History of March Madness

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March Madness – officially known as the NCAA Division 1 basketball tournament – is an annual 68-team college knockout competition contested throughout March and into April. The term March Madness has been around since the late 1930s but was popularized by CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger in 1982.

Every year this short, action-packed tournament attracts the eyes of millions of basketball fans all over the world, many of whom compete in bracket contests, attempting to predict the outcome of every game. March Madness has become iconic in the basketball world, but where did it all begin?

84 Years of March Madness

The 2023 tournament is the 83rd edition of March Madness and will be hosted in Houston, Texas. The Houston Cougars (+650) are currently leading the March Madness odds to win the tournament on home soil, tailed by reigning champions Kansas Jayhawks (+800) and Alabama Crimson Tide (+1000).

The inaugural NCAA Division 1 championship 1 championship was contested in 1939 by just eight  but did not gain traction with the fanbase for a number of years. The National Invitation Tournament (NIT) had become synonymous with college basketball and was seen as more prestigious, and it wasn’t until the 60s that the NCAA tournament began increasing in popularity.

The Oregon Ducks were crowned the first-ever champions in 1939 when they beat Ohio State 46-33 in the final. This remains Oregon’s only title to date. The years that followed saw several different winners including Indiana, Wisconsin, Stanford and Wyoming.
As viewership and attention increased around the tournament, the number of participating teams also increased. The field doubled to include 16 teams in 1951, doubling again to 32 in 1975, before settling on the recognized 64 teams in 1985. The early-2000s saw the introduction of an opening round, with an extra four teams competing in the ‘First Four’ from 2011 to the present day.

Competition Format

Of the 68 teams that compete in March Madness, 32 qualify automatically having won their conference tournament. The other 36 are selected to take part by the NCAA committee, which rank the teams based on their performance levels during the season. The four lowest-ranked selected teams take on the four worst automatically qualified teams in the ‘First Four’ on the opening weekend, eliminating half of those teams.

The remaining 64 teams are then separated by location into four regions and compete in a series of knockout ties. The first two rounds whittle the field down to 16 teams that compete at the business end of the tournament.
The ‘Sweet 16’, ‘Elite 8’ and ‘Final Four’ cut the field down to the last two, who compete in the NCAA Championship game.

Who Has Had the Most Success at March Madness

UCLA are the most successful college in NCAA Division 1 history having claimed 11 national titles. The majority of their success spanned over a decade in the 1960s and 70s, led by the acclaimed coach John Wooden.

Wooden led UCLA to 10 championships between 1964 and 75 in a period of unparalleled dominance and holds the record for most consecutive victories (7) from 1967 to 73. He remains the most decorated coach in the competition having won twice as many titles as the next best, Mike Krzyzewski.

With eight championships, Kentucky follows UCLA as the second-most successful team. They won their first title a decade after the competition’s inception in 1948 and claimed their most recent championship in 2012.
North Carolina (6 titles), Duke (5 titles) and Indiana (5 titles) make up the top five. The former two sides have won three championships since the turn of the millennium, while Indiana experienced success throughout the 1900s.
March Madness has an incredible history to date and continues to grow in popularity. Three weeks of sporting mayhem make this unique competition one of the most entertaining in world sport.