams that won their conference’s tournament and thus automatically get into the March Madness tournament. The other 36 are considered “at-large” bids, and will be selected by the NCAA Selection Committee.

Selection Sunday and the First Four

On “Selection Sunday”, which will be held on March 17th this year, the 68 teams are ranked by a selection committee based on how well they played in the regular season. The opening round of the tournament, known as the First Four (on March 19th and 20th for men and 20th and 21st for women this year) will be played to eliminate four of the 68 teams, leaving 64 remaining. The eight teams who play in the First Four are the worst four at-large bids competing against the worst four automatic bids.

Then, from those 64 teams, the tournament is split into four different regions, with 16 teams in each. The regions are East, West, South and - no, not North - Midwest. Do try and keep up. Within the regions, the teams are ranked one through 16, which will be the team’s seed. The No.1 seed should in theory be better than the No.16 seed.

After this, there are six rounds.

March Madness for dummies

First Round

This year’s First Round will be played on March 21st and 22nd for men and 22nd and 23rd for women. The No.1 teams in each region will play their region’s No.16 team. The next-highest team will play the next-lowest, etc. After this, it gets pretty simple. The teams that lose are out.

Second Round

This year, the second round (Round of 32) will be played on March 23rd and 24th for men and 24th and 25th for women. The remaining 32 teams will play in 16 brackets and the winners of each bracket then move on to the next round and the losers again are eliminated from the tournament.

More Madness:

Sweet 16

The third round (also known as Sweet 16) will be played on March 28th and 29th for men and 29th and 30th for women. At this point, there will be - you guessed it - 16 teams remaining. Those teams will be set up in games against other teams within their regional division. Within those divisions, there will be an East, West, South, and…do you remember? Nope, it’s not North, but Midwest region. The losers are eliminated and the winners move on to the next round.

Elite 8

The eight winners from the previous round will be set up in a head-to-head tournament known as the Elite Eight. This year’s Elite Eight games will be played on March 30th and 31st for men and 31st and April 1st for women. Losers go home. Winners move on. You’re starting to get it now, aren’t you?

Final Four

There are only four teams remaining at this point, known cleverly as the Final Four. This year’s Final Four will be played on April 6th for men and April 5th for women. I know, it’s called March Madness, not April Madness. But why does Oktoberfest happen in September? It’s just the way it is, okay? Now, say it with me…Losers are out. Winners move on. But this time, the winners will be only two and they will play in the championship game.

NCAA Championship game

The final championship game will be on April 8th for men and April 7th for women this year. The winner of this game is the biggest winner of all, the final, the champion, the legend for a year. They get bragging rights.

March Madness Brackets

You have probably heard all about the brackets for March Madness, and indeed it’s probably what brought you here to this article. Basically, you’ve no chance of actually winning the bracket with 100 percent accuracy, because this is nearly impossible to do and has never actually been done. Part of the “madness” of March Madness is the upsets!

Though in the First Round, we have good teams playing less-good teams, there’s been known to be plenty of unexpected upsets in the past, especially in the No.5 vs No.12 and No.6 vs No.11 games, so keep that in mind when creating your bracket. After the First Round, it just gets harder to predict. Try not to go too mad - the odds are VERY slim you’ll predict the bracket with much accuracy at all. NCAA.com went ahead and crunched the numbers for us, and to save you the headache, we’ll just tell you that your chances of picking all 63 games with 100 percent accuracy are 1 in 9.2 quintillion. Yeah, I bet that’s a number you’ve never said out loud before. But hey, it’s still fun to try, isn’t it? Just in case. Madness.

Complete men’s NCAA tournament schedule

  • Selection Sunday: Sunday, March 17
  • 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: Saturday, April 6
  • NCAA championship game: Monday, April 8

Print your men’s NCAA bracket here

2024 March Madness bracket, NCAA
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Complete women’s NCAA tournament schedule

  • Selection Sunday: 8 p.m. ET Sunday, March 17 on ESPN
  • 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: Friday, April 5 at 7:00 p.m. with the second semifinal starting 30 minutes after the first game ends. Both will be broadcast on ESPN and hosted at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • NCAA championship game: Sunday, April 7 at 3 p.m. ET on ABC, hosted at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio.

Print your women’s NCAA bracket here.

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