It’s that time of the year again. Every March, the entire basketball world is engulfed by the craziness, the insanity, and the beautiful chaos brought about by March Madness, the single-elimination basketball tournament that attracts millions of eyeballs for an entire month and beyond.
But how exactly does the NCAA determine which among the over 300 teams in Division I Basketball are going to make it to March Madness? NitroBetting breaks down some of the important concepts that will help you understand how the NCAA whittles the field down to a field of 68 teams.
Don’t forget to check out all of the latest March Madness odds and lines for upcoming tournament matchups!
How Can a Team Make it to March Madness?
Simply put, there are only two ways that a team can secure a spot in the 68-team field NCAA Tournament: Via automatic bid or by way of an at-large berth invite.
What Are Automatic Bids?
There are 32 conferences in NCAA Division I basketball, and each of these leagues is guaranteed one automatic bid, or auto bid, as it is otherwise known.
These auto bids are only given to teams that win their respective conference tournaments, which are played at the end of the regular season. A team that gets an auto-bid also gets an automatic invite to the NCAA Tournament, which means that even if that team went winless throughout the regular season, that program will have the privilege of participating in March Madness.
In 2021, there are only 31 auto-bids available due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the Ivy League to decide not to partake in any winter athletic events.
What Are At-Large Berths?
Since there aren’t enough automatic bids to fill out a 68-team March Madness bracket, the rest of the teams vying for a slot in the Big Dance will have their fate at the mercy of the Selection Committee (more about them later), who will choose the remaining 36 teams (37 this 2021) to complete the field.
The selection committee is composed of 10 members who get together on Selection Sunday with the mission of choosing which teams will get the at-large berth invites and at the same time, assign all teams to each region of the bracket. In addition, the Selection Committee is also responsible for the seeding of these 68 teams.
To maintain the integrity of the entire selection process, committee members are not allowed to pick a team that he/she is representing. Furthermore, no member is permitted to take part in any discussion about the seeding of the team that he/she is currently serving.
How Does the Selection Committee Choose the Schools That Receive At-Large Berths?
The Selection Committee will be armed with a ton of information and tools to help them decide which teams will get in via the at-large bid route. Among those used by the Selection Committee is the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), which attempts to consolidate all important factors in order to rank and determine the strength of each team.
The NET takes into account the strength of a team’s schedule, locations of wins and losses, offensive and defensive efficiency, and even the margin of victories of wins and losses. The NET is a fairly new tool, as it was only introduced in 2018. Prior to that, the Selection Committee used the Rating Percentage Index or RPI.
The NET is not the be-all and end-all factor that influences the Selection Committee. In fact, there isn’t a certain definite blueprint that the committee can adhere to, as each member can have his or her own subjective/objective way of weighing the qualifications of every team for inclusion in March Madness.