What is the March Madness bracket?

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March Madness bracket explained

The March Madness bracket is the structure that determines which teams face off during the tournament, and therefore each team’s potential route to the NCAA Championship Game. The announcement of the bracket is eagerly anticipated every year, partially because bettors enjoy attempting to predict exactly how it will play out.

Before the bracket proper is the First Four round, in which the four lowest-seeded automatic qualifier teams and four lowest-seeded at-large teams face off for a spot in the final 64-team bracket. These games are the first to be played at March Madness, with the victors advancing to be seeded No. 11 or 16 in the first round.

In the final bracket, the 64 teams are divided and then seeded into four groups of 16 according to their region (East, Midwest, South, or West). In the first round, the region’s first seed play the No. 16 seed, the second seed play the No. 15 seed, and so on. Higher seeded teams are deliberately kept at opposite ends of the bracket, as to ensure their seeding awards them with an “easier” run to the tournament’s latter stages.

As March Madness is a single-elimination knockout tournament, from that point forwards the number of teams half in each round. The second round features 32 teams, and is followed by the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, and Final Four rounds, before two teams remain to contest the NCAA Championship Game.

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When does the March Madness bracket take place?

The March Madness bracket normally runs for around three weeks from mid-March to the first week of April. The First Four, first round, and second round take place over six consecutive days, before the remaining teams rest for three days ahead of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. There is then another four-day break ahead of the Final Four, with the Championship Game traditionally taking place two days after that.

You can learn more about the March Madness schedule with BET.CA.

Predicting the March Madness bracket

Aside from rooting for your favorite team, there is another way to be involved in March Madness throughout. Every year, fans and bettors make predictions about how every single game of the bracket will play out, meaning they not only guess which team will win the tournament, but who they will beat along the way.

While predicting the March Madness bracket always proves popular, it is notoriously difficult. Aside from the fact that you need to correctly pick 63 games without missing, there are usually enough upsets to make forecasting a perfect bracket virtually impossible. Even making it to the Sweet 16 without messing up is highly unlikely, as the chances of correctly predicting the first 48 games of the tournament are one in 281 trillion.

Only one person has ever officially had a perfect run through the tournament's first two rounds. Gregg Nigl set the record for the most correct picks to begin a March Madness bracket in 2019 with 49, but his streak ended in the second game of the Sweet 16 when Purdue defeated Tennessee in overtime.

Who takes part in March Madness?

Since the format was updated in 2011, a total of 68 college basketball teams compete in March Madness every year. These are comprised of the 32 conference champions (who qualify automatically) and 36 “at-large” teams chosen by the NCAA selection committee. The at-large teams are chosen according to several factors, and there is no limit on the number of teams that can be chosen from a specific conference. Key metrics include their overall season record, the difficulty of their schedule, and other advanced statistics.

Each game a team plays in a season is assigned to one of four quadrants, with Quadrants 1 and 2 the most critical for determining whether they make March Madness and their seeding if they do. Quadrant 1 reviews their performance in home games against the top 30 teams, neutral court games versus the top 50, and road games at the top 75. Quadrant 2 reviews home games against teams ranked 31 to 75, neutral court games versus teams ranked 51 to 100, and road games at teams ranked 76 to 135.

The at-large teams are announced at an event called Selection Sunday, which is always the Sunday before the tournament. Selection Sunday is also used to confirm which teams will be playing in the First Four round.

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What are March Madness seedings?

The 64 teams in the final March Madness bracket are seeded into four groups of 16. The supposed best team in a region is awarded the No. 1 seed, while the weakest team is given the No. 16 seed.

The seedings are also used to decide who plays who in the first round: No. 1 seeds play No. 16 seeds, No. 2 seeds play No. 15 seeds and so on. The bracket also divides the 16 seeds in each region into four pods to ensure that the higher seeded teams cannot face each other until the final rounds. The pods are decided as follows:

  • Pod 1: No. 1 vs. No. 16, No. 8 vs. No. 9

  • Pod 2: No. 5 vs. No. 12, No. 4 vs. No. 13

  • Pod 3: No. 6 vs. No. 11, No. 3 vs. No. 14

  • Pod 4: No. 7 vs. No. 10, No. 2 vs. No. 15

For instance, if a No. 1 seed was to beat their No. 16 seed opponents in the opening round, they would then face the No. 8 or 9 seed in the second round. If they won that game, they would face the remaining team from Pot 2, and if they won that game, then the remaining team from the eight in Pods 3 and 4.

March Madness bracket FAQs

What are the odds of predicting a perfect March Madness bracket?
How many games must a team win to become March Madness champions?
Who was the last overall No.1 seed to win March Madness?

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BET.CA staff
BET.CA staff