Basketball Idioms & March Madness

Posted On: February 28, 2015

In today’s post, Matt Wade answers some questions about basketball and March Madness, especially for those who are new to the game and the country. 

1. Are there any idioms or phrases people used related to basketball? 
The tournament brackets consist of 4 groupings. The seeding in each bracket is 1 – 16, with 1 being the strongest team and 16 being the least strong. It’s a way to reward programs for their performance over the course of the season. So, you will hear a phrase like “the 10 seed upset the 4 seed today”. 

“Box out” 
When a player uses his body to block another player from getting to the basket

“All Airport Team” 
A joke used when saying a tall player might lack talent but he sure looks impressive when walking through an airport. 

A word fans use in excitement when a player on their team makes a basket and the ball doesn’t hit any of the rim or backboard, thus making a swish sound when going through the net. 

Logos of Basketball Teams2. What and when is March Madness? 
March Madness is a tournament of 68 college basketball teams, in which all teams battle in a single elimination format. If you lose you are out. The last team left is the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) Division One Champion. 

See the 2024 March Madness schedule which starts on March 17. 

(Image, right, logos of basketball teams. Click on the image to see a bigger size.) 

The month of March and early April 

3. Why is it called March Madness? 
Because the early rounds of the tournament include many upsets, historically via a game winning shot as time expires. Also, because the tournament pairs larger more reputable colleges with smaller more obscure colleges, those upsets are all the more noteworthy. 

4. What teams usually play in March Madness? 
NCAA Division 1 college programs. D-I schools include the major collegiate athletic powers, with larger budgets, more elaborate facilities, and more athletic scholarships than Divisions II and III as well as many smaller schools committed to the highest level of intercollegiate competition. 

Of the 68 programs receiving an invitation to the tournament, 32 gain automatic entry through winning their conference’s championship (commonly through winning a conference tournament or, in the sole case of the Ivy League, the regular season title. The remaining 36 programs rely on the selection committee to award them an “at-large” bid in the tournament. The selection process primarily takes place on Selection Sunday when the brackets and seeds are released to the public. The tournament begins the following Thursday at noon. 

5. Are there March Madness celebrations? 
Fans gather for March Madness mostly in bars and pubs. Many bars are affiliated with a particular college, so its a great way for alumni to gather and root their team on together. Since the majority of games during the first two days of the tournament take place during a work day, many fans joke that production suffers because they are watching the games on their computers while at their desks. Streaming online service providers even create a “boss button” so fans can click on it in an emergency to hide the game and instead display a phony spreadsheet if their boss walks in to their office. 

6. I have heard of fights or brawls after basketball games. Does this happen a lot? If I want to go to a basketball game, is it safe? 
Violence is really not a part of the basketball viewing culture. The reason for this is because fans traditionally do not tailgate before games and are therefore less driven by alcohol. 

Tailgating as defined by the Google Dictionary: “host or attend a social gathering at which an informal meal is served from the back of a parked vehicle, typically in the parking lot of a sports stadium.” Tailgating is more popular with football fans than basketball fans. 

7. What kinds of foods or drinks do people have during basketball games? 
Common foods are hamburgers and hot dogs, while soda and beer are the most popular drink selections. 

8. Is it expensive to go to a basketball game or the March Madness games? 
Because college basketball is usually played in arenas that reside on college campuses and whose audience consists mostly of college students, ticket prices tend to be more affordable. However, because the March Madness tournament is held at neutral locations and in arenas where professional sports are played while also catering to a corporate clientele, the prices tend to run much higher, along with a drastically inflated secondary market (ticket scalping). 

9. How can I make small talk about basketball or March Madness with my US colleagues? 
The most common questions are: 

“Did you fill out a bracket?” 
This means, did you try to predict the victors or each game and try to guess who will win the championship. 

“Are you participating in a pool?” 
Not everyone who fills out a bracket is participating in a pool. But many do. A pool is a group of people who all fill out brackets and keep score to see who wins. Often times they bet money. Companies actually use March Madness pools as a way to improve office morale, where everyone from the secretaries to the company president compete against each other. 

“Who is in your final four?” 
Each round of the tournament has a moniker: 

The first round  
the round of 32 
the sweet 16 
the great 8 
the final 4 
the championship game. 

Sweet 16

Basketball Idioms & March Madness


Great 8

What is the Elite 8?


Final Four

2020 March Madness for newcomers


The final four is considered a great achievement and is to be celebrated even if you don’t win the entire tournament. For those who fill out brackets and compete in pools, picking as many final four participants as possible is key to winning since so many points are awarded for correctly predicting them. 

Author, Matt Wade, CEO of GamePlan is a thought leader in academic and career planning, a product evangelist, and a vanguard of higher education’s progressive movement. 

Related Posts: 
About “American” Football and the Super Bowl  
Small Talk Made Easy 
Transition from Small Talk to Business Talk 
TV Channels in the US 

Image Credits:
All logos: Courtesy:
Sweet 16:
Elite 8:

Final 4: Wikipedia


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