March Madness 2018 Topical Guide

The Associated Press compiled a list of essential basketball words, phrases and definitions for coverage of the NCAA Tournament for U.S. college men and women from mid-March through early April. Most terms are from the Sports Guidelines in the AP Stylebook. Others are in common usage in AP news stories.

All-America, All-American

The Associated Press recognizes only one All-America team chosen each year by the AP. Use All-American when referring specifically to an individual: All-American Kelsey Plum.

Use All-America when referring to the team: AP's first All-America team was chosen in 1948.

March Madness

Capitalized in all references to the yearly college basketball championships for men and women.

NCAA Tournament

Both terms are capitalized. Acceptable in all references to the National Collegiate Athletic Association's championships.

For the NCAA Tournament, these capitalized popular names are acceptable: Sweet 16 for regional playoffs Elite Eight for regional finals Final Four for national semifinals


In general, spell out one through nine in most uses and use figures for 10 or above. Use figures whenever preceding a unit of measure or points, as well as for team records or game numbers.

Some sample uses of numbers: first place
in the first half
second half; a second-half lead
nine field goals; 10 baskets
a 3-pointer
a 3-point play
the 6-foot-5 player; the 6-5 guard.
He is 6 feet 10 inches tall.
The final score was 71-68.
The team won its fourth game in 10 days.
The team's record is 28-3.
The team won its 10th league title.


Avoid the redundant new record. Correct: The team won 33 games to set a conference record.

Spellings of frequently used basketball terms:

air ball
hook shot
fast break
field goal
foul line
foul shot
free throw
free-throw line
full-court press
game plan
half-court pass
jump ball
jump shot
overtime, double overtime, triple overtime
postgame, pregame
tip off (v.)
tipoff (n., adj.)
warmup (n.), warm up (v.)
zone, zone defense


Capitalize teams, leagues and nicknames: Kansas, Big Ten, the Wildcats.

Team names, including singular forms, take plural verbs: The Cardinal are favored. The Jayhawks are hosting.

Common nouns that denote a unit take singular verbs and pronouns: The team is favored to win its third championship.


Use common descriptions for time frames in unless the exact time is truly relevant: Midway through the second half rather than 6:28 into the second half.

Precise times down to the second are usually reserved for the final minute or two minutes of each period: He scored with 1:02 left.


Job descriptions, team positions and informal titles are lowercase: coach John Calipari.

Some other informal titles spelled lowercase: captain, manager, trainer. Capitalize formal titles for university officials only when they are used immediately before a name: Harvard President Drew Faust; Gene Block, UCLA chancellor.

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