The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s and women’s basketball championship, including the famous Final Four games, is upon us. The events will be telecast, but there’s no substitute for being court-side. This guide will help you be a part of one of America’s most exciting basketball tournaments.

Tournament Structure

March Madness begins with Selection Sunday, the Sunday before the tournament. A committee determines the playing brackets, teams, and seeding (ranking).

Play commences with the First Four Out. The eight lowest-ranking men’s teams play against one another. Only the victors progress. This takes the number of men’s teams to 64, equal to the number of women’s teams.

In the second round, the 64 teams in both divisions play in 32 brackets. The 32 victors move to the third round, where they play in 16 brackets. The winners move to the regional semi-finals, also known as the Sweet Sixteen.

The Sweet Sixteen teams play others in their regions to determine the Elite Eight. The winners of these games move on to the Final Four.

The Final Four is made up of the winners of games played in the West, South, Midwest, and East regions of the United States. Teams must win four or five consecutive games to qualify for this stage of the competition.

Leading Up to the Final Four in 2016

The NCAA competition commences with the First Four Out March 15 and 16 at the University of Dayton Area in Dayton Ohio.

The second and third rounds of competition feature games on March 17 and 19 at the following venues:

  • Pepsi Center (Denver, Colorado)
  • Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines, Iowa)
  • Dunkin Donuts Center (Providence, Rhode Island)
  • PNC Arena (Raleigh, North Carolina)

Second- and third-round games are also held on March 18 and March 20 at the following venues:

  • Barclays Center (Brooklyn, New York)
  • Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
  • Scottrade Center (St. Louis, Missouri)
  • Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena (Spokane, Washington)

The regional semi-finals and finals will be held at the following venues on March 24 and 26:

  • West – Honda Center (Anaheim, California)
  • South – KFC YUM! Center (Louisville, Kentucky)

Regional semi-final and final games will also be held at the following venues on March 25 and 27:

  • Midwest – United Center (Chicago, Illinois)
  • East – Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Traveling by road will exhaust you, so consider hiring a private light jet like a Citation Ultra so you can get to all the games with enough energy to cheer on your teams.

Enjoy Houston With the Final Four

This year the Final Four teams travel to NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. On April 2, the four teams each play one game. The winners of these two games play against one another in the championship game on April 4.

While basketball may be on your mind, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy all Houston has to offer. Shop up a storm at the Galleria, Texas’ largest shopping mall, meet the animals at the Houston Zoo, or see a show at the Bayou Music Center, which regularly hosts live music, stand-up comedy, and stage plays. Houston also has more parks and green spaces than most busy cities. Hermann Park, Lake Houston Park, and Tranquility Park are welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Don’t settle for another month on the couch. Getting to the NCAA games is the only way for real basketball fans to truly experience the Final Four.

Featured Image via Flickr by edwardhblake