This is the question on everyone’s minds as we approach the NCAA tournament. Will there be a game this year where the popular team covers the spread? What will the betting line be for the big games? Let’s take a quick look at the history of the NCAA basketball tournament and where things stand this year.
The History of the NCAA Tournament
The NCAA tournament has been around for more than 90 years, and was first held in the 1940s. The tournament consists of 64 teams, and each team is given a seed based on their record in the regular season. The top half of the tournament is typically hosted by a major television network, while the 2nd half is broadcast on the sports network of the hosting university. Typically, there are two games played on each Saturday of the tournament. The first game will feature a 12-team bracket, and the second game will feature the 4 remaining teams. The goal of the NCAA tournament is to have each team play each other twice and the top 16 play four times. The winners of the tournament are determined by which team has the best overall record at the end of the tournament. Here’s a look at the tournament’s history:
1940s: The Golden Years
The tournament’s first iteration was played in the 1940s, and over the next few years, it grew in popularity. Typically, there were only 16 teams in each tournament, and the format was similar to what we see today. However, there was one big difference: the teams were not seeded and everyone’s record was on the line. Here’s a look at some of the most memorable moments from that era:
The 1939 Championship Match
In 1939, DePaul and St. John’s squared off in a championship game that was one of the more memorable moments in tournament history. The quarterfinals were played as scheduled, but as the championship game approached, the temperature began to rise. The score was level early in the 4th quarter, but then St. John’s went on a 23-4 run to take a commanding 75-58 lead. In the final minute of the game, DePaul cut the lead to 76-75, but then the Redmen went on another scoring frenzy, and won the school’s first national championship thanks to a 15-2 run. This was arguably the most memorable game in DePaul history, and it’s one that they’ll always have to live up to.
1948: The First National Finals
The following year, the tournament expanded to 32 teams, and the format changed a bit. The first round was still played as scheduled, but the quarterfinals and the semifinals were now played as national championships. There were four sites in the country, and the top 16 teams were split among the four sites. The teams were then re-seeded for the national semifinals and finals, which were played at a single site. This meant that the championship game was played in a different city on each of the previous two nights, and the finals were played on the Sunday. The first national championship was won by the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, who beat Texas A&M in the final. This was a massive upset, as many people had Texas A&M as a strong favorite.
1949: The First Sweet 16
In 1949, the tournament started expanding again, and this time it was to 64 teams. The expansion coincided with the rise of college basketball as a whole, and the popularity of the tournament grew as a result. However, this growth was not to be exponential. This was still a small tournament compared to what we see today, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the tournament started seeing massive growth. In fact, it wasn’t until 1964 that the tournament’s popularity peaked. Since then, it has been on a steady decline, and despite the occasional game with large betting lines, the spread has gotten narrower and narrower.
Here are some interesting facts about the NCAA tournament from that era:
The Number of Games Has Increased
Over the years, the number of games has increased from a handful to a full 48-game schedule. When the tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1948, there were only 16 games. In 1964, there were 40 games. In 1982, there were 48 games, and most recently, in 2019, the number of games increased to 64. Typically, the first game of each week is on a Saturday, and the rest of the games are on Sundays. Most notably, the Final Four has never been scheduled for a Friday or Saturday, and the championship game has always been played on the Sunday.
The Teams Have Evolved
Over the years, the tournament’s makeup has evolved as well. In the 1940s, the teams were all smaller, and most were made up of undergrads and middle school students. In modern times, the tournament is much more competitive. The regular season has typically started in October and November and the tournament is finished by early April. This is to give the teams enough time to recover from the rigors of the season and prepare for the challenge of the tournament. The number of top-notch coaches has also increased. In the 1940s, there were only a handful of top-notch coaches, and even then, they didn’t always have their own team. There were also only a handful of teams that could afford to fly across the country to play in the tournament. The coaches back then had to take what they could get, and that usually meant that they were forced to take advantage of their opponents as well. The era of big men in the paint dominating the game has also diminished. Instead, today’s game is typically faster paced and more open with the three-point shot being highly sought after. In addition, more teams are comprised of specialists. A few decades ago, if you were a good enough athlete, you could make an average team by just plugging in some role players. These days, the cream of the crop is filtered through a much narrower pool.
Where Does It Stand Now?
Now, more than ever, everyone wants to know where things stand with the tournament. As mentioned, the number of games has increased over the years, and so has the competition. Just this year, the tournament expanded to 64 teams, and with the new format and additional games, it has never been more competitive. Despite everything that’s been discussed in this article, the tournament’s popularity fluctuates from year to year. Typically, it peaks in the winter and early spring and then begins to decline as we get further away from the season. This year will be no different, and with more games and more interest, it’s sure to be a good season.