What Is March Madness in US College Basketball?

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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on January 18, 2023

American college basketball fans get excited about the March Madness tournament. This guide is for international students wondering: “What is March Madness?”

The University of Kansas Jayhawk mascot, standing in the seating area of the basketball arena, as seen from behind.

In the month of March, fans of American college basketball get excited about March Madness. As an international student, you may be wondering: What is March Madness? The short answer is it is the NCAA college basketball tournament season. College basketball teams from all over the United States play against each other to be named NCAA champions. Keep reading to find out why people get so excited about it and how you can join in the fun. 

January 2023 update

The NCAA continues its measures to make March Madness as safe as possible for all visitors and participants, following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for student athletes and fans.

It is recommended that fans stay home if they are experiencing any of the common COVID-19 symptoms, including having a fever over 100°F, a cough, chills, muscle pain, shortness of breath, sore throat, and/or loss of smell or taste. 

Depending on venue policies and CDC recommendations, fans may also be required to wear a mask at all times, practice physical distancing, and more. As these policies are constantly changing and developing, it is important to stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 policies from the NCAA

What Is March Madness?

The first March Madness basketball game was played in 1939. The tournament marks the end of the American college basketball season and determines that year’s championship team. Some people call it the Big Dance — this nickname comes from a comment one basketball coach made to a reporter about the tournament back in 1977.

Basketball teams from 68 US colleges and universities play in the March Madness tournament. These teams come from four regions of the country: East, Midwest, South, and West. In the early games, teams play against others in their region, with winners advancing and losers being eliminated. The “Sweet 16” are the last 16 teams left in the tournament. The “Elite Eight” are the last eight. 

The outcome of those final eight games determines the Final Four. Those last four teams, one from each region of the United States, play against each other to see who will win the championship title. 

I am a basketball fan and KU is famous for its basketball team. … A game inside Allen Fieldhouse is really amazing.” – Boling from China, University of Kansas

Brackets show the pairings for games. March Madness is a single-elimination event, which means that a team is removed from the tournament after one loss. Fans sometimes refer to this as one-and-done. You can see last year’s bracket here

You might hear someone mention a “bracket buster,” a team that wins even though they were not expected to. Their win “busts” the bracket because it changes the pairings for the rest of the tournament. If a team keeps winning unexpectedly, you might hear them called a “Cinderella” team after the fairy tale character.

March Madness basketball is popular because it is high-stakes and fast-paced. Even people who are not college basketball fans sometimes watch the games. It is easy to get excited when a single loss can knock a team out of the competition.

The tournament also happens during an otherwise quiet time. American football season is over and baseball has not yet started. With so many games to watch and teams from all over the country playing, sports fans can usually find a team or specific players to get excited about.

So, when is March Madness? The March Madness tournament officially starts on Selection Sunday, when the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee names the teams they have selected to play in the tournament. In 2023, Selection Sunday is March 12. Over the following three weeks, college basketball teams will play 67 games.

2023 March Madness Basketball

Teams are ranked by the committee based on their performance during the rest of the season. In the First Four, the highest-ranking teams will play against the lowest-ranking team in their region. The second-place team will play against the 16th ranked team, and so on. 

Team rankings are called seeds. So, the top teams in each region are known as the first-seed teams. Most college basketball experts make predictions on which team will take the number-one spot this year, with Gonzaga University among the top contenders. 

Here is the schedule for March Madness 2023: 

  • First Four — March 14 and 15

  • Round 1 — March 16 and 17

  • Round 2 — March 18 and 19

  • Sweet 16 — March 23 and 24

  • Elite Eight — March 25 and 26

  • Final Four — April 1

  • National Championship — April 3

(Yes, technically March Madness ends in April!)

The First Four games will be at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The championship game will be in Houston, Texas, at the NRG Stadium.

How International Students Can Get Involved with American College Basketball

You can gather with friends to watch March Madness games on TV. If you are lucky enough to have a March Madness game played at your college, in most years, you can go watch the games live. Some campuses may host pep rallies, parties, parades, or other events to celebrate their teams. All of these get-togethers are fun ways to spend time with friends and enjoy the excitement of the tournament. 

I’ve had a lot of fun going to KU basketball games. The student section is so loud because we all cheer the KU chants together, and of course KU almost always wins, too!” – Saharsh, University of Kansas

You can even play along by setting your own brackets. Take a guess about who you think will play in each game and who will move on to the Final Four and the championship. With so many teams playing, it is difficult to guess correctly, but that is what makes it exciting.

Look at win-loss records, injuries, and who has the best players to decide which teams will be added to your bracket. (You can just fill it in randomly, too.) Being right is nice, but watching the games with friends is where you will have the most fun. 

March Madness is a fast-paced and fun cultural experience that you can only find in the USA. Whether you pick your own bracket or just watch the games on TV, March Madness is better with friends. So, gather a group and enjoy the Big Dance!


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