Getting Ready for the Big Dance: A Girl's Guide to March Madness

Jennifer TaglioneCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2009

In girl world, Getting Ready For the Big Dance means finding the perfect dress, a fabulous pair of designer shoes, a matching handbag, blingin' jewels, ensuring you have a really hot date and spending hours primping in front of the mirror.

In sports world, The Big Dance is the NCAA Basketball Tournament and Getting Ready for it means finding out who makes the cut on Selection Sunday, carefully designing a fabulous bracket, a big screen ready with CBS and NCAA Cable Packages with matching NCAA applications for IPhones, blackberries, Internet, etc., spending as much money on office and online pools as you would fine jewelry, ensuring you have enough PTO to cover calling in sick to work until April and preparing to spend hours and days in front of the television or computer screen watching every game possible.

If you've never experienced the Big Dance, also known as March Madness, it's best to be prepared. I've already given you Elite 8 Reasons to Watch March Madness. Now I'm going to explain how to watch it. Going to break it down into:

  • What is March Madness? Why is Selection Sunday important? Why on earth is everyone talking about Cinderella and their Super Sweet 16?
  • Bracketology: What the heck is the bracket and how do I fill one out and make money!
  • NBA vs. NCAA: Isn't it all basketball?
  • Basketball Basics: Everything you need to know to understand what's going on

First up, what is this Madness?


What exactly is March Madness?

It refers to the madness that sweeps the nation from March until the beginning of April officially known as the NCAA Basketball Tournament. College Basketball is divided into Divisions I, II and III and there are tournaments for all levels and for both men and women.

However, the Madness really refers to the Division I Men's Championship battle. There are 327 schools in Division I and only 65 make it to the tourney.

The tourney is the battle between those 65 college teams trying to become the national champion. In reality, the March Madness tournament only lasts a total of 11 gamedays and doesn't even kick off until the third week of March. It's Madness because there are so many highly charged and drama-filled games packed into those 11 days that it makes heads spin.

It's really hard to explain the madness, the driving obsession, to someone who has never felt it. Especially since any given Saturday during college basketball season there are dozens of games being played. What makes this so different?

The best analogy I can think of is that to fans, March Madness is like...the ultimate sweeps weeks of series finales where the winners of American Idol, DWTS, ANTM, Top Chef, Project Runway, Biggest Loser, Survivor, are all revealed PLUS it's the finale for One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, 90210, Desperate Housewives, and Grey's Anatomy...with the added bonus that it's Derek and Meredith's wedding.

Oh and you also put money down on your fave contestants for each reality TV show and on what the season-ending cliffhangers would be for each show. Can you say drama, passion, raw emotion, excitement, suspense, heartache, and celebration? In other words, Total Madness!

March Madness really is the ultimate reality TV show experience. It's do or die. The teams have one shot, one opportunity to advance to the next round. There is no do-over. There is no best-of-seven series. There is no America votes and the judges may get to save them. They lose, they go home. End of story.

What is Selection Sunday?


It is the "official" start of the Madness! (This is disputed because fans do start foaming at the mouth at the beginning of March when the conference championships begin.)

Selection Sunday is the day when the NCAA Official Selection Committee People reveal the 65 teams that get to go to the tournament. Of those 65 teams, 31 were given automatic spots when they won their Conference Championship Title.

There are 32 Conferences in the NCAA, each with a varied number of teams. I am not going to pretend to understand the logic of the conferences, because I don't.

Just know that starting in January, the teams begin conference play, meaning they play amongst themselves in their own playgrounds (Before January, teams have out-of-conference matchups).

As the season winds down, they battle for their Conference Title, the honor of being the best in their playground and the added bonus of a free ticket to the Big Dance.

Most of the remaining 34 teams are no surprise to loyal college b'ball followers because they are the schools that have been doing the best all season. Yet the committee is sequestered in deliberation all weekend like a jury in a murder trial.

No, I'm not joking. Not every team is a guarantee, there are many "on the bubble." The committee takes this very seriously!

Plus, they are not only picking the teams that get to go, they are also ranking the teams into "The Bracket."

What is "The Bubble?"


