It’s the end of one journey and the beginning of another. March 15 is the first day of March Madness, the annual NCAA basketball tournament where teams from 68 schools will look to go on an eight-game win streak to solidify their place in history.

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Montana players hoist the Big Sky Championship trophy. (Harrison Epstein / The Signpost)

Teams compete for a championship and fans attempt to predict every game correctly and choose a perfect bracket.

To get into the NCAA Tournament, teams have to qualify either as an automatic qualifier or an at-large bid recipient.

Every game matters during college basketball season: a bad loss or a big loss can be what determines a team’s fate when it comes to getting into the tournament.

The regular season is a giant factor when it comes to working your way into the tournament, but it’s the conference tournament that looks like the golden ticket to an event basketball fanatics call, “The Big Dance.”

If a team wins their conference tournament they get an automatic bid, teams who don’t must wait for the first Sunday after all the conference tournaments end — Selection Sunday.

On Selection Sunday, the selection committee, which is composed of 10 different college athletics officials, decide on the at-large teams and the seeding of the teams in the bracket.

The NCAA tournament is made up of 68 teams and four regions, the west, east, south and midwest. In each region, there are 16 teams seeded 1–16 from best to worst. The top seeded team plays the lowest seeded team, and that formula continues for the rest of the match-ups.

Despite featuring 68 teams, the bracket has only 64 spaces. Four of the spots are decided in first-round, play-in games. The four play-in winners are then seeded as two of the 11-seeds and two 16-seeds.

The rounds are known as the round of 64, the round of 32, the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Final Four and then the pièce de résistance, the NCAA Championship.

Each team needs eight wins to become the NCAA champions. However, there are 63 other teams who are looking to do the same thing, and all it takes is a bad night to get sent home early.

The tourney almost never goes as it’s expected to go. Every year, top teams lose to lower-seeded teams, making March Madness a phenomenon for the unpredictability and the annual hope for a Cinderella Story.

The Cinderella Story is the impossible success, the low-seeded time who defies all odds and has an unforgettable run. Teams like Butler in 2011, VCU in 2011, Davidson in 2008 and George Mason in 2006 live forever in the memories of college basketball fans.

But history is unkind to 16-seeds. They have never beaten a top-seeded team in the history of the college basketball tournament. However, 15-seeds tell a different story.

Although it is rare, there have been 15-seeds that took down 2-seed teams in the first round. The most recent was in 2016, when Middle Tennessee State beat Michigan State.

The most common upsets are the 12-seed over the 5-seed and the 11- seed over the 6-seed, a fact fans can’t forget when filling in their brackets.

Ultimately, what makes March special is not the Cinderellas, not the thrilling games and not the historic individual performances by players. It’s all of it combined.

The Big Dance begins today. The games can be found on TBS, TruTV or TNT. They can also all be streamed at ncaa.com and the NCAA app.

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