College basketball fans everywhere are thoroughly excited about the NCAA tournament, but when does March Madness start? Tournament play began on Tuesday night, but the real action doesn’t begin until later this week.
While the NCAA Tournament is traditionally associated with a field of 64 teams, a brief slate of “play-in games” actually pushes that total to 68. Each year, the NCAA gives a few bubble teams the opportunity to earn a spot in the official tournament field by winning a one-game playoff against a matched opponent.
Consequently, these play-in games are referred to as “Round 1” or the "First Four" of the tournament, despite the fact that they occur before the traditional opening round. Some fans have found the NCAA's addition of a "First Four" to be a bit confusing.
This year’s play-in games began on Tuesday, March 18, to determine the No. 16 seed in the tournament’s South region and the No. 12 seed in the Midwest region. Albany defeated Mt. St. Mary’s to earn the No. 16 seed, while NC State defeated Xavier to score the No. 12 seed.
The tournament’s field of 64 will be finalized on Wednesday, March 19, where play-in games will determine the 16-seed and 11-seed in the Midwest bracket. Cal Poly will play Texas Southern for the right to play Wichita St. as a 16-seed, while the winner of the matchup between Iowa and Tennessee will determine the 11-seed. Coverage of both games will begin at 6:40 p.m. ET on truTV.
Once the play-in games are complete, the field of 64 begins play in earnest in what is known as “Round 2” of the tournament. This second round will take place from Thursday, March 20, until Friday, March 21, and will determine which teams advance to the round of 32. The first slew of games will begin at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday.
From there, the March Madness proceeds as one would expect, narrowing down to the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Final Four and, finally, to the NCAA National Championship. A full NCAA Tournament TV schedule and list of games can be found here.
Meanwhile, fans who are still worrying about how to set up their bracket in time for the second round can check out IBTimes’ official bracket tips here.