We finally made it through the long dark of winter. Today, life officially begins anew, with the best four days in sports: the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

For virtually 96 consecutive hours, we’ll be inundated with basketball action four games at a time. Whether you’re lucky enough to watch the games in person, smart enough to cash in some time off from work, or clever enough to sneakily stream NCAA Tournament games at work, Thursday-Sunday will be a blast. Here's what to watch for.

(Enjoy the 15 minutes before your bracket falls apart at the seams.)

All times are PM Eastern

West

1 Gonzaga vs. 16 Farleigh Dickinson | Thursday, 7:15, truTV

8 Syracuse vs.  9 Baylor | Thursday, 9:55, truTV

Baylor will need to overcome some injury issues if they want to avoid falling to Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, but neither team should scare Gonzaga.

 

4 Florida State vs. 13 Vermont | Thursday, 1:50, TBS

5 Marquette vs. 12 Murray State | Thursday, 4:20, TBS

The Catamounts will be a trendy upset pick against the Seminoles, but Florida State should have too much size and skill to be troubled here. The 5-12 matchup, on the other hand? Murray State has Ja Morant vs. a struggling Marquette team. Draw your own conclusions. 

 

3 Texas Tech vs. 14 Northern Kentucky | Friday, 1:30, TNT

6 Buffalo vs. 11 Arizona State  | Friday, 3:50, TNT

Texas Tech is head and shoulders above their section and shouldn’t have much drama during the first weekend.

 

7 Nevada vs. 10 Florida | Thursday, 6:45, TNT

2 Michigan vs. 15 Montana | Thursday, 9:15, TNT

The Wolverines will blitz Montana, but will certainly have their hands full after that. Nevada's squad is deep, hungry, and talented. And "Wolfpack vs. Wolverines" just sounds epic, doesn't it?

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South

8 Mississippi vs. 9 Oklahoma | Friday, 12:30, truTV

1 Virginia vs. 16 Gardner-Webb | Friday, 3:00, truTV

Virginia will have its share of doubters a year after losing to a No. 16 seed. They couldn't possibly do it again, could they? Assuming all goes according to plan, Oklahoma has the horses to make the Cavaliers uncomfortable in round two.

 

4 Kansas State vs. 13 UC Irvine | Friday, 1:50, TBS

5 Wisconsin vs. 12 Oregon | Friday, 4:20, TBS

Oregon is the best No. 12 seed this year, and they couldn’t have asked for a better draw. UC Irvine is the strongest No. 13 seed, and with Kansas State dealing with injuries, we could see a double-digit seed matchup in the second round.

 

6 Villanova vs. 11 Saint Mary's | Thursday, 7:15, TBS

3 Purdue vs. 14 Old Dominion | Thursday, 9:45, TBS

Every team here seems beatable, right? The health of Purdue’s Carsen Edwards will be the determining factor, and it's why Jay Wright and defending champions Villanova will likely move on to the second weekend.

 

7 Cincinnati vs. 10 Iowa | Friday, 12:00, CBS

2 Tennessee vs. 15 Colgate | Friday, 2:30, CBS

A No. 15 beating a No. 2 hasn’t happened since Middle Tennessee beat Michigan State in 2016, but if it happens this year, Colgate will be the team to do it. That means Cincinnati is a decent bet to slide through to the second weekend.

 

Midwest

8 Utah State vs. 9 Washington | Friday, 6:45, TNT

1 North Carolina vs. 16 Iona | Friday, 9:15, TNT

Utah State vs. Washington is the true coin flip of the first round. Washington was the best team in a disappointing Pac-12, while Utah State won the Mountain West tournament. Meanwhile, you can't spell "National Championship" without "Iona," right? They're happy to be here.

 

5 Auburn vs. 12 New Mexico State | Thursday, 1:20, TNT

4 Kansas vs. 13 Northeastern | Thursday, 3:50, TNT

Kansas was lucky to draw one of the softer No. 13 seeds in the bracket. Auburn is riding high and should be your favorite to move on to the second round.

 

3 Houston vs. 14 Georgia State | Friday, 7:15, TBS

6 Iowa State vs. 11 Ohio State | Friday, 9:45, TBS

The same can be said of Houston, who should shrug off the Panthers and whoever wins the 6/11 Big Ten matchup, although Iowa State can put up a lot of points.

 

2 Kentucky vs. 15 Abilene Christian | Thursday, 7:30, CBS

7 Wofford vs. 10 Seton Hall | Thursday, 9:30, CBS

Wofford fields a legitimately good team that can shoot the three very well, even if you couldn't find it on a map. Kentucky, though, is still Kentucky (UPDATE: P.J. Washington is out for the first game for Kentucky).

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East

1 Duke vs. 16 North Dakota State | Friday, 7:00, CBS

8 VCU vs. 9 UCF | Friday, 9:30, CBS

7-foot-6 Tacko Fall and UCF are fun, but VCU is a really strong unit. They might even have enough to bother Duke in the second round. Meanwhile, Zion Williamson vs. Mike Daum in round 1? Er, wait. Daum plays for South Dakota State. Duke by 50.

 

5 Mississippi State vs. 12 Liberty | Friday, 7:15, truTV

4 Virginia Tech vs. 13 Saint Louis | Friday, 9:55, truTV

This slate is looking chalky. Virginia Tech and Mississippi State are both safely better than their opponents. You can give the Hokies the edge, but it's always the least suspecting matchups where the upsets often happen. Your call.

 

3 LSU vs. 14 Yale | Thursday, 12:30, truTV

6 Maryland vs. 11 Belmont | Thursday, 3:00, truTV

Belmont can light up a scoreboard, but whether or not they can slow down Bruno Fernando will determine whether they can beat the Terrapins. Whichever team wins that game is your favorite to make the Sweet 16 with the off-the-court distractions that LSU is dealing with.

 

7 Louisville vs. 10 Minnesota | Thursday, 12:00, CBS

2 Michigan State vs. 15 Bradley | Thursday, 2:30, CBS

Louisville will likely throw the clamps on Minnesota and could pull the tournament's first upset of a No. 2 seed. The Cardinals beat Michigan State back in non-conference play. 


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