NCAA March Madness 2021: First Four times, bracket, how to watch and what you need to know

March 18, 2021 0 By boss

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March Madness is back. The pandemic caused last year’s NCAA tournament to be canceled, but college basketball’s premier event has returned for 2021, albeit with a few changes to account for COVID-19. Typically, the early rounds are scattered across the country in different “regions,” but this year the 67 men’s games will all take place in Indiana, with the bulk of the action happening in Indianapolis. Because of this change, tweaks have also been made to the seeding process for figuring out which teams are playing in which group. 

With this year’s bracket now set, the First Four games will take place tonight before the first round begins Friday. Here is what you need to know about the 2021 men’s tournament. 

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Lucas Oil Stadium will once again be hosting NCAA men’s basketball games. 


Lucas Oil Stadium

When does the tournament start? 

In the past, the first round of the tournament usually begins on a Thursday, with a second slate of opening-round games taking place on Friday before the second round on Saturday and Sunday. 

As part of the changes for this year’s tournament, the NCAA moved things around a bit. The “First Four,” the games to decide the final play-in slots, are now happening today, Thursday, March 18, while the first-round games have been moved to Friday and Saturday. The second round will take place starting on Sunday, March 21, and Monday, March 22.

What is the schedule for the tournament? 

As with past years, you’ll need to have CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV to catch all the action. Here’s the full list of dates to keep in mind, as well as which networks will have coverage.  

  • First Four: Thursday, March 18 on TruTV and TBS starting at 5:10 p.m. ET (2:10 p.m. PT)
  • First Round: Friday, March 19 and Saturday, March 20 on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV starting at 12:15 p.m. ET (9:15 a.m. PT) 
  • Second Round: Sunday, March 21 and Monday, March 22 on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV
  • Sweet 16: Saturday, March 27 and Sunday, March 28 on CBS (afternoon games) and TBS (primetime games)
  • Elite Eight: Monday, March 29 and Tuesday, March 30 on CBS (Monday) and TBS (Tuesday)
  • Final Four: Saturday, April 3 on CBS
  • National Championship: Monday, April 5 on CBS

Who is playing in the First Four games? 

Here’s the schedule of the First Four games, which will take place on Thursday, March 18. 

  • Texas Southern vs. Mount St. Mary’s, 5:10 p.m. ET (2:10 p.m. PT) on TruTV
  • Drake vs. Wichita State, 6:27 p.m. ET (3:27 p.m. PT) on TBS
  • Appalachian State vs. Norfolk State, 8:40 p.m. ET (5:40 p.m. PT) on TruTV
  • UCLA vs. Michigan State, 9:57 p.m. ET (6:57 p.m. PT) on TBS

Who are the top seeds, where can I find the bracket? 

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The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been one of the best teams throughout the season and will be a No. 1 seed in this year’s March Madness tournament. 


William Mancebo/Getty Images

Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan and Illinois are the top seeds in the tournament with each a No. 1 seed in their respective regions. The full bracket can be found at a number of locations including on the NCAA’s website

Can I watch without a cable subscription? 

You can, though because of the various networks it could get a little complicated.

Streaming services such as YouTube TV, Hulu Plus Live TV and AT&T TV offer all four of the channels you’ll need to catch the action, but they start at $65 per month ($70 per month for AT&T). Cheaper streaming services like Sling TV’s $35 per month Blue package have TBS, TNT and TruTV but lack CBS. FuboTV has CBS, but lacks TNT, TBS and TruTV. 

You can also get CBS with an antenna or with Paramount Plus, the new name for CBS All Access, a streaming service that runs $6 per month. 

Games will be available to stream on the NCAA’s March Madness Live website and app, with the CBS-broadcasted games available for free without needing to first authenticate with a cable provider. Watching the games that are broadcast on TBS, TNT and TruTV, however, will require you to first log in with your cable provider’s credentials.   

YouTube TV costs $65 a month and includes CBS. Plug in your ZIP code on its welcome page to see what live, local networks are available where you live.

Hulu With Live TV costs $65 a month and includes CBS. Click the “View all channels in your area” link on its welcome page to see which local channels are offered in your ZIP code. 

FuboTV costs $60 a month and includes CBS. Click here to see which local channels you get.

Outside the US? Consider using a VPN: CNET editors choose the best VPN

Where will the games take place? 

As mentioned, the entire tourney will take place in Indiana and most games will take place in Indianapolis. Per the NCAA, venues for this year’s games include two courts inside Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts) plus Bankers Life Fieldhouse (home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers), Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler’s stadium), Indiana Farmers Coliseum (home of the IUPUI Jaguars), Mackey Arena in West Lafayette (Purdue’s arena) and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington (home of the Indiana Hoosiers). 

The NCAA says that only one game will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium at a time, while teams will practice at the Indiana Convention Center. Dedicated hotel floors will house each team. 

On March 1, the NCAA tweeted out images of this year’s floor layout for Lucas Oil Stadium as well as some of the other venues. 

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