The NCAA Basketball Tournament is too much fun for anyone to be left out for a lack of basketball knowledge, so consider this your starter course into the terms that surround one of the greatest sporting events of the year.
If you consider yourself a casual fan, some of these terms will be extremely simple, but read on, because you never know when you’ll need to explain the definition of “RPI” to one of your curious friends.
March Madness: When you hear this, think “NCAA Tournament.” They are one and the same, but March Madness just has a better ring to it, don’t you think?
Field of 68: This is the complete group of 68 teams that will qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The field was made up of 64 teams until the bracket expanded to hold 68 for the first time in 2011. To whittle down the field to an even 64 teams, only eight teams will compete in the first round of the tournament, which is also known as the “Play-in games.” There are four of them, and the winners advance to the second round, while the four losers are eliminated.
The Committee: This is the group of old guys who decide which teams make it into the Field of 68 and which teams are left out of the NCAA Tournament. Every year, their criteria changes for which teams they want in the field, because it’s usually a different group of guys. University administrators usually only serve on the committee for a few years, and they usually favor whatever conference their team plays in. It drives the teams nuts when they’re left out, because everyone feels they did enough to make the Field of 68.
Automatic bid: There are 31 conferences in Division I Basketball, and the conference champion of each of those leagues gets an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Most of the conferences play a postseason tournament, and the winner of that tournament is the team that gets the automatic bid, no questions asked. No matter how badly a team plays in the regular season (they could be winless the whole year), if they win their conference tournament, they are in the NCAA Tournament.
At-large bid: The other 37 spots in the Field of 68 go to teams that the committee deems the best 37 teams remaining after all the automatic bids have been doled out. A lot of those at-large bids are easy — teams that finish second or third in the bigger conferences, and teams in smaller conferences that stumble in their conference tournament. But there are a handful of teams that are right on the dividing line. Some of them make it into the Field of 68, and some of them don’t. All of those teams are “On the Bubble,” and if they stumble while they’re on the dividing line, their bubble can burst.
RPI: The Ratings Percentage Index, or RPI as it’s known in the college basketball world, is a formula that ranks all Division I teams based on their record and their strength of schedule. It’s the best way to determine how good a team really is, and teams that finish in the top-30 of the RPI almost always make it into the Field of 68 because it proves, on paper, that they have played well enough to get a tournament bid from the committee. You can see a list of all 344 teams, ranked by their respective RPI, by clicking here.
Mid-Major: This term isn’t used as much anymore, but it describes the teams from the smaller conferences. It’s not so much the ACC or Big East; it’s more like the Horizon League and Missouri Valley Conference. If it’s a conference you’ve heard very little of (or less), it’s probably a Mid-Major. But keep in mind that Butler (who played in the national championship game the last two seasons) hails from a Mid-Major conference, so it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re talking about a weaker team.
The “Crystal Ball”: It’s not used to tell the future in college basketball — it’s what every team fights for. Better known as the Siemens Trophy (OK, maybe not), it’s the trophy that every team gets to put in their case when they win the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, this is the year that Florida State wins their first Crystal Ball.