The Psychological Rollercoaster That We Call March Madness


This year’s March Madness bracket. Image from NCAA.

Written By Tommy Beason

March: the most exciting month of the year for college basketball fans, and the greatest tournament in all sports, March Madness. 64 teams, 1 winner, all the pressure. College basketball’s highly-anticipated event always brings with it the most joy, sadness and every other emotion imaginable. Nothing can match the psychological rollercoaster experienced throughout the tournament. 

For the upcoming March Madness, all of the dates and locations are set but not the teams. Selection Sunday will take place on March 13, where fans all around will tune in to see how the brackets turn out. The First Four (which will take place on March 15 and 16 in Dayton, Ohio), is a concept many people have forgotten: four games that decide which teams move on to the first round.​​

Gregg Nigl, smiling as he talks through his perfect bracket heading into the Sweet Sixteen. Photo by 10 WBNS.

The whole tournament, up until the final four, takes place in March. The first weekend of the tournament includes the round of 64 and the round of 32. The round of 64 will occur on 17th 18th and the round of 32 will happen on 19th and 20th in various locations throughout the country. These venues include the following cities: Buffalo, New York; Indianapolis, Indiana; Fort Worth, Texas; Portland, Oregon; Greenville, South Carolina; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and San Diego, California.

The following weekend reflects the Sweet Sixteen, which will take place on 24th and 25th, and the Elite Eight, which will follow on 26th and 27th. With the number of teams dwindling as the tournament goes on, there are only four locations for this weekend: San Antonio, Texas; San Francisco, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The final weekend has the Final Four on April 2 and the big dance, the National Championship, on April 4. Tulane University will host these games at their home court, Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

As each day draws closer to the tournament, experts create a “bracketology” where the estimated teams and seeds are woven in bracket form. A bracket is the grid of all the teams in the tournament and the path they have to follow to win the National Championship. The Bracket Challenge is a fascinating construction, and millions of people participate each year as they try to make history and become the first ever person to create a perfect bracket. There are 9.2 quintillion possibilities throughout the course of the tournament so although it is extremely unlikely, some people have come close. In 2019, Gregg Nigl, a 40-year-old neuropsychologist from Columbus, Ohio, had the closest we have seen yet. He correctly predicted the first 49 games and before that, the closest ever recorded was the first 39 games. Unfortunately, Nigl’s bracket was busted when Purdue beat Tennessee in overtime during the Sweet Sixteen.

Two of the star players for the UMBC Retrievers, K.J. Maura and Jourdan Grant, celebrating together after the upset of the number one seed Virginia.

Another mark of history came in 2018 when there was an unbelievable upset. The first ever game where a 16 seed beat a number one seed in the first round of the tournament. UMBC, the University of Maryland—Baltimore County Retrievers overthrew the University of Virginia Cavaliers in a shocking turn of events. 21-21 at half time, the nation turned its eye towards this game, assuming that the Cavaliers, as the number one overall seed, would prevail. But no—the Retrievers blew out the Cavaliers in the second half, outscoring them by 20. The final score was 74-54, and the Cinderella story began. This tournament always has surprises, so you can never be too sure about a certain team.

There is no question that this year’s tournament will have crazy upsets and shocking player performances. With the Baylor Bears defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs in last year’s National Championship, will we have a repeat in this year’s tournament? Will we have a first time national champion? How many upsets will there be? All of these questions can be answered as the tournament progresses and the madness begins.