The bubble, or bubble teams, refers to the teams that are not guaranteed a spot in the tournament. The committee has to carefully weigh all the boring stats to determine if each team will make a good seed in the tournament.

The teams are "on the bubble" because their dreams of being in the tournament may be popped if they lose a game in the Conference Championship Series or if the committee thinks they just aren't that great.

Those with impressive records and solid conference games advance, and the other teams are out. Auf Wiedersehen.

What is a bracket?

According to wikipedia: "it's the diagrammatic representation of the series of games played during a tournament usually leading to a single winner, are so named for their resemblance to interconnected square or curly punctuation brackets [ ]."

For Example:


In the NCAA Tournament Bracket,

  • Teams are divided into four regions or categories: East, West, Midwest, South. Why there is no North, I have no idea.
  • There are 16 teams in each region.
  • Each team is given a ranking: #1-16 from best to worst, also known as seeds.*
  • (They are also filed into Pods. But I have absolutely no idea how to begin to explain it because reading about it was worse than trying to decipher Football Speak. Here, knock yourself out).

*Remember how I said that there are 31 automatic bids because those teams proved to be the best in their conference? Well there isn't room for 31 #1 teams in the bracket! So the committee has to reevaluate and determine their tournament rankings.

No one really knows their ranking logic. Apparently they do have a list of Decision Criteria to help them along but they aren't very good at getting it right. Since 1985, the only time all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four was last year in 2008! Maybe I should offer them a copy of the Stiletto Sports Official Rulebook for Team Selection aka "Picks"?

They actually have some sort of crazy mathematical calculation that the use to help them called RPI or Ratings Percentage Index. It's very sad that they can turn something as exciting as March Madness into a boring equation of stats, figures and rankings.

Wiki also said that "there are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (9.2 quintillion) possibilities for a 64-team NCAA bracket."

In water-cooler or bar speak, "the bracket" refers to an individual's prediction of what is going to happen in the tournament. I will not tell you the odds of actually guessing all the 64 winners in an office pool. It's very depressing! I will cover Bracketology after the teams are revealed on Selection Sunday.

Okay, so the teams are selected and ranked, now what?

The Dances of the Big Dance aka The Road to The Final Four

Then the Madness starts!

The opening round kicks off a few days before the big event with the wild card game between the 64th and 65th teams that were selected to determine which one gets to go on to the real tournament.

Basically, back in the day in 2001, the committee couldn't decide which team should be in the tourney so they made the teams fight it out. Then, they all thought, "hmm, great way to extend this March Madness thingy" and the Wild Card remained. Or something like that.

The Tournament usually begins on the third Thursday of March.

  • Round 1 boasts 32 games in 36 hours! It's insane. The winners don't get much of a break because:
  • Round 2 begins Saturday! There are 16 games in 32 hours! *Just a quick recap, that's 48 key basketball games in four days! It is one of the most highly anticipated  sports weekends of the entire year!
  • Round 3 starts the following week and is  known as the "Sweet 16" because well, there are only 16 teams left.
  • Round 4 is the Elite 8. The winners of this round are the Regional Champions.
  • Round 5 is the Final Four, the battle of the Regional Champions. The Final Four also covers the Championship game.

I have no idea why the first two rounds don't have fun names. I have decided to name them "Sassy 64" and "The Trendy and Tenacious 32."


And there you have the structure of March Madness! There are a few other key things that you need to know before the Monday after Selection Sunday!

Why do boys keep talking about Cinderella?

Because in March, she definitely becomes the star of the Big Dance! In sports, a Cinderella team is the underdog team that no one ever thought would turn out to be a Princess yet against all odds, there she is, dancing away!

I think I took the metaphor too far. I tend to get carried away with Disney Princess magic!

In any case, the Cinderellas in the tournament are the teams that, despite being ranked Nos. 9-16, make a really impressive run.

Instead of letting the bigger, better teams totally dominate, they fight back hard. Sometimes they still go down, but they go down swinging!

And other times, they advance their way through the rounds and become the unexpected princess of the dance.


Who is Dick Vitale and how do I decipher him?

Ah, good ole Dicky V!  You can't imagine March Madness without him. Dick Vitale is THE announcer of college basketball. And he is insane!

He has his own special language and an enthusiasm that rivals Barney on crack.


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