March Madness Origin Story playcollegebasketball,org

What is March Madness? Here’s the Origin Story & All the Facts!

I don’t have to say it, it has already been said but, March Madness is one of the biggest, most exciting events anticipated by basketball players and fans all over the world! It has been around since 1939 and shows no signs of stopping. We all love this single-elimination tournament of 68 teams that compete in 7 rounds for the National Championship every year. You never has to miss a game again as every March Madness game will be broadcast on either TBS, TNT, TruTV or CBS. For those of you who prefer to watch online, you can also stream every game on March Madness Live and not miss a beat. Now lets dive into the nitty-gritty of how this March Madness came about and what lingo you need to know so you can follow the tournaments breakdowns and analysis.


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1939 saw the first NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament. Since then, it has been held every year until the 2019-20 season which was canceled in 2020 due to the breakout of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the early days of the tournament, there were only eight teams participating with Oregon beating Ohio State 46-33 for the Championship title. In 1951, the field doubled to 16 teams. The tournament kept expanding over the next few decades. It wasn’t until 1985, when today’s format of a 64-team tournament began.

In 2001, the Mountain West Conference joined NCAA Division 1 and received an automatic bid which pushed the total teams to 65. Because of this, a single game was added prior to the first round. In 2011, three more teams were added, which meant three more games were added prior to the first round. This resulted in the First Four round out.


When doing some research the name Henry V. Porter popped up a lot. Who is Henry V. Porter? Henry was reportedly the first person to coin the phrase “March Madness”. He was the Assistant Executive Secretary at the Illinois High School Association. The phrase was not originally in reference to college basketball but to how the high school basketball fans looked at the high school’s basketball championship game.

The term “March Madness” didn’t really find its way to the NCAA D1 tournament until a CBS broadcaster called Brent Musburger used it during coverage of the 1982 tournament. Since then, the connection with March Madness and college basketball has been solidified. The term has been synonymous with the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament ever since!


There are two ways for a D1 basketball team to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. Lets take a look at the two in more detail.

ROUTE #1 – AUTOMATIC QUALIFIERS: The 32 NCAA Division 1 conferences who all receive an automatic bid which they each award to the team that wins the post-season conference tournament (regardless of how a team performed during the regular season). The team who wins their conference tournament automatically receive a bid to the NCAA tournament.

ROUTE #2 – AN INVITE: This is when the Selection Committee gets together for a meeting on Selection Sunday after all regular season and conference tournament games are played. At this meeting they decide which 36 teams that are not automatic qualifiers have what it takes to earn an invitation to the tournament. They then invite the teams they have selected to play in the tournament. This is called an “at large bid“. There is no set formula that determines whether a team receives an at-large bid or not. This is because there are so many different stats and rankings that the Selection Committee takes into account before they come to a final decision.

NOTE: Once the field of 68 is finalized, each team is assigned a seed and placed in one of four regions. This determines the teams first round match-ups and their path to the championship.


As we have previously established, March Madness is made up of 68 teams. Before any tournament game is played there is what’s called “Selection Sunday”. Once selected, the teams are ranked from 1 to 68 by the Selection Committee. The best team (based on regular season and conference tournament performance) is the #1 seed and so on.

Once the games begin, four of those teams are eliminated in the opening round of the tournament which is known as the “First Four”. This leaves a field of 64 for the first round of basketball match-ups. The first round 64 teams are then split into four regions of 16 teams each. Within these regions, each basketball team is ranked again 1 to 16 which is the team’s ranking seed within the region.

First-round match-ups are determined by the top team (#1 seed) and the bottom team (#16 seed) in the region playing against each other. The formula is the same as you go down/up the number of seeds in the region for example: #2 vs #15, #3 vs #14, #4 vs #13 and so on.


When watching March Madness you will start to notice different stats, terms and acronyms being said among presenters, coaches, players and peers. It can be helpful for a player and basketball fans to know what these mean. No need to feel like you’re not sure what’s going on exactly. Here is a useful list for you to refer to when you’re watching the pre-game, game and post-game commentators:

At-Large Bid – The selection committee hands out 36 at-large bids to teams that did not win their conference tournament but impressed the committee enough to earn a run at the tournament.

NOTE: There is no limit on the number of at-large teams the Selection Committee can select from one conference.

