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Dublin: 17 °C Thursday 18 September, 2014

Sweet 16: here’s everything you need to know about the business end of March Madness 2012

There’s never been a better time to take in interest in college basketball.

Kentucky forward Anthony Davis (23) controls the opening top against LSU center Justin Hamilton (41).
Kentucky forward Anthony Davis (23) controls the opening top against LSU center Justin Hamilton (41).
Image: Dave Martin/AP/Press Association Images

Let’s start at the beginning – what’s this “March Madness” all about?

March Madness is the rather appropriate nickname for NCAA Men’s Division I basketball championship, where 68 of America’s best college teams go head-to-head for a national title in the space of a few mental weeks.

The tournament has 67 games in total, so it’s not uncommon for three or four games to be played at the same time around the country, with live TV coverage chopping back and forth between games as the drama unfolds. Think of it like the final Match of the Day of the season, with half the teams in a relegation dogfight — except live.

Ok, so when does it start?

Actually, it has already started. The first three rounds of games were played over the last 10 days and we’re already down to the final 16 teams — “The Sweet 16″.

The next four days are where the tournament really gets interesting though, particularly if you only have a passing interest. The “Sweet 16″ games take place tonight and tomorrow which will narrow the competition down to the “Elite Eight”, who play-off for a place in the “Final Four” on Saturday and Sunday night.

Then there’s a week off before the Final Four matches next Saturday, and the Championship game which follows on Monday.

What are the March Madness “brackets”?

They’re a pretty big deal in America, that’s what they are.

The “bracket” is essentially a giant diagram of the tournament draw, which allows fans to predict how the tournament will pan out before it even begins. To be precise, there are 14.57 quintillion different ways to fill out a bracket, so it’s impossible to get it exactly right.

Still, almost everybody in America — even people who know nothing about college basketball — fill out a bracket; it’s just the done thing.

President Obama is a big college basketball fan; his bracket is here. Of the 16 teams remaining, he has 11 left which doesn’t look too shabby until you realise that some people have all 16 correct.

What’s a “bracket buster”?

Because the teams are seeded from 1-16 in each of the tournament’s four conferences, it’s a little bit easier to predict who should come out on top in the first few rounds of games.

But every year, there are a couple of outsiders who spring a shock and eliminate one of the tournament’s top seeds, ruining brackets everywhere.

This year, it was 15th-seeds Lehigh and Norfolk State who dumped out second seeds Duke and Missouri in the second round, endearing themselves to underdog lovers but incurring the wrath of millions of armchair fans.

Alright, so who’s still left in it?

All of the top seeds have made it through to the Sweet 16 unscathed, but those in the know are tipping a couple of the big boys to struggle from this point on.

Carmelo Anthony’s old school Syracuse are the top seeds in the Eastern Region, and although they’ve survived without centre Fab Melo until now (Melo was ruled ineligible shortly before the tournament), his loss could be felt against Wisconsin tonight.

Kentucky, Ohio State and North Carolina are the three big favourites at this stage.

Gimme a few good players to look out for?

From the teams named above, look out for point guard Scoop Jardine (Syracuse), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) and Lorenzo Brown (North Carolina).

If I only watch one game over the next two nights, which one should it be?

That would have to be the mouth-watering meeting between Kentucky (1) and Indiana (4). Unsurprisingly, it’s got prime-time billing so if you want to see it, you’ll have to stay up for the 1.45am throw-in on Friday night / Saturday morning.

Who’s going to win it all?

Why ask us when you can ask some real “experts”? Here’s who the celebs went for in their pre-tournament brackets:

  • President Obama – North Carolina
  • LeBron James – Kentucky
  • Jim Furyk – Kansas
  • Nick Lachey (formerly of Jessica Simpson fame) – Kentucky
  • Rajon Rondo – Kentucky

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