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Andy Wittry | | November 16, 2021

College basketball dictionary: 51 terms defined

Everything you need to know about March Madness

Filling out an NCAA tournament bracket every March is a tradition. Some of the NCAA tournament selection and seeding tools and metrics have changed in recent years though, and it can be hard to follow along if you're not a diehard fan of the sport.

That's why is here with a glossary of important college basketball-related terms. We've started with 51 and will add more as the language around the game changes and evolves. Did we miss any? Email us here to let us know the word or phrase that should be added to this list.

3-and-D — This is a phrase that has really increased in popularity in the last five years or so, especially at the NBA level. A 3-and-D player is typically an off-ball guard or wing who's a strong 3-point shooter and who plays commendable defense. Traditionally, a 3-and-D player is thought of as an important role player, rather than a team's leading scorer. A 3-and-D player can provide a secondary scoring option and spread the floor with his outside shooting ability, while locking down the opposing team's guards or wings, too.

All-American — At the end of every college basketball season, the best players in the country will be voted as All-Americans by various media outlets, such as the Associated Press. There are five All-America players per "team" and there are two or three All-America teams per outlet. If a player is named to one of those teams that means he/she is one of the 10 or 15 best players in the country.

The idea is that an All-America team represents an actual basketball team, so you're not going to see five point guards or five centers on an All-America team.

At-large bid — Teams that receive a bid to the NCAA tournament are broken into two categories: At-large bids, and automatic bids. The selection committee hands out 36 at-large bids to teams that did not win their conference tournament, but impressed the committee enough to earn a trip to the tournament. There is no limit on the number of at-large teams the committee may select from one conference.

Automatic bid  In Division I, there are 32 conferences. Each has its own conference tournament at the conclusion of the regular season. Teams that win this tournament, regardless of their regular-season performance, automatically earn a trip to the NCAA tournament. 

AP ranking — The Associated Press has been ranking the top basketball teams since 1948. In its current form, the poll ranks the top 25 teams in Division I via a ranking that is compiled from the ballots of 65 sports journalists across the country. The ranking has no official weight in the selection process, and even a No. 1 ranking in the AP poll does not technically guarantee a team a bid to the NCAA tournament. View the current AP rankings here.

Basketball IQ — Basketball IQ is the fundamental, high-level understanding of the sport that a player displays repeatedly through his actions and decisions on the court. A player with a high basketball IQ is someone who understands time and score, and whether it's better to hurry up and push the pace, or if it's better to slow down and work the clock. Basketball IQ could be displayed through an understanding of the scouting report and which opposing players can't be left open from behind the arc, and which ones aren't 3-point shooters. Or maybe it's be knowing whether an opponent is left-handed or right-handed, or what are an opposing player's tendencies. Here's what's Andy Katz said on the #MM365 podcast

"(It's who coaches) think is an extension of them," Katz said. "You've got to be a good passer. Someone who's a facilitator, leader. Did your team excel? Did you excel?"

Here are the former college basketball players who Katz said had the best basketball IQ since 2000.

Big Dance — The "Big Dance" is another name for the NCAA tournament. It's arguably the most exciting postseason tournament in all of sports, with 68 teams competing in a single-elimination bracket.

Bob Cousy Award — Named after former Holy Cross men's basketball player Bob Cousy, the Bob Cousy Award is given to the best point guard in the country by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

BPI College Basketball’s Power Index, invented by ESPN, is a statistic that measures how far above or below average every team is, and projects how well the team will do going forward. The index uses two measurements to do this: BPI Offense (measure of a team’s offensive strength compared to an average offense) and BPI Defense (measure of a team’s defensive strength compared to an average defense). BPI is calculated by finding the difference between these two measurements. View the current BPI rankings here.

Bracket — This is what we fill out every March online or, if you're old school, by hand. The bracket is the physical representation of the 68-team NCAA tournament. Here's the origin story of the NCAA bracket.