Automatic Bid – NCAA D1 has 32 conferences with each conference having their own conference tournament at the end of the regular season. Teams who win the regular season conference tournament automatically earn a trip to the March Madness tournament.

AP Ranking – Since 1948, the Associated Press has been ranking the top NCAA D1 basketball teams. The poll ranks the top 25 teams from the ballots of 65 sports journalists across the USA.

NOTE: The AP ranking has no official influence in the selection process. The #1 ranking in the AP poll does not guarantee a team a bid to the NCAA tournament.

BPI – This stands for Basketball’s Power Index. This is an index created by ESPN. It is a statistic that measures how far above or below average every team is. This stat “projects” how well the team will do going forward. The two measurements that the index uses are as follows:

  • BPI Offense: a measure of a team’s offensive strength compared to an average offense.
  • BPI Defense: a measure of a team’s defensive strength compared to an average defense.

NOTE: The BPI is calculated by finding the difference between these two measurements. 

The bubble – A team that is “on the bubble” means a team is on the verge of making the field of 68 but it could go either way.

Cinderella – A cinderella team is a team who is doing way better than expected.

Defensive efficiency – This statistic calculates the points allowed per 100 defensive possessions.

Elite Eight – The Elite Eight is the final game for each region before the four winners move on to the national semifinal, known as the Final Four. It is the fourth round of the tournament where only eight teams remain.

Final Four – This is the fifth round of the March Madness tournament. At this point only four teams remain. This is why it is known as the Final Four. This is the penultimate round of the tournament. The winners of each regional compete for a chance to play in the championship game!

First Four – A new round was added to the March Madness format when the tournament was expanded to 68 teams. The First Four are 4 games which are played on Tuesday and Wednesday after Selection Sunday. This determines which of the eight teams playing goes on to the first round of the tournament.

First Four Out  These are the teams that will not make the NCAA tournament but, will be the top-seeded teams in the NIT Championship.

Last Four In – This is an unofficial term referring to the final four teams that receive “at-large bids” to the tournament and are usually “bubble” teams.

NET — This stands for the NCAA Evaluation Tool. Came in as a new ranking in 2018-19. This ranking relies on the following:

  • game results
  • strength of schedule
  • game location
  • scoring margin
  • net offensive
  • defensive efficiency
  • the quality of wins and losses

The ranking replaced RPI as the main sorting tool for the selection committee. The NET includes the omission of game date and order to give equal importance to both early and late season games. They also include a cap of 10 points for winning margin to prevent teams needlessly running up the score in a game where the outcome was certain.

Offensive efficiency — Points scored per 100 offensive possessions.

Pace/Tempo — This is an estimate of the number of possessions a team has per regulation 40 minutes per game.

Per-40 Stats — This is a reference used to compare two or more players who do not play the same amount of minutes per game. It is measured by taking each statistic, dividing it by the minutes played per game, and then multiplying it by 40.

Quadrants (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4) — The Selection Committee divides the team’s record into four quadrants on each team sheet. This is done to determine the strength of a team’s wins or losses. The quadrants serve as an indicator of how good a team’s wins are, or, how bad their losses are. Each quadrant is divided based on a combination of the location of the game [Home (H), Neutral court (N), or Away (A) and the opponent’s NET ranking].

Regional — March Madness tournament bracket is split into four regionals: South, East, West, and Midwest. Teams are assigned a regional based on their overall seed, proximity to the regional, the other teams in that regional etc.

Seed — There are 68 teams who earn bids to the NCAA tournament. Each team receives a “seed”. These seeds are numbered from 1 to 68 in the overall tournament ranking and 1 to 16 in the regionals bracket. This overall ranking affects the order in which team locations are selected as the higher-ranked teams get preference. It also indicates which teams play in the First Four.

NOTE: The four lowest-seeded at-large teams and the four lowest-seeded automatic qualifiers go to the First Four.

Selection Sunday – This is the day when the Selection Committee announces the tournament field.

Strength of record – Strength of Record or SOR is a measurement of a team accomplishment based on how difficult a team’s W-L record is to achieve.

Strength of schedule – Strength of Schedule or SOS measures the difficulty of a team’s schedule, based on the win percentage of the team’s opponents.

Sweet 16 — This is the third round of the March Madness tournament. Only 16 teams remain at this stage. The winner of each game will play in the Elite Eight.

