You’ve filled out your bracket. You’ve called out sick from work. You have enough pizza and wings in your fridge to feed an entire sports bar.
That can only mean one thing: Yes, the best four days on the sports calendar have arrived.
From Thursday afternoon until Sunday evening, CBS and Turner Sports will televise 48 men’s NCAA tournament games. Here’s a look at which games on Thursday’s slate are must-see and which you can afford to click away from until the final two minutes.
THURSDAY AFTERNOON (All times Eastern)
12:15 p.m. — No. 8 Maryland vs. No. 9 West Virginia (CBS)
12:40 p.m. — No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Furman (truTV)
1:40 p.m. — No. 7 Missouri vs. No. 10 Utah State (TNT)
2 p.m. — No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Howard (TBS)
Must-see: The highest-scoring game of the day might be a matchup between two programs who haven’t won an NCAA tournament game in more than a decade. Utah State and Missouri boast efficient offenses, though they score in different ways. The Aggies are hard to guard because they space the floor with four or more shooters yet punish defenses who overextend to try to take away the deep ball. Missouri will counter by punishing Utah State in the paint, whether by beating the Aggies down the court or attacking favorable matchups off the dribble.
Must-skip: Howard has faced five top-150 teams this season, per Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. The Bison have lost to Kentucky, VCU, Yale, Belmont and James Madison by an average of more than 25 points. That does not bode well for Howard’s chances of staying competitive against reigning national champion Kansas, which won the outright Big 12 title and defeated Kentucky, Duke and Indiana in non-league play.
Most likely potential upset: Virginia’s slow pace and susceptibility to scoring droughts makes it more vulnerable to upsets than other high seeds. So does the absence of injured forward Ben Vander Plas, an important floor spacer in the Cavaliers’ offense. Then there’s the opponent that Virginia drew, a 27-win Furman team with strong guard play and a pro prospect in Swiss army 6-foot-7 forward Jalen Slawson. The Paladins are capable of covering a 6.5-point spread and, if things break right, perhaps even to win outright.
Player to watch: Jahmir Young, G, Maryland — For years, Young heard he wasn’t big or talented enough to play high-major college basketball. Now the Charlotte transfer is proving the skeptics wrong as the centerpiece of a Maryland team that will face West Virginia in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
2:45 p.m. — No. 1 Alabama vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi (CBS)
3:10 p.m. — No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 12 College of Charleston (truTV)
4:10 p.m. — No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Princeton (TNT)
4:30 p.m. — No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Illinois (TBS)
Must-see: Two of the few future NBA lottery picks playing in this year’s NCAA tournament are in Arkansas’ starting five. Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black will try to lead the Razorbacks past always erratic Illinois and set up a potential second-round clash with Kansas. How did Arkansas lose 13 games this season with NBA talent splashed across its roster? A big reason is that the pieces don’t fit together all that well. The Razorbacks don’t have enough shooters to space the floor, which makes half-court offense difficult.
Must-skip: Alabama beat Texas A&M by 19 last Sunday. What are the Crimson Tide going to do to Texas A&M Corpus Christi? The Brandon Miller scandal will overshadow this NCAA tournament soon enough as Alabama advances deeper into March. There’s no reason to sit through Miller and his teammates overwhelming a heavily outmanned 16 seed.
Most likely potential upset: Almost by default, the answer is College of Charleston over San Diego State, but be careful anointing the 31-win Cougars as your 12-5 upset pick. San Diego State is a tough draw for a team who wants to run and gun and shoot threes. The defensive-minded Aztecs are going to be able to slow the tempo to a crawl, play lock-down perimeter defense and keep Charleston off the offensive glass.
Player to watch: Yes, Brandon Miller will suck up all the attention surrounding Alabama, but the reemergence of Jahvon Quinerly has raised the Crimson Tide’s ceiling even higher. A one-time five-star recruit and a key contributor to Alabama’s 2021 Elite Eight team, Quinerly tore an ACL last March and has struggled with consistency coming off the bench this season. But in his last six games, the veteran point guard has found his previous form, reentering Alabama’s starting lineup in the SEC tournament and tallying 22 points in the title game.
THURSDAY NIGHT (All times Eastern)
6:50 p.m. — No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 Auburn (TNT)
7:10 p.m. — No. 5 Duke vs. No. 12 Oral Roberts (CBS)
7:25 p.m. — No. 2 Texas vs. No. 15 Colgate (TBS)
7:35 p.m. — No. 7 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Boise State (truTV)
Must-see: Duke-Oral Roberts isn’t just the most anticipated game of this window. It might be the marquee game of the first round. An Oral Roberts team that is far better than the 15th-seeded one that made a stunning Sweet 16 run two years ago will take aim at a talent-laden Duke team that is peaking entering March. Max Abmas is back and even more lethal attacking off ball screens. His supporting cast is even stronger this year, headlined by 7-foot-5 pick-and-pop specialist Connor Vanover.
Must-skip: While Northwestern-Boise State should be a tight, hard-fought game, it brings the least sizzle to a window teeming with compelling matchups. Can Boo Buie, Chase Audige and a formidable defense extend overachieving Northwestern’s season beyond the first round of the NCAA tournament? Or can Boise State secure Leon Rice’s first NCAA tournament win? Maybe tune in for the last four minutes to find out.
Most likely potential upset: The core of this year’s Colgate team was part of last year’s group that led Wisconsin deep into the second half of a first-round matchup. So the Raiders won’t be intimidated facing Texas, nor will they just be happy to be in the NCAA tournament. It’s difficult to imagine Colgate stopping — or even slowing down — Texas, but the Raiders might be able to score with the Longhorns. They score in a variety of ways and hit a national-best 41.1 percent of their 3s, a formula that makes them a dangerous underdog.
Player to watch: The brother of Keegan Murray has blossomed into an NBA prospect himself this year. Iowa’s Kris Murray is a smooth, skilled wing who uses his craftiness and positioning to make up for what he lacks in raw explosiveness. He is averaging 20.4 points and 7.9 rebounds and is a huge reason Iowa is back in the NCAA tournament again this year.
9:20 p.m. — No. 1 Houston vs. No. 16 Northern Kentucky (TNT)
9:40 p.m. — No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Louisiana (CBS)
9:55 p.m. — No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Penn State (TBS)
10:05 p.m. — No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 15 UNC Asheville (truTV)
Must-see: Texas A&M-Penn State is a first-round matchup of underseeded teams that feels like it should be happening a round or two later. The Aggies went 15-3 in the SEC and have performed like the No. 6 team in the nation since Jan. 1, according to Bart Torvik’s T-Rankings. The Nittany Lions ascended from the fringes of the bubble by winning eight of their final 10 games, including upsets of Illinois, Indiana and Northwestern.
Must-skip: Northern Kentucky’s previous two trips to the NCAA tournament resulted in a nine-point loss to Kentucky and a 15-point loss to Texas Tech. Give the Norse a ton of credit if they stay that close to Houston, especially if All-American guard Marcus Sasser is back in the lineup for the Cougars.
Most likely potential upset: Three of Rick Barnes’ four NCAA tournament teams at Tennessee have lost to double-digit seeds. Before that, his last seven Texas teams didn’t advance beyond the NCAA tournament’s first weekend. So, while picking Louisiana in your bracket would be a risk, it’s certainly fair to be a little nervous about Tennessee, especially with playmaking point guard Zakai