1939-49 Brackets: 1939 |1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | 1945 | 1946 | 1947 | 1948 | 1949
1950s: 1950 | 1951 |1952 | 1953 | 1954 | 1955 | 1956 | 1957 | 1958 | 1959
1960s: 1960 | 1961 | 1962 | 1963 | 1964 | 1965 | 1966 |1967 | 1968 | 1969
1970s: 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 
1980s: 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 19841985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989
1990s: 1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999
2000s: 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009
2010s: 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014| 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 
COVID-19 and college sports: Latest updates and schedules

The bubble — A team that is “on the bubble” for the NCAA tournament is one whose qualification for the tournament could go either way. They’re on the verge of making the field of 68, but an invitation isn’t guaranteed.

Cinderella Much like the titular character from the fairy tale, a Cinderella team is one that is much more successful than expected. Examples in March would be Villanova’s 1985 championship run, when the eighth-seeded Wildcats became the lowest seeded team to ever win the title, knocking off the heavy favorite Georgetown.

Cutting down the nets — There are four times in which you might see a college basketball team cutting down the nets, and each one comes with higher stakes. Cutting the nets off of the basket is a sign of celebration, and often the celebration of a championship. The first time during the college basketball season in which you might see a team cut down the nets is after a team wins a regular-season championship. This is probably the least frequent scenario, but if a school clinches the regular-season championship on its home floor and if it hasn't won its conference in a while, you might see the school bring out a ladder and a pair of scissors to cut the nets.

The amount of net-cutting really picks up during conference tournaments, where you'll see conference tournament champions cut the nets after they clinch an NCAA tournament automatic bid. You probably won't see teams cut the nets again until the regional finals, when teams advance to the Final Four.

Finally, the last team standing — the national champion — will cut the nets after it wins the national title. 

The practice probably started in Indiana high school basketball. In 1946, former Indiana high school coach Everett Case became the coach at North Carolina State. When the Wolfpack won the Southern Conference tournament in 1947, Case climbed atop his players’ shoulders and cut part of the net to have as a souvenir

Defensive efficiency A simple statistic that calculates the points allowed per 100 defensive possessions. For example, if Team A’s opponent scored 80 points in a game with 75 possessions, Team A’s defensive efficiency would be 106.7. View current defensive efficiency rankings here.

Elite Eight — The fourth round of the tournament, when just eight teams remain, is known as the Elite Eight. This round is the final game for each regional, before the four winners move on to the national semifinal, known as the Final Four. Read our Elite Eight ultimate guide for more.

Euro step — The Euro step is a deceiving offensive move by a ball-handler, who takes a long, exaggerated step in one direction, only to take another step with his other foot in the opposite direction as he tries to catch the defender off-guard with a change of direction and change of speed. When performed correctly, a Euro step is not a travel.

Eye test — While not an official metric, the "eye test" is a phrase you'll hear college basketball analysts use to the effect of "you know good basketball when you see it." It could theoretically be used in support of or against a team, where a viewer decides that a team's performance does or doesn't match up with its wins and losses, and advanced metrics. 

Final Four The fifth round of the tournament, when just four teams remain, is known as the Final Four. This is the penultimate round of the tournament, when the winners of each regional face off for a chance to play in the championship game. Read our Final Four ultimate guide for more.

First Four — The First Four is the set of four games that kick off the NCAA tournament every season in Dayton, Ohio. There are two games that are part of the First Four that are played on the Tuesday following Selection Sunday, then two more games are played on Wednesday, with the first round of the NCAA tournament starting on Thursday.

NCAA Senior Vice President for Basketball Dan Gavitt said in October 2020 that  "The University of Dayton and the Dayton community take incredible pride in tipping off March Madness every year with the First Four. It's been a very successful place from a fan attendance standpoint, from a team experience standpoint, from a centrality of the location in the country to get teams in and out to start and to go on to the first-round sites after those teams advance. While we did consider other options, Dayton continues to win the day and really excited to be now bring four more years of First Four to Dayton, which will ensure the 25th anniversary of their first time hosting in 2001 will take place during this bid cycle."