Team sheet — The team sheet contains detailed team information about the teams strength of schedule, performance against top-50 teams and home/road records. Every team in Division 1 has one. It helps the Committee get a complete picture of that team’s performance.


Since March Madness began, there have been 37 different teams that have won a Championship. However, UCLA Bruins have won the most out of any team, with 11 Championships under their belt. Most of which came under the legendary Head Coach, Coach John Wooden. UCLA’s last Championship win was back in 1995.


Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski for Duke (1980-2022) holds the record for the most tournament wins and has five national titles to his name. A legend.


Below, you can check out the men’s March Madness Championship winner from all the previous years – going all the way back to 1939!

Most Recent Winners:

  • 2023 – Champions: UConn (31-8) – Head Coach: Dan Hurley – Score: 76-59 – Runner Up: San Diego State – Site: Houston Texas
  • 2022 – Champions: Kansas (34-6) – Head Coach: Bill Self – Score: 72-69 – Runner Up: North Carolina – Site: New Orleans, Louisiana
2021Baylor (28-2)Scott Drew86-70GonzagaIndianpolis, Ind.
2020Season cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic
2019Virginia (35-3)Tony Bennett85-77 (OT)Texas TechMinneapolis, Minn.
2018Villanova (36-4)Jay Wright79-62MichiganSan Antonio, Tex.
2017North Carolina (33-7)Roy Williams71-65GonzagaPhoenix, Ariz.
2016Villanova (35-5)Jay Wright77-74North CarolinaHouston, Texas
2015Duke (35-4)Mike Krzyzewski68-63WisconsinIndianapolis, Ind.
2014Connecticut (32-8)Kevin Ollie60-54KentuckyArlington, Texas
2013Louisville (35-5)Rick Pitino82-76MichiganAtlanta, Ga.
2012Kentucky (38-2)John Calipari67-59KansasNew Orleans, La.
2011Connecticut (32-9)Jim Calhoun53-41ButlerHouston, Texas
2010Duke (35-5)Mike Krzyzewski61-59ButlerIndianapolis, Ind.
2009North Carolina (34-4)Roy Williams89-72Michigan StateDetroit, Mich.
2008Kansas (37-3)Bill Self75-68 (OT)MemphisSan Antonio, Texas
2007Florida (35-5)Billy Donovan84-75Ohio StateAtlanta, Ga.
2006Florida (33-6)Billy Donovan73-57UCLAIndianapolis, Ind.
2005North Carolina (33-4)Roy Williams75-70IllinoisSt. Louis, Mo.
2004Connecticut (33-6)Jim Calhoun82-73Georgia TechSan Antonio, Texas
2003Syracuse (30-5)Jim Boeheim81-78KansasNew Orleans, La.
2002Maryland (32-4)Gary Williams64-52IndianaAtlanta, Ga.
2001Duke (35-4)Mike Krzyzewski82-72ArizonaMinneapolis, Minn.
2000Michigan State (32-7)Tom Izzo89-76FloridaIndianapolis, Ind.
1999Connecticut (34-2)Jim Calhoun77-74DukeSt. Petersburg, Fla.
1998Kentucky (35-4)Tubby Smith78-69UtahSan Antonio, Texas
1997Arizona (25-9)Lute Olson84-79 (OT)KentuckyIndianapolis, Ind.
1996Kentucky (34-2)Rick Pitino76-67SyracuseEast Rutherford, N.J.
1995UCLA (31-2)Jim Harrick89-78ArkansasSeattle, Wash.
1994Arkansas (31-3)Nolan Richardson76-72DukeCharlotte, N.C.
1993North Carolina (34-4)Dean Smith77-71MichiganNew Orleans, La.
1992Duke (34-2)Mike Krzyzewski71-51MichiganMinneapolis, Minn.
1991Duke (32-7)Mike Krzyzewski72-65KansasIndianapolis, Ind.
1990UNLV (35-5)Jerry Tarkanian103-73DukeDenver, Colo.
