The NCAA Tournament is going to be a little different this year than it has been in years past. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the entire March Madness tournament will be held in the state of Indiana with most of the games occurring in Indianapolis. And that will impact how the seeds and regions operate.
Usually, the regions are geographically-based, and the top seeds get placed into the regions that they are closest to. But with everything being held in Indiana, the NCAA Tournament selection committee will be using an S-curve to help determine which seeds play in which region of the bracket this year.
Additionally, there are only 31 automatic qualifiers this year as opposed to the normal 32, so that will have a minor impact on the bracket this year.
So, how will these temporary rules for seeds and regions work? And how many teams are in the March Madness tournament overall, including automatic qualifiers and at-large bids? We have all the answers to your pressing questions as March Madness draws nearer.
March Madness bracket 2021
How many teams are in the March Madness bracket?
There are 68 teams in the March Madness bracket. Eight teams will play in the “First Four” games to earn the right to play in the full 64-team bracket.
The teams in the bracket are a mixture of automatic qualifiers and at-large bigs. The automatic qualifiers are the winners of their respective conferences or conference tournaments while at-large teams are decided by the selection committee. No formula exists for selecting at-large teams, but the committee uses a variety of stats and metrics to determine which teams are selected.
Here is the full seeding list for the NCAA Tournament field, 1-68 (with a small amendment):
And here’s an explainer on the S-curve and how it was used to seed March Madness in 2021.
When did March Madness go to 64 teams?
March Madness expanded to 64 teams in 1985 after being a 32-team tournament starting in 1975.
When did March Madness go to 68 teams?
March Madness expanded to 68 teams in 2011. Previously, there had been 65 teams in the tournament with the event kickstarting with one play-in game. Three additional play-in games were added to create the “First Four” games of the tournament.
How teams qualify for March Madness in 2021
For the automatic qualifiers, getting to the NCAA Tournament is simple. All they have to do is win their conference tournament and they will be guaranteed a spot in the field of 68.
In a normal year, 32 teams receive automatic bids to the tournament. However, with the Ivy League having canceled their 2021 season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will only be 31 automatic qualifiers in 2021. That opens the door for another at-large bid.
At-large bids are determined on a yearly basis by the selection committee for the NCAA tournament. There are usually 36 of these, but there will be 37 this year in absence of the Ivy League’s automatic bid. There are no set formulas for how the committee chooses these 37 teams, but they rely on various metrics and stats to help them compare teams and decide whether or not they belong in the tournament.
Notably, the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) plays a big role in these decisions. The NET evaluates all tournament-eligible teams using one metric based on their overall efficiency and how they perform against quality opponents.
How the NCAA Tournament is different in 2021
Usually, the NCAA Tournament divides their teams up by geographic regions, but since the entire tournament is taking place in the state of Indiana, that won’t happen this year. Instead, the selection committee will determine the seeds using the S-curve.
Essentially, the S-curve process will work as such: The selection committee will rank the seeds in the tournament from No. 1 overall to 68. They will place each of the top-four overall seeds in their own quadrants. The process from there goes as follows, per the NCAA’s official website:
“The overall No. 5 seed will be placed in the same region as the overall No. 4. The overall No. 6 will be placed with the overall No. 3. The overall No. 7 seed will be paired with the overall No. 2, and the overall No. 8 will be in the same region as the top-seeded team. The next step would be to place the third-seeded teams, with the overall No. 9 seed joining the Nos. 1 and 8 seeds in one region, the No. 10 seed being placed with the Nos. 2 and 7 seeds, the No. 11 seed going to the same region as the Nos. 3 and 6 seeds, and the No. 12 seed joining the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds.”
This process will continue for all other seeds and is akin to that of a fantasy football snake draft.
Lowest seed to win the NCAA Tournament
Villanova won the 1985 NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed. While numerous other programs have gone on deep runs with seedings equal to or lower than the Wildcats team, they are the lowest seed to emerge with a win.
During their championship season, the Wildcats were ranked as high as No. 14 in the country by the AP, but a 5-6 finish to their season — including a blowout loss to Pittsburgh in their final game — and a loss in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament had them finish the season with a 19-10 record. They still got an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but they were not expected to make much noise as a No. 8 seed, especially since the tournament had just expanded to 64 teams.
Villanova managed to earn a two-point victory over Dayton in their first tournament game thanks to a game-winning shot by Harold Jensen with about 10 seconds left on the clock. Then, the Wildcats managed to pull off a stunning upset, as they beat Michigan by four points in a game where they shot 31 free throws compared to Michigan’s five.
From there, the Wildcats managed to shut down Len Bias’ Maryland team in a 46-43 win and used a second-half blitz to beat North Carolina by 12 in a decisive victory. That got them to the Final Four. From there, they knocked off Memphis and then beat Georgetown by two points after the Wildcats shot a whopping 78.6 percent from the field.
The win over Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas earned Villanova their first March Madness title in school history. It would be 31 years before they would capture another one.