Entering the 2020-21 season, University of Dayton Arena has hosted a national-high 125 NCAA tournament games, in large part because of the First Four.

First four out When ranking all 68 teams in the NCAA tournament, the First Four Out fall in spots 69-72. These teams will not make the NCAA tournament, but will be the top-seeded teams in the NIT Championship.

Glue guy — This is a term that you'll hear a lot in college basketball conversations about which players help hold a team together, both in statistical production and intangible qualities like leadership. There's not necessarily one standard definition for "glue guy," but it's typically not someone who leads his team in scoring and it's not always even a starter. Maybe it's a veteran who's an emotional leader of his team. Maybe it's a player who's the third or fourth option on offense but who's responsible for a critical eight to 10 points per game. Maybe it's a jack-of-all-trades who can score, create good looks for his team, rebound and play defense.

Going dancing — Since the NCAA tournament is often referred to as the Big Dance, teams that make the tournament — either through an automatic bid or an at-large bid — are often said to "go dancing." Sometimes, quite literally. Almost every March you'll see videos on social media from winning locker rooms, where a team and its coach will dance in a circle after clinching an NCAA tournament berth.

Jerry West Award — Named after former West Virginia star Jerry West, the Jerry West Award is given to the best shooting guard in the country.

John R. Wooden Award — Named after former UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden, the John R. Wooden Award is given to the most outstanding men's and women's basketball player every season.

Julius Erving Award — Named after former UMass great Julius "Dr. J" Erving, the Julius Erving Award is given to the best small forward in the country every season.

Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the 1968 Final Four

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award — Named after former UCLA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award is given to the best center in the country.

Karl Malone Award — Named after former Louisiana Tech big man Karl Malone, the Karl Malone Award is given to the best power forward in the country.

KenPom — Founded by its namesake Ken Pomeroy, is one of the leading advanced analytics websites in the sport. Rather than tracking basketball statistics on a per-game, or counting, basis, adjusts production based on tempo (how fast or slow a team plays) and the quality of opponent.

For example, you wouldn't rely on to tell you how many points per game an individual player is averaging, but rather how efficiently he scores. Rather than looking at rebounds per game, answers what percent of available offensive and defensive rebounds an individual player or team secures.

A team's ranking is one of the metrics used on the official NCAA team sheets that are part of the NCAA tournament selection and seeding process.

KPI — KPI Sports ranks every team’s wins and losses on a scale of -1.0 (the worst possible loss) to +1.0 (the best possible win), and averages these scores across a season to give a score to a team’s winning percentage. The formula uses opponent’s winning percentage, opponent’s strength of schedule, scoring margin, pace of game, location, and opponent’s KPI ranking. View the current KPI rankings here.

Last four in — Another unofficial term, the "last four in" refers to the final four teams that receive at-large bids to the tournament. These are teams that are usually on the bubble as Selection Sunday draws near.

Most Outstanding Player (MOP) — The Most Outstanding Player is given to the best player at the Final Four every season, based on performances in the two national semifinal games and the national championship. The Most Outstanding Player is almost always awarded to a player on the team that wins the national championship, but there have been instances where a player from another team has been so outstanding that he/she receives the award. Houston's Akeem Olajuwon (1983) and Virginia's Dawn Staley (1991) are the last examples of a player receiving Most Outstanding Player honors despite not winning the national championship.

Plus, there's not always a guarantee that the best player on the championship-winning team earns MOP honors. Sure, Anthony Davis was the MOP for Kentucky in 2012, one year after UConn's Kemba Walker won the award, but Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo didn't even start in the national championship in 2018 but he was the game's leading scorer.

MTE (Multi-team event) — MTEs, or multi-team events, have been around long before the 2020-21 college basketball season, but they might play a greater role than in any previous season, due to their ability to host multiple games in one location. Some of the most popular MTEs are events such as the Maui Invitational and Battle 4 Atlantis, but in the 2020-21 season, many of those events will be played in new locations and many new MTEs will be formed.