1989Michigan (30-7)Steve Fisher80-79 (OT)Seton HallSeattle, Wash.
1988Kansas (27-11)Larry Brown83-79OklahomaKansas City, Mo.
1987Indiana (30-4)Bob Knight74-73SyracuseNew Orleans, La.
1986Louisville (32-7)Denny Crum72-69DukeDallas, Texas
1985Villanova (25-10)Rollie Massimino66-64GeorgetownLexington, Ky,
1984Georgetown (34-3)John Thompson84-75HoustonSeattle, Wash.
1983North Carolina State (26-10)Jim Valvano54-52HoustonAlbuquerque, N.M.
1982North Carolina (32-2)Dean Smith63-62GeorgetownNew Orleans, La.
1981Indiana (26-9)Bob Knight63-50North CarolinaPhiladelphia, Pa.
1980Louisville (33-3)Denny Crum59-54UCLAIndianapolis, Ind.
1979Michigan State (26-6)Jud Heathcote75-64Indiana StateSalt Lake City, Utah
1978Kentucky (30-2)Joe Hall94-88DukeSt. Louis, Mo.
1977Marquette (25-7)Al McGuire67-59North CarolinaAtlanta, Ga.
1976Indiana (32-0)Bob Knight86-68MichiganPhiladelphia, Pa.
1975UCLA (28-3)John Wooden92-85KentuckySan Diego, Calif.
1974North Carolina State (30-1)Norm Sloan76-64MarquetteGreensboro, N.C.
1973UCLA (30-0)John Wooden87-66Memphis StateSt. Louis, Mo.
1972UCLA (30-0)John Wooden81-76Florida StateLos Angeles, Calif.
1971UCLA (29-1)John Wooden68-62VillanovaHouston, Texas
1970UCLA (28-2)John Wooden80-69JacksonvilleCollege Park, Md.
1969UCLA (29-1)John Wooden92-72PurdueLouisville, Ky.
1968UCLA (29-1)John Wooden78-55North CarolinaLos Angeles, Calif.
1967UCLA (30-0)John Wooden79-64DaytonLouisville, Ky.
1966UTEP (28-1)Don Haskins72-65KentuckyCollege Park, Md.
1965UCLA (28-2)John Wooden91-80MichiganPortland, Ore.
1964UCLA (30-0)John Wooden98-83DukeKansas City, Mo.
1963Loyola (Ill.) (29-2)George Ireland60-58 (OT)CincinnatiLouisville, Ky.
1962Cincinnati (29-2)Ed Jucker71-59Ohio StateLouisville, Ky.
1961Cincinnati (27-3)Ed Jucker70-65 (OT)Ohio StateKansas City, Mo.
1960Ohio State (25-3)Fred Taylor75-55CaliforniaDaly City, Calif.
1959California (25-4)Pete Newell71-70West VirginiaLouisville, Ky.
1958Kentucky (23-6)Adolph Rupp84-72SeattleLouisville, Ky.
1957North Carolina (32-0)Frank McGuire54-53 (3OT)KansasKansas City, Mo.
1956San Francisco (29-0)Phil Woolpert83-71IowaEvanston, Ill.
1955San Francisco (28-1)Phil Woolpert77-63LaSalleKansas City, Mo.
1954La Salle (26-4)Ken Loeffler92-76BradleyKansas City, Mo.
1953Indiana (23-3)Branch McCracken69-68KansasKansas City, Mo.
1952Kansas (28-3)Phog Allen80-63St. John’sSeattle, Wash.
1951Kentucky (32-2)Adolph Rupp68-58Kansas StateMinneapolis, Minn.
1950CCNY (24-5)Nat Holman71-68BradleyNew York, N.Y.
1949Kentucky (32-2)Adolph Rupp46-36Oklahoma A&MSeattle, Wash.
1948Kentucky (36-3)Adolph Rupp58-42BaylorNew York, N.Y.
1947Holy Cross (27-3)Doggie Julian58-47OklahomaNew York, N.Y.
1946Oklahoma State (31-2)Henry Iba43-40North CarolinaNew York, N.Y.
1945Oklahoma State (27-4)Henry Iba49-45NYUNew York, N.Y.
1944Utah (21-4)Vadal Peterson42-40 (OT)DartmouthNew York, N.Y.
1943Wyoming (31-2)Everett Shelton46-34GeorgetownNew York, N.Y.
1942Stanford (28-4)Everett Dean53-38DartmouthKansas City, Mo.
1941Wisconsin (20-3)Bud Foster39-34Washington StateKansas City, Mo.
1940Indiana (20-3)Branch McCracken60-42KansasKansas City, Mo.
1939Oregon (29-5)Howard Hobson46-33Ohio StateEvanston, Ill.


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