By Steve Chouest

March Madness is not that empty feeling we get here in Metairie during Lent after the Mardi Gras season is over as we crave to eat meat on Fridays, nor is it the descriptive term for an angry marching band member who loses their temper while marching in a parade. TheDance is not the Second Line, the Cajun Two-Step,the Alligator, or even theHoedown Throwdown.

If you follow sports or watch television during March, you’ve probably noticed a lot of talk about the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament, and that’s the March Madness we’re talking about, which ends with the big dance. If you’ve been out of the game, it’s time to learn the basic steps, so you can join in the excitement.

March Madness is used to describe the lengthy process that ultimately determines both the men and woman’s national, Division One college basketball champions, starting with the competing teams’ final push to win a conference title or to end the regular season with positive momentum, continuing with the selection and seating of the competing teams, and concluding with a mammoth 64 team, six round, elimination tournament, sometimes called “the Dance”. Winners move on to the next round. Losers go home. The national champion must win six games in a row. The last team standing is crowned the best college basketball team in the country.

A majority of the teams earn automatic bids to the tournament by winning their particular basketball conference, such as the SEC or Big 10. The remaining teams in the field of 64 are chosen by a selection committee comprised of conference commissioners and university athletic directors. The selection committee fills the remains spots upon various factors such as strength of schedule, wins on the road, wins against ranked opponents, injuries to key players, and momentum (i.e., how well the team finished the regular season. There is always a lot of speculation about which teams will be selected, how they will be “seeded”, and where they will play, including professional experts who prognosticate the final field and on-line games where people compete to predict the brackets and winners. Teams that are waiting to find out if they make the cut are said to be “on the bubble”.

The selection committee’s final field of competing teams, including team seeds, and regional destination are announced on live television. For the round one, the 64 teams are divided into the East, West, Midwest and South regions. The teams in each of the four regions are ranked or “seeded” from 1 to 16. The #1 seed plays against #16, #2 plays #15, #3 plays #14, and so forth. The pairings that show which teams will play against each other and the tournament’s progress, showing team has moved on is tracked through “brackets” or “bracketology” . In the early games, teams are usually placed fairly close to home so that more fans can attend.

Each round of games cuts the field in half because the losers are eliminated. After the first round the number of teams is reduced from 64 to 32. After the second round, the number of teams is reduced from 32 to 16 (the “Sweet Sixteen”). Round 3 reduces 16 teams to the “Elite Eight”. Round 4 determines the “Final Four”. Round 5 determines the 2 teams that will play in the championship game. The winner of the 6th game is crowned the national champion.

The NITTournament

Teams that do not get selected for the NCAA Basketball Tournament may be invited to play in the country’s first national postseason collegiate tournament, the “NIT”, which stands for the the National Invitational Tournament (and not the “Not in Tournament” tournament as some have suggested). The NIT was started in 1938 with only six teams. In recent years it has invited either 32 or 40 teams to participate in the tournament annually. The NIT is still an honor for participating teams because it is a very competitive tournament of skilled teams, it allows “bubble” teams that were not selected for the NCAA Tournament to redeem themselves or to extend their play, and it is good tournament experience for the competition teams.