What is March Madness in the USA?

In the United States, the College Basketball scene has as many followers as its professional counterpart, the NBA. Firstly, there are simply more teams involved with 64 college teams at the elite level, compared to 30 franchises in the pro game.

Those 64 teams take part each year in a competition which has become known as March Madness. It’s one of the most anticipated events in any US sport, but what’s it all about?

A Double Threat

There are two clear clues in the name. March Madness takes place in the third month of the year, while the frenetic pace of the tournament adds the manic element. First held in 1939, it’s the biggest prize of all in college basketball.

All 64 teams involved in division one of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), take part. The competition is played on a straight elimination basis with the winners claiming the National Championship.

March Madness is embraced all over the basketball world. Millions of viewers tune in to watch the finals series while associated industries also get heavily involved. Sponsorship and advertising interest increases while the sports betting industry publishes an extensive set of march madness odds throughout the tournament.

The History of March Madness

1939 saw March Madness hit the basketball schedules. This was a full seven years before the NBA was established, so the college side of the game has the edge in terms of history.

That inaugural competition was a quieter affair with just eight teams taking part. The Oregon Webfoots were the first ever champions, but have since sadly passed into basketball history.

Progress was relatively slow and was hampered to an extent by the Second World War. By 1951, 16 teams were involved. In 1975, this increased to 32 and the figures doubled again to their current number of 64 in 1985.

While the current version of the tournament was far more subdued, the term ‘March Madness’ was used very early on. It’s attributed to Henry V. Porter, an Illinois High School Official, back in 1939

Biggest Upsets

Over the course of a basketball regular season, the strongest teams will always rise to the top of the table. With so many games to play, there is a margin of error and it’s not imperative to win every single fixture.

With March Madness, there is far more scope for upsets, due to the nature of the competition. It’s played on a straight elimination basis and, over the years, that format has led to a number of shock outcomes.

Here are the top 5 biggest upsets in March Madness history.

UMBC 74 Virginia 54

Not only was this a big shock in terms of the seeding, the margin of victory made it even more incredible. UMBC came into the first round of 2018 as the number 16 seeds, while their opponents the Virginia Cavaliers were ranked number one and the clear favorites for the trophy.

In this historic encounter, UMBC came through in the second half, scoring 53 of their 74 points. Virginia folded and became the first number one seed to lose to such a low ranked opponent.

LeHigh 75 Duke 70

2012 was a year of upsets, but this was arguably the most unexpected. 15th seed LeHigh were given little chance of overcoming second ranked Duke, but the underdogs came through in a thriller.

Star of the show was CJ McCollum who would go on to enjoy an NBA career with Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans. McCollum dropped 30 points as his LeHigh team got over the line.

Saint Peter’s 85 Kentucky 79

Everyone loves overtime drama and this 2022 March Madness game exploded in the late stages. Once again, the 15th seed edged out the number 2 seed in the most recent of shock results.

Doug Edert and Daryl Banks combined for 47 points to give lowly Saint Peter’s their first ever championship win.

Santa Clara 64 Arizona 61

A legend was born in this 1993 game when Steve Nash turned the tie for his Santa Clara side. Until that stage, little was known about this Point Guard, but 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists would help pave the way for a brilliant professional career.

15th seed beat the second seed again as Nash dominated play.

Oral Roberts 75 Ohio State 72

For the ninth time in March Madness history, the 15th seed beat the second ranked team in this tight 2021 encounter. Overtime was needed once again to decide a thrilling clash.

The heroes for Oral Roberts were Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor who combined for 59 points.

Aiming High in 2023

Some of the biggest upsets in March Madness history have been fairly recent. The nature of the competition can increase the chances of surprise results.

The challenge is therefore laid down to the next generation of underdogs to topple the favorites.