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When Does March Madness Start?

Jarrett Culver #23 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders drives against the Virginia Cavaliers during the 2019 NCAA Photos via Getty Images Men’s Final Four National Championship game at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 08, 2019, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Ah, March. The month that brings flickers of spring, St. Patrick’s Day festivities, and the entertaining madness of college hoops.

March Madness kicks off Thursday, March 18. The much-anticipated college tournament pits the 68 best teams in basketball against each other, in an iconic playoff bracket full of intriguing matchups. Every year, there are upsets, buzzer-beaters, and daring runs by teams you’ve never heard of but have adorable mascots.

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But let’s back up a second. The table is really set on Selection Sunday, March 14. This is when the bracket is set by the powers that be. Some 32 teams get traditional bids while another 36 get at-large bids. The former are the teams you’d expect, high-ranking programs like Gonzaga, Michigan, Baylor, and West Virginia. The latter is a lesser-known bunch, often producing cinderella stories (Steph Curry’s Davidson squad for example, or Gordon Hayward and Butler).

Not only are the teams selected, they are seeded. Four regions are set up with 16 teams. This format makes the opening rounds all the more interesting, as a powerhouse like Ohio State might be paired with a Murray State or some Ivy League school (no 16 seed has even beaten a number 1 seed, by the way, all the more reason to watch).

Come March 18, it’s all basketball all day. The opening week is a flurry of games from morning to evening—a spectacle to behold not just because of the inherent energy of college sports but the possibility of an underdog team pulling off a David vs. Goliath. The national championship game will occur on April 5th, a proper finale to one of the most exciting tournaments in all athletics.

A bit of a springtime ritual, it’s nice to have March Madness back in 2021. As it stands, it looks like the NCAA will allow 25% capacity at stadiums for this year’s tournament. Last year, the pandemic canceled the tournament entirely, along with everything else. For those keeping score, the reigning champs are the University of Virginia Cavaliers, who beat Texas Tech in the final back in 2019. Who will emerge victorious at the 82nd installment of this national championship? Time will tell.

As usual, the 2021 tournament will take place in host cities all over the country. While the venues are technically neutral, they are set up regionally so that the higher-seeded teams are closer to their home turf, allowing them to attract more fans (in normal years, at least). But even if the tournament is missing deafening stadiums filled with rowdy students, it will undoubtedly be a great watch and plenty competitive. Millions will be watching live, after all.

Even the indifferent can find joy in March Madness, whether it’s the simple pleasure of filling out a bracket or stumbling across an American university you never knew existed, let alone had a decent basketball team. The energy is infectious and one can argue it’s some of the most entertaining basketball out there, free of the sponsorships and money (relatively, at least) tied up in the professional game.

March Madness has become a delightful gateway into sports, something you can stream even during the workday. We encourage you to go full hog (get out the body paint and become a super fan) but even if you just feel like a casual view, there’s just something captivating about it all.

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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