March Madness is here which means friends, family and colleagues are urging you to put together bracket after bracket whether or not you know what you're talking about. Instead of relying on your NCAA-savvy friends to get you through another year, educate yourself on the specifics of the tournament with this helpful term sheet.
One key thing to know for 2021. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all games in this year's tournament will be played in Indianapolis rather than at locations across the country.
Most of the following terms were provided and defined by the NCAA’s website.
Automatic bid – Teams receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament when they win their conference tournament at the end of the regular season. There are normally 32 automatic bids, with one team representing each of the 32 Division I conferences. But the Ivy League canceled its season, so there will only be 31 this year.
At-large bid – The other 37 teams in the tournament (normally 36) receive an at-large bid, which is an invitation to the tournament from the Selection Committee. These are usually teams who, even though they didn’t win their conference tournaments, impressed the committee enough to participate.
Bracket Buster - If someone fills out a bracket expecting a team to go far in the tournament, but that team loses in the early rounds, that constitutes having a bracket "busted." It can make or break someone's chances in an office pool.
Bubble Team – This means that the team’s qualification is on the fence. It could be on the verge of making the tournament, but an invitation from the Selection Committee isn’t guaranteed.
Cinderella - A team that does much better than expected. This is generally a low-seeded team, such as 10-16, beating a higher-seeded opponent. Some argue a team only needs to pull a first-round upset to be a Cinderella, while others say such a team needs to at least get to the Sweet Sixteen or farther.
NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) - This debuted for the 2019 tournament. The NCAA says this tool "relies on game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses."
Regionals – Traditionally, the NCAA tournament bracket is split into four regionals: South, East, West and Midwest. Teams are assigned a regional based on how they look compared to other teams, their overall seed, their geographic proximity to that region and other factors. But in 2021, all of the tournament games will be played in Indianapolis to adhere to COVID protocols and ensure the best chance for the tournament to go off without a hitch. While the region names are still being used for the bracket, everyone is sticking around Indianapolis.
S-curve - The system by which teams will be placed in the bracket just for the 2021 tournament. Since all games are being played in one area, thereby taking geography out of the equation, the NCAA has changed how it is seeding teams. This means the top No. 1 seed may not find itself facing the top No. 2 seed in the Elite Eight, as often happens.
Seed – There are 68 teams which earn bids to the tournament and each one receives a seed (1-16) that determines where the team will be placed in each regional. The highest-ranked team faces the lowest-ranked team in each region of the bracket. The four lowest-seeded at-large teams and the four lowest-seeded automatic qualifiers go to the "First Four."
Selection Committee – The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Committee is responsible for how the entire tournament is organized. They choose the participating teams, their seeds and put the field into a bracket based on those seeds.
Selection Sunday (March 14) - The day all 68 teams in the tournament were announced.
First Four (March 18) – Due to COVID-19 restrictions, these four games that were normally played over two days following Selection Sunday will now all be played on one day -- Thursday. These will whittle down the field from 68 to 64. That will move the first and second rounds to Friday through Monday.
Sweet Sixteen (March 27-28) – The third round of the tournament in which only 16 teams remain. The winners move on to the “Elite Eight.” It's normally played on Thursday and Friday, but it's been moved to Saturday and Sunday.
Elite Eight (March 29-30) – The fourth round of the tournament in which only eight teams remain. It’s traditionally also known as the regional championships. The winners move to the national semifinals, better known as the “Final Four.” It's normally played on Saturday and Sunday, but it's moved to Monday and Tuesday.
Final Four (April 3) – The fifth round of the tournament in which only four teams remain. The winners move on to the championship game.