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A primer for those new to the NCAA Division I tournament

UND sports

It’s called The Big Dance.

Or, March Madness.

Take your pick.

Either description works.

This week has been one of the more historic stretches in UND athletic history as the North Dakota women’s basketball team earned a spot in the upcoming 64-team NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament.

UND will play in the Lincoln Regional of the tournament, opening with Texas A&M on Sunday in a first-round game in College Station, Texas.

Outside of the Super Bowl, the upcoming NCAA men’s and women’s Division I basketball tournaments galvanize the country’s sports fans perhaps more than any other sporting event.

It’s a three-week stretch of office pools, down-to-the wire games and constant television coverage that culminates with the national championship games in early April.

There will be no shortage of televised college basketball the next three weeks, either, as the tournament games for both men and women are carried nationally.

UND’s game against Texas A&M is set for a 7 p.m. tipoff Sunday and it will be carried on ESPN2 (Channel 26 in Grand Forks).

Historic event

So, why is this such a major accomplishment in UND athletic history?

Consider the following:

  • When UND decided to move all of its athletic programs to the Division I level nearly a decade ago, the fear was that North Dakota would never qualify for a national tournament, such as March Madness. UND dominated the Division II landscape during much of the 1990s, but few knew how long it would take the school’s athletic program — if ever — to compete at the Division I level.
  • Well, only in its second year of Division I postseason eligibility, a UND team has reached an NCAA national tournament for the first time — and it’s one of the organization’s most prestigious.

A side note: All four of the Dakota universities — UND, NDSU, South Dakota and South Dakota State — all have now reached in the Big Dance in either the men’s or women’s side of the tournament, thereby dispelling the fear that the Dakota schools couldn’t compete on the national level when they made the jump to Division I.

  • By reaching the Big Dance, UND receives national television exposure — which can only help in recruiting for the women’s basketball program.
  • Also, nothing excites an alumni fan base more than a team’s appearance in a national tournament. And, that likely means fundraising for the school’s athletic program becomes somewhat easier. It certainly can’t hurt.

The terminology

If you’re not a basketball fan and you decide to watch Sunday’s game, you’ll likely hear these words a lot:

  • Seed: The ranking of a team by the NCAA selection committee. Each of the four regions has 16 teams, seeded No. 1 through No. 16. The higher the seed, the better the program in the eyes of the NCAA. And higher-seeded teams play lower-seeded teams in the opening round.

Another side note: A No. 14 seed has never won a tournament game on the women’s side. Also, teams seeded No. 14, No. 15 and No. 16 are a combined 1-239 in tournament play; the lone win coming by Harvard over Stanford in 1998. But, as UND junior Emily Evers said earlier this week, “Why can’t we be the first?”

  • Bubble: Teams that may or may not get an at-large bid to the tournaments. The NCAA women’s tournament had 32 automatic qualifiers — teams that won their respective conference postseason tournaments — and 32 at-large teams, programs that were strong enough, in the selection committee’s view, to play in the tournament.
  • Cinderella: The one team that surprises nearly every fan. And, there always seems to be the one team that fits that label each year, on both the men’s and women’s side of the tournament.
  • RPI: Short for “rating percentage index,” this is a statistical ranking that is used to pare down the pool of potential at-large teams.
  • Bracket: The flow chart of how the single-elimination tournament progresses.
  • 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.
Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
(701) 780-1268