How is the March Madness bracket determined? Selection Sunday process explained

The fun of March Madness for fans is the seemingly endless possibilities set up with the NCAA Tournament's 68-team bracket. How does the field get determined?

Florida Atlantic v Charlotte
Florida Atlantic v Charlotte / Isaiah Vazquez/GettyImages
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One of the most fun days of the year for college basketball fans is Selection Sunday, the unofficial kickoff for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. The field of 68 teams is revealed over the course of an hour on CBS, setting up the initial bracket to whittle the best teams in the nation down to one national champion in April.

While most instant analysis takes a look at how the tournament can play out and who got snubbed, some casual fans may not understand how the field is picked for the NCAA Tournament. Let's take a look at how the tournament's Selection Committee sets up the bracket every year.

How is the March Madness bracket assembled on Selection Sunday?

Every year, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is assigned with the task of selecting and bracketing the field for March Madness. Of the 68 bids up for grabs, 32 are reserved for the champions of conference tournaments, with each league's tournament champion automatically earning the right to participate in the dance.

The remaining 36 slots are considered "at-large" bids that the committee hands out to, in their opinion, the best eligible teams who did not claim an automatic bid. The committee uses various criteria (such as NET Rankings, strength of schedule, quality wins, etc) to determine which teams they feel deserve admission to the field of 68.

Once all 68 teams are selected, the committee ranks them from 1 to 68 and then follows various bracketing principles to create the first round matchups. Top seeds are usually given geographical preference whenever possible and the committee also tries to avoid creating matchups between teams from the same conference prior to the Sweet 16.

Another important consideration for the committee is to try and balance the regions so that one isn't loaded with powerhouses. The use of an S-curve generally accomplishes that goal but sometimes other principles may lead to a slight alteration of the typical S-curve.


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