If you're a college basketball fan, you should follow MTEs closely, because they often mean daytime basketball around the holidays and these events often provide multiple high-level matchups in consecutive days for the teams involved.

Naismith College Player of the Year — Named after Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, the Naismith College Player of the Year is given to the best men's and women's basketball players in the country each season. There are also the Naismith College Coach of the Year and Naismith Defensive Player of the Year awards.

NET rankings — The NCAA Evaluation Tool, or the NET, was introduced in 2018 for the 2018-19 men's basketball season, replacing the RPI as the primary sorting tool used by the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee. It was created after consultation with Google Cloud Professional Services. Women's college basketball adopted the NET to replace the RPI starting in the 2020-21 season. 

The NET was changed prior to the 2020-21 season to increase its accuracy and reduce it from a five-component metric to just two components. The two remaining components are the Team Value Index (TVI), which is a results-based component that rewards teams for beating quality opponents, especially away from home, and a team's adjusted net efficiency rating, which calculates how many points a team scores on average on offense minus the number of points it allows on average on defense.

The NET previously used winning percentage, adjusted winning percentage and scoring margin.

NET rankings are updated daily (starting every December in a normal season) and they're used to sort wins and losses into one of four quadrants, such that Quadrant I games represent tougher games than Quadrant 4 games.

You can view the latest men's basketball NET rankings here.

Non-conference — Every men's basketball team is part of a conference. There are 32 of them, in fact. But typically, the first two months of the season are dominated by non-conference play, when a team will typically play teams from other conferences. Non-conference wins can go a long way for a team's NCAA tournament resume because once conference play starts, the pool of teams you're going to play before Selection Sunday is limited to those teams in your own conference.

Offensive efficiency — Points scored per 100 offensive possessions. For example, if a team scored 95 points in a game with 85 possessions, their offensive efficiency would be 115.9. View current offensive efficiency rankings here.

One Shining Moment – After every NCAA tournament, there's a video called One Shining Moment that's based on a song with the same name, written by David Barrett specifically for the NCAA tournament. The One Shining Moment video will show every team in that season's NCAA tournament at least once and the video will show some of the most emotional moments — both highs and lows — from the tournament. One of the cool aspects of the One Shining Moment is that it'll include moments from the national championship game, which means the video producers are working on deadline to have it finished just moments after a national champion is declared.

Regional — The NCAA tournament bracket is split into four regionals. The South, East, West, and Midwest. The first four rounds of the tournament are played in regionals, with the Elite Eight serving as the regional championship game. Teams are assigned a regional based on a combination of factors, such as overall seed, proximity to the regional, the other teams in that regional, and more.

Resume — You'll hear the word "resume" as it pertains to college basketball more and more often as the season gets closer to March. Similar to someone's professional resume, a college basketball team's resume is a list of their accomplishments and where they've been. A team's resume essentially refers to everything that's on a team sheet, which you can read about as you scroll down this glossary. A resume refers to a team's record, its best wins and its team rankings in metrics such as the NET, on and in KPI.

RPI — The basic RPI (Rating Percentage Index) consists of a team’s Division I winning percentage (25 percent weight), its opponents’ winning percentage (50 percent weight) and its opponents opponents’ winning percentage (25 percent weight). Before the 2018-19 season, the RPI was one of the many metrics used by the selection committee, but it has since been replaced by the NET.

SAG — On a team sheet, “SAG” stands for Sagarin rankings, from The Sagarin rankings account for score differentials, strength of schedule, and weights for how recent a game was (wins in February are worth more than wins in November). Sagarin rankings differ from KenPom rankings in that efficiency is not taken into account. View the current rankings here.

Seed — 68 teams earn bids to the men's DI NCAA tournament, and each one receives a seed — from 1 to 16 —that determines where the team will be placed in the bracket. After the First Four, there are four of every seed. The seeds are also ranked overall from 1 to 68. This overall ranking affects the order in which team locations are selected (with higher-ranked teams getting preference), and which teams play in the First Four (the four lowest-seeded at-large teams and the four lowest-seeded automatic qualifiers go to the First Four).

