As basketball became more popular in the U.S. in the 1930s, the very first NCAA tournament was held in 1939 to determine college basketball’s champion. In the beginning, the tournament consisted of just eight teams. Oregon won the first NCAA tournament when there were just two regions – East and West.
Now, the NCAA tournament is one of the most watched sporting events in the country. A full 68 teams, out of the 351 NCAA Division I men’s basketball programs, qualify for the season-ending tournament. The 68 teams are divided into four different regions. The teams are selected by a committee made up of athletic directors, former coaches, and others who study the game through the entire season. The Selection Committee, as it is known, gathers during the final week of conference tournament play to begin the selection process.
Of the 68 teams that make the tournament, 32 earn an automatic berth by winning their conference tournament. Regardless of how poorly a team may have played in the regular season, the team that wins a conference tournament earns a trip to March Madness Bracket. The Ivy League was the last conference to not play a season-ending tournament. It began doing so in 2017.
The 36 remaining teams that make the tournament are selected by the committee. The committee uses such criteria as overall record, conference standing, strength of schedule, and a number of other factors to determine whether a team is worthy or not of playing in the NCAA tournament. The committee must also determine which region a team will play in and where a team will be seeded. Teams are seeded No. 1 through No. 16 with No. 1 being the best team in each region. The top seed plays the No. 16 seed, No. 2 plays No. 15, and so on.
The tournament is single elimination meaning once a team loses, it is eliminated from play. The tournament plays over three weekends to whittle down to just four teams, one from each region. The Final Four, as those four teams is called, will meet this year over the weekend of April 6th-8th in Minneapolis. The national semifinals, held on Saturday, April 6th, and the national championship game on April 8th, will take place at U.S. Bank Stadium.