How The Bracket Is Filled


With this weekend bringing about the end of the regular season and Championship Week set to begin, even the casual basketball fan is starting to get excited for full on March Madness.

Since a lot of March Madness viewers and fans are merely casual fans of the college game, I thought I’d give you a rundown of how exactly the 68 teams that eventually find their way into your bracket qualify for the tournament.

So here’s a rundown…

31 Conference champions earn what are known as automatic bids into the tournament. Of those 31 bids, 30 are decided by Conference tournaments during Championship Week (which is why next week will be nearly as exciting as the tournament itself) while the Ivy League’s automatic bid is simply determined by the regular season champion (Princeton and Harvard are currently separated by just a half-game in the standings).

After that’s where it gets messy.

37 of the 68 tournament entries are “at-large” bids selected by a 10-member NCAA Selection Committee consisting of athletic directors and conference commissioners from around the country. These at-large bids basically go to the 37 best non Conference champions as deemed by the committee. Of course, it can be pretty difficult for the committee to make a decision between a large group of teams that all have similar records and in many cases, have not all played each other. That’s where strength of schedule comes in to play when deciding how impressive a team’s résumé is. Generally speaking, a national ranking in the polls usually means a school can be assured of an at-large bid if they don’t win their Conference tournament, though there have been exceptions in the past.

The 37 at-large teams and the bracket itself is unveiled on Selection Sunday, which falls on March 17 this year.

60 teams are placed directly into the second round of the tournament, or the round of 64. The four lowest seeded automatic entries and the four lowest seeded at-large teams contest an eight-team preliminary round known as the “First Four.” The four winners of those games, played the Tuesday and Wednesday of the week March Madness begins, then join the other 60 teams in the traditional 64-team bracket.

From there, as you’re well aware, a crazy few of weeks of upsets, buzzer-beaters, crazy finishes and all around mayhem leaves one team standing to cut down the nets as national champions.

*Note: If you’re wondering why there are only 31 automatic bids despite there being 32 conferences, it’s because the winner of the Great West Conference earns an automatic entry into the much smaller Postseason Tournament*