Selection committee —The 10-member NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Committee is responsible for selecting, seeding and bracketing the field for the NCAA Tournament. School and conference administrators are nominated by their conference, serve five-year terms and represent a cross-section of the Division I membership. Here is how the field of 68 is selected.

Selection Sunday — Every year, the NCAA tournament bracket is revealed on Selection Sunday, when the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee selects and seeds 68 teams for the NCAA tournament. There are 32 automatic bids and the rest of the teams earn at-large bids. Here is this season's Selection Sunday schedule.

The final conference tournament championship games are played on Selection Sunday and those games lead into the selection show.

Strength of record — From ESPN: “Strength of Record (SOR) is a measure of team accomplishment based on how difficult a team's W-L record is to achieve. SOR reflects the chance a typical 25th ranked team would have team's record or better, given the schedule on a 0 to 100 scale, where 100 is best.”

Strength of schedule — Strength of Schedule (or SoS) measures the difficulty of a team’s schedule, based on the win percentage of the team’s opponents.

Stretch four — This is a term that's used for a forward who can also shoot from outside the arc. You may even hear the term "stretch five" sometimes, which refers to a center who can shoot 3-pointers. A stretch four can cause mismatches and hurt the opposing defense if he can play beyond the arc, therefore "stretching" the floor and forcing his defender, who's probably somewhere between 6-7 and 6-10, to move away from the basket.

Sweet 16  The third round of the tournament, where only 16 teams remain. The winner of each game will play in the Elite Eight. Read our Sweet 16 ultimate guide for more.

Team sheets — An NCAA team sheet is the one-stop shop for any college basketball's team's record, schedule, strength of schedule and other metrics, and it's used in the NCAA tournament selection and seeding process. While a team sheet can be a sensory overload for a first-time viewer, the sheet is organized and color-coded to organize each of the components listed on the sheet.

At the top of a men's basketball team's team sheet is the school name, the team's record, its NET ranking, KPI ranking, strength of record, ESPN's BPI ranking, ranking and Sagarin ranking. Each team sheet clearly labels the date through which the team sheet's data is current.

Wins and losses are organized into one of four quadrants, which classifies every game based on the location of the game and the strength of the opponent. If you're interested in learning even more about the NET and its history, you can read even more here.

Below, you can see an example of a team sheet, which shows Gonzaga's final team sheet from the 2019-20 season, when the Bulldogs finished No. 1 in the men's basketball NET rankings. Gonzaga's final team sheet from the 2019-20 season.


Quadrant system — The quadrant system sorts wins and losses based on the combination of an opponent's NET ranking and the location of a game. The quadrant system was first used in the 2017-18 season.

There are four quadrants, which are outlined below along with the NET rankings that apply for each location and quadrant:

  • Quadrant 1: Home 1-30; Neutral court 1-50; Away 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home 31-75; Neutral court 51-100; Away 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home 76-160; Neutral court 101-200; Away 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home 161-357; Neutral court 201-357; Away 241-357

A team's wins and losses in each quadrant are organized on its team sheet.

X-factor — You might hear the descriptors "X-factor" and "glue guy" used interchangeably, or you might be confused as to what is the difference between the two terms. You can think of an X-factor as a player who can take a team from good to great. Similarly to a glue guy, an X-factor may not be the team's leading scorer, but it might be a role player whose consistency and whose ceiling might determine how well her or his team performs.

An X-factor could be a team's third-leading scorer who erupts for 20 points. It could be a player with elite athleticism who could be the most talented player on the floor when he puts everything together. It could be a dead-eye 3-point shooter, who's capable of making four or five 3-pointers in a game.

If you're looking for some past examples of men's basketball players who were considered X-factors, here's a story from the 2018-19 season that outlined some of the top players who were considered X-factors.

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