A Latina's guide to the NCAA Tournament: What you need to know to survive March Madness

It's that time of year again! The 2012 NCAA Tournament aka March Madness is starting this week, which means you (or your man--let's be real) will probably be glued to the TV screen for the next month or so.  To the athletically inclined, this is one of the best times of the year for sports. For the rest of us, it's a whirl of confusion that involves weird brackets and more talk about UNC and UConn than you've ever heard in your life.

And for Latinas, it can be even more difficult since lots of key Spanish language sites don't feature coverage of the tournament unless there's a ton of Hispanic players--which, unfortunately, isn't the case this year (what's up with that anyways?). So, even though I'm kind of annoyed that we're not really represented, I know it's hard to not get caught up in the chaos of March Madness! To help you out, we put together a short guide. Read this and you'll be placing bets with the best of them--or you know, at least, understanding key rules!

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Basics

  • "March Madness" is just a nickname for the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship tournament.
  • 68 out of over 300 possible teams participate in the tournament of games played from mid-March through the first week of April. 31 get in by what is called "automatic qualification," which means they won their conferences either in their regular season or conference tournament. The other 37 enter the tournament by at-large bids, which means they were chosen by a selection committee that looks over eligible team's resumes and deems who should play. 
  • People all over the world create brackets in which they try to determine who the winners will be. Brackets show 32 teams on both sides broken down by regions East, West, Midwest and South (I don't get why there's no North either but we'll let that go). These are then whittled down to 16, then 8, and so on until you get the Final Four, which will take place in New Orleans this year. The final 2 teams will then be the players in the Final Championship Game.

What you should know

There are some key differences between NCAA and NBA games, which are important to know if you're planning on watching:

  • The NBA plays four 12-minute quarters. NCAA games are comprised of two 20-minute halves. In both the NBA and NCAA, an overtime period is five minutes.
  • The NBA shot clock is 24 seconds. The NCAA shot clock is 35. This is one of several reasons you'll see such wide disparities in scoring in NCAA games - some teams really try to work the clock while others play at a faster pace and end up with more NBA-like scores in the 90's and 100's.
  • The courts are set up a differently. An NBA "three" is taken from 23'9" while the NCAA three-point line is a constant 19'9". The width of the lane or the "paint" also varies. The NBA lane is 16 feet wide and in college, it's 12 feet.
  • NBA players get six personal fouls before fouling out. NCAA players get five fouls.
  • The rules on defending in the NBA are really complicated, with each player being allowed to guard an area on the floor to certain extent and not a specific man. At the college level, there are no such rules. You'll see everything from straight one-on-one defenses to zone defenses and everything in between.

Tips

  • Do research. If you want to contribute to a bracket and have no idea where to begin, use the rankings to see where teams stand and check sports channels to see what their predictions will be –it could help you narrow down your options. Some people go a completely different route, choosing instead to pick the teams with the cutest mascots and then narrowing it down throughout the tournament by choosing which mascot would win in a fight. Or you could go the even simpler way and choose your teams based on their schools (hint: there have 8 consecutive champions who have the color blue in their unform). Point is there are a thousand methods of finalizing your bracket, so just go with your gut and don't think too much about it.
  • You could potentially make (or lose!) some money. Most people make their brackets a little more interesting by turning it into a bet. In fact, it's predicted that over $3.5 billion will be bet on March Madness bracket polls. So again, if you want to participate in your office pool, don't stress too much about putting down the $5 or $10 and simply follow your instincts. Just think about how awesome it would be if you won over the uber-sports fans in the company.
  • The tournament is super unpredictable. That's why most people love it. Not one team is "a sure thing", no matter how confident some people are in their picks. It's part of the fun and it's also part of the reason watching the games is so addicting –you just want to see what happens next!  
  • Don't get frustrated. American workers spend over 8.4 million hours watching March Madness games and all these games happen in a very short period of time. It's easy to get annoyed, especially if that's all your co-workers are talking about or if your man is spending all this time tied to the TV and not helping you watch the kids or run errands.  But instead of getting angry, try to get involved  --maybe you'll find it fun! And just remember it'll be over soon.

Will you be watching March Madness?

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