How hard is it to win the NCAA Tournament?

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, better known as March Madness, is a 68-team single-elimination tournament held every spring to determine the national champion of Division I men’s college basketball. It is the ultimate test in college sports and one of the biggest basketball events in the world with millions of fans watching the action.

Betting on the NCAA basketball competition is also big business, and it is one of the busiest times on the sports calendar for bookmakers, who pull out all the stops to offer deals such as the popular FanDuel March Madness promo.

It is also extremely difficult to win the tournament. Only 15 colleges have won it more than once. So far this century, only Florida has won back-to-back titles. So, what makes it so difficult for teams to win this famous tournament and earn the crown of the best college team in men’s basketball?


The tournament is one of the most competitive in US sports. First a college needs to earn its place in the March Madness competition, and only 68 of the 350 college basketball programs will be able to do that. In the tournament itself, the level of competition is incredibly high.

All teams must win six straight games against some of the best college basketball teams in the country to win the championship. These teams feature players who have been recruited from all over the world and many boast All-American caliber players and future NBA stars.

ncaa tournament march madness
Photo: Streeter Lecka – Getty Images
High pressure

Teams, fans and alumni all have high expectations for their team’s performance in the tournament. The pressure to live up to these expectations can be intense for players and coaches, especially if the team is a top seed or has a deep run in the tournament, and if the team’s supporters and officials have high expectations or a strong tradition of success, that pressure is intense.

While March Madness can be the launchpad for an NBA career, it also brings national and even global attention to relatively young athletes, in some cases, for the first time in their lives. Learning how to deal with that pressure can take time.

The unpredictability of March Madness

Unlike many other sports in the US, the NCAA tournament is known for its upsets and Cinderella stories, which explains the appeal for basketball fans who fill in their ‘brackets’ each spring, attempting the near impossible task of predicting every game.

The tournament uses a single-elimination format, meaning that a team only gets one chance to advance. This adds an extra layer of tension and unpredictability to each game, as a loss ends a team’s season, while a win keeps their championship hopes alive. A lower seed can beat a higher seed in any given game, making it difficult to predict the outcome of any given match-up.

This unpredictability is enhanced by the short turnaround of the competition. The tournament is held over three weeks, which means that teams must play multiple games in a short period of time and maintaining consistency from one game to the next presents a challenge.

The endurance factor

The NCAA tournament is often referred to as a marathon, not a sprint, and for good reason. Teams must play six games in three weeks, often with just one day of rest in between. The physical and mental toll of the tournament can be overwhelming for players.

Injuries can play a significant role in this tournament. While some teams are clearly stronger than others, it is rare for a college basketball program to have the same depth as you would expect from an NBA team, and that makes the star players on a team even more important.

One player’s absence can change the outcome of a game, and not every player has the physical constitution to withstand the tournament’s demands. The unpredictability of injuries can make it difficult to predict the outcome of a match-up, especially in close games. This makes the entire tournament reliant on endurance and stamina just as much as athletic skill.


Winning the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is a formidable task that requires a combination of talent, preparation and luck. With the level of competition, pressure, unpredictability, short turnaround and fatigue that come with this event, it’s no surprise that winning a national championship in college basketball is considered one of the greatest achievements in sports.

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