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Dave Roepke, Published March 15 2009

New to the NCAA tournament? Join the bandwagon for the Big Dance steps

We know you’re out there.

You thought until a few of days ago that March Madness was a synonym for spring fever, and when you hear Sweet 16, you think of teens, not teams. You’re no big fan, but you sort of understand basketball. (It’s orange, right?)

Now that North Dakota State’s men’s basketball team is heading to the NCAA basketball tournament, a first for any school in the state, there’s bound to be plenty of roundball rubes coming out of the woodwork and on to the bandwagon.

As a primer for the hoops clueless, here are answers to some questions so basic it might be difficult to get real fans to stop chuckling long enough to respond. Helping out with answers are Ryan Perreault, assistant director of athletic media relations at NDSU, and David Mihm, founder of Bracketography.

com, a site devoted to predicting the tournament’s field.

So why all the fuss?

The Big Dance is a big deal, Perreault says, “because everyone is watching.” Mihm compares it to the Super Bowl, except three weeks long and with more potential story lines.

I hear today’s Selection Sunday. What’s that?

The tourney has 65 Division I teams, with each squad advancing with a win and going home with a loss until there’s one team left. The selection show at 5 p.m. today will unveil who made the tournament, as well as where and when they will play first-round games.

Wait, NDSU is already in. What’s to select?

There are 31 teams that have a lock on their berths, conference champs like the Bison. The other 34 teams are “at-large” teams. These are picked by a committee, the same group that decides which teams get what seeds and where they play.

Who does the picking?

It’s all athletic directors and conference commissioners, according to the list on the NCAA Web site.

How do they settle on their at-large picks?

As Perreault points out, the NCAA has no shortage of rules. For seeding and selecting tourney teams, there is a five-page list of guidelines. In practice, some factors matter more than others, Mihm says. “A big road win, that’s worth its weight in gold,” he says. Record in the last dozen games is huge, too, he says.

How do they decide who plays where?

In general, the committee tries to schedule teams to play as close to home as possible, Perreault says. So there is a chance the Bison could play in Minneapolis, one of the game sites. But Mihm says geographic preference is given to top-rated teams, especially No. 1 through No. 4 seeds.

Is gambling involved?

Well, it sure is for a lot of folks. The American Gaming Association says that by the FBI’s estimate, $2.5 billion is illegally bet on the tournament each year.

Will this be on TV?

CBS airs all the games, but if for some reason that doesn’t work – say you’re a DirecTV subscriber without an antenna, meaning you have no way to pull in KXJB – there are options. Games are live online at NCAA.com, Perreault says. There’s even a boss button – a one-click feature that pulls up a fake spreadsheet giving the illusion of work.


Seed: A ranking of how good the selection committee thinks the team is relative to the rest of the field. The higher the number is, the lower the ranking. No. 16 is the worst.

Cinderella: An unheralded team that beats a few higher seeds, a staple of the 65-team NCAA tournament. “That’s the best part of it all,” says Ryan Perreault, North Dakota State University assistant director of athletic media relations.

Bubble: Teams that may or may not get an at-large spot because their qualifications are solid but not overwhelming.

RPI: A statistical ranking that David Mihm of Bracketography.com says is used to pare down the pool of potential at-large picks.

Bracket: Essentially a flow chart, showing how the single-elimination tournament will progress.

Sweet 16: The 16 teams who make it to the regional semifinals.

Elite Eight: The eight teams that make it to the regional finals.

Final Four: The four teams that make it to the national semifinals.

If you go

What: Watch party

When: Today. Doors open at 4 p.m.; CBS will announce the 65-team field beginning at 5.

Where: Bison Sports Arena at NDSU, free admission

Player autographs: Signed before 5 p.m. show.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535