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84 and Counting – History of March Madness

There will be little time for sports fans to settle into their usual post-Super Bowl morass this year. Concluding the NFL season a week later than usual will mean a dramatic and sudden segue from football to basketball. What is now the most significant event in college sports will be getting started on March 14, and it will be non-stop, breathless action through to April 03. 

Fans across the nation will be preparing their March Madness brackets, and Gamble Online has assembled the latest March Madness Odds 2023 to help pick out the favorites and potential dark horses. But before you dive headfirst into the chaos, here is a little background on March Madness.

Illinois origins

Henry Porter was an Illinois educator, coach, and athletics administrator. He was involved in several sports during the early and mid-20th century but was most closely associated with basketball. As well as designing the modern basketball and backboard, he also coined the phrase March Madness. 

It appeared for the first time in a 1939 paper. Speaking affectionately of the “everyman” basketball fan of the time, he wrote: “When the March madness is on him, midnight jaunts of a hundred miles on successive nights make him even more alert the next day.”

Porter was proud of the phrase, as two years later, he penned a poem entitled "Basketball Ides of March," which concluded with the lines: 

Now eagles fly, and heroes die
Beneath some foreign arch
Let their sons tread where hate is dead
In a happy Madness of March.

Madness for all in 1982


The “March Madness” term gradually spread beyond Illinois and the rest of the United States. By the early 80s, women’s sport was being taken seriously, and in 1982, the first Women’s March Madness tournament took place. 32 teams contested it, and the inaugural event winner was Louisiana Tech

In 1990, the tournament was extended to 64 teams, and this year, it will be contested by 68, adopting an identical format to the men’s tournament. 

Top performers

UCLA is the most successful men’s team in March Madness history, having won the title 11 times. However, 10 of those wins came during a hot streak between 1964 to 1975, and they have not won since 1995. Kansas, the current champions, hold the record for the longest streak of consecutive appearances – that’s 32 and counting from 1990 to date. 

In the women’s tournament, UConn has the most wins, also 11, and Tennessee is second on the all-time list with eight. They are clear of the rest of the pack, with Baylor third on three wins. However, the women’s event tends to throw up surprises. Seven teams have won just once.

UConn is the only college to have won both the men’s and women’s events in the same year. They achieved the feat twice, first in 2004 and most recently in 2014.

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