1999 March Madness Preview
College basketball fans are about to enjoy nineteen days of glory. Widely known as March Madness, the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament tips off each year on "Insane Thursday", which this year falls on March 11. Millions will tune in to the constant games and nonstop analysis, and millions more will fill out their tourney brackets at the office for a chance to make a little money on the madness.
What's it all about?
The tournament is designed to name a national champion by process of elimination. Sixty-four teams are invited through one of two methods. There is the automatic bid, which goes to the winner of each conference post-season tournament — in the case of the conferences or leagues that don't have tournaments (the Ivy League and Pac-10) the automatic bid goes to the regular season champion. The other way to get an invitation to what is often tritely referred to as the Big Dance is by getting an at-large bid. The at-large bids are decided by the nine-person tournament committee, which also picks the seeds and the first-round match-ups.
Once the 64 teams have been picked (as always, expect some scorned teams to cry foul) they are broken up into four groups, ranked one through sixteen. The groups of 16 are sent to play a sort of mini-tournament in each of the four geographic regions of the US (East, West, South, and Midwest). The stronger the team, the lower the number seed a team will get. So the four so-called one-seeds are theoretically the four best teams in the nation heading into the tournament.
The teams are paired off in the first round. One-seeds play 16-seeds, two-seeds play 15-seeds, three-seeds play 14-seeds, etc. The tournament is single-elimination (you lose, you're out) and continues until only one team left from each of the four regions is left.
Those four teams are known as the "Final Four" and they meet in a predetermined place (this year it's St. Petersburg, Florida) to finish the tournament. The two semifinal games decide which two teams will play for the national championship. After a total of 63 tournament games, only one team from the 64 originally chosen will survive the tournament undefeated at 6-0. That team will be crowned as the 1999 NCAA national champion and leave its mark in the record books.