“What is March Madness?” and 14 NCAA basketball phrases you need to know

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It’s that time of the year when everyone from college basketball fanatics to haven’t-watched-a-basketball-game-in-my-life / since last March Madness all print out and populate out their NCAA brackets to join their March Madness office pool.

And as with any huge event or cultural phenomenon that’s been around for generations, it’s developed it’s own language in the form of a handful of acronyms, metaphors, colloquialisms and other shorthand references. Since we’re more basketball fanatic than casual fan, we’re quite aware of some of the more popular phrases that might have novices scratching their heads, so we decided to create this quick March Madness Dictionary; a guide to the NCAA tournament phrases you need to know.

What does March Madness mean?

At Large: What does “At-Large” mean when it comes to March Madness? This means that any team that hasn’t locked up an automatic berth during Championship Week is a team that is at-large. And usually it’s worded as an at-large bid.

Automatic Berth: No this isn’t Mary giving birth to Jesus, but kinda, I guess. An Automatic Berth refers to the teams that win their respective conference tournaments during Championship Week. No matter what their record is, those teams earn a spot in the NCAA college basketball tournament.

Blue Bloods is a moniker that is reserved for the college basketball programs that have had consistently the most success during college basketball’s regular season but have won multiple NCAA D1 championships. Confirmed and notable “Blue Bloods” include the Kentucky Wildcats, North Carolina Tarheels, Kansas Jayhawks and the Duke Blue Devils.

Bracket: The bracket isn’t an uncommon term that only exists during March Madness, but it’s a word that is referenced often enough during the tournament that we want to include a definition. The Bracket in the context of college basketball refers to the 68 teams that make the field and how they’re matched up on paper — with approximately 34 brackets like this –[

college basketball bracket
Courtesy: interbasket.net

Bubble: Not sure where this comes from, but the bubble refers to any team that has played well enough to be considered for the tournament, but isn’t a lock to make the field of 68 teams.

Championship Week: All college basketball teams play in a conference and every conference has a tournament. Most conference tournaments happen in the span of 4 days, but all of them happen in the span of late February to early March which is considered Championship Week even though it’s longer than a week — yep, it’s a misnomer.

Cinderella: Any lower-ranked team that upsets a higher-rank team to unexpectedly advance deeper into the tournament. Usually a Cinderella is seeded/ranked lower than 7 or 8.

First Four: Back in 2010, the NCAA expanded the field to 68 teams so that four teams played two games before the official tournament started. These four teams attempting to play into the larger bracket as referred to as the First Four.

Final Four: Pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re reading this, it might not be to those that don’t watch basketball often and want to be certain. The Final Four is in reference to the last four teams in the tournament. The four teams will be matched up in the East and West bracket where in a single-elimination game that will see the winners advance to the championship match.

March Madness: In other words, this is the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament or the college basketball tournament for both men’s and women’s. The March part is because the vast majority of games happens in the month of March and the ‘Madness’ refers to the dozen or so close games that end on a buzzer beater or smaller, unknown colleges hotbeds defeating large universities pedigree’d in basketball that happen during the tournament.

NCAA: The NCAA is an acronym for National Collegiate Athletic Association and it oversees all the sports in accredited colleges. Their official website is NCAA.com

Selection Sunday: The tournament officially starts when the teams are decided on and are inserted into the bracket. Selection Sunday is when this all happens; the NCAA committee chooses the 68 teams that make it into the tournament primarily based on a team’s overall performance, strength of schedule, how well they played (or didn’t) against quality opponents, and team record.

Sweet Sixteen is the common and casual way of referring to the 16 teams that remain in the regional semifinals of the NCAA D1 tournament field. The “Sweet 16” has usually been played on the second Thursday and Friday of March Madness. Learn more about the teams with the most appearances in the Sweet Sixteen.

Upsets: Upsets is related to “Cinderellas”. In the tournament, each team is given a rank or seed” from #1 to #16 depending on how the selection committee feels like they performed. The higher a team is seeded the lower-seeded the team they play will be in — this is especially true in the first round. So “upsets” happen when a lower seeded team defeats a higher seeded team. When this happens, the larger the difference between their seeded ranks, the bigger the upset. For example, a 16th-seeded team always plays a #1 seeded team in the first round and a #16 seed has never come out victorious. There have been close calls, but that’s it.

That’s all we got for you right now. We hope that this little glossary of March Madness terms’ respective definitions has clarified what the hell is actually going on. We also hope it’s brought into focus why so many college basketball fans go crazy during this time of year, so much so that it’s introduced so many unique words and phrases into the American lexicon.

Are we missing any words or phrases that you’d like to see or add? If so, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.

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