There are certain moments or times that are hotly anticipated as each new year unfolds. For example, the nation holds its collective breath each February 2nd to see if Punxsutawney Phil is going to predict six more weeks of winter before Spring finally arrives.

But far more reliably, towards the end of March each year, comes the arrival of the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship. This is when 68 of the country’s best college basketball teams meet over a series of weekends to establish who will be the ultimate champions.

The ways of qualifying for the competition are nearly as complex and involved as its name – but at least the latter has long been shortened to the far more manageable “March Madness”.

This year’s competition is unique as it will be held entirely in the state of Indiana, with the semifinals and final being held on Saturday April 3rd and Monday April 5th respectively at the Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.

Each year March Madness is the subject of great speculation about which college teams will deliver surprise results, as well as who the ultimate victors will be. Long before the first game, March Madness betting begins and this year Gonzaga Bulldogs from Spokane, Washington are the firm favorites after an unbeaten season.

If the predictions are correct, they will go on to make their own little piece of history by winning for the very first time.

To go to the very beginning

Those following March Madness, and millions of Americans do, might not know just how far back the history of the tournament goes.

In fact, it was held for the very first time back in 1939 and was the idea of the University of Illinois. The original event featured just eight teams with the eventual winners being Oregon Ducks who beat Ohio State to claim the very first title.

As the years progressed, the competition gained a higher and higher profile and its increasing popularity meant that by 1951 it included double the original number of teams at 16. Over the years that followed more and more were added until we reached the 68 that compete for the coveted title today.

The name March Madness is said to have originated when it was coined by an Illinois High School official called Henry V. Porter back in 1939 in an essay that he wrote praising the success of the inaugural contest. It’s a name that immediately struck a chord with fans and media alike, but it wasn’t until around 1982 when the sports broadcaster Brent Musburger started using it that it really took hold.

Today, it’s so widely used that the tournament’s true name has almost been forgotten by many fans.

The general public awareness of the event, outside the sometimes closed-off world of college basketball, received a real boost in 1969 when selected games began to be televised. Today, all games are broadcast with various networks sharing the rights, and attracting huge audiences, especially for the later stages of the tournament.

Some outstanding achievements

The title March Madness suggests that fans can look forward to pretty exciting action – and it’s very accurate in this respect.

It may be because the players themselves know that the eyes of the world may be on them, or simply that they want to do the very best that they can for their respective alma maters.

The highest points scorer of all time in the competition has been Christian Laettner who played for Duke between 1989 and 1992 scoring a total of 407 points across 23 games, an average of 17.69 points per game. The fact that he played in 23 of the 24 games possible for a single team across four years of tournaments is equally remarkable.

The seeding nature of the tournament in which the strongest teams are guaranteed to meet the weakest also means that it’s one which has seen a number of upsets. Unquestionably, the biggest of these came in the 2018 tournament when the number 16 seed, UMBC, comprehensively beat the number 1 seed Virginia 74-54, an event that most people had thought impossible.

The one college that stands out in terms of overall success is UCLA. Having won the tournament no less than 11 times, its nearest rival is Kentucky with 8 wins. Much of the Californian team’s success is down to the influence of their legendary coach John Wooden who was in charge for ten of those victories.

The official anthem

Like much of college life in the US, March Madness is rich in tradition and ritual – and nowhere is this more evident than in its official anthem. Called “One Shining Moment”, it was written by David Barrett and was first played at the conclusion of the 1987 tournament.

Since then, it has become one of the best-known anthems in sport and its rousing lyrics are intended to inspire all athletes to strive to achieve that one moment of match-winning excellence.

The influence of March Madness on the NBA

Coming just three months before the annual draft, March Madness is the perfect showcase for aspiring professionals to capture the attention of the professional teams. So it has been the launch pad for countless careers over time.

As to this year’s tournament, the big teams are sure to be looking on to spot the stars of the future. Whether they manage to find them remains to be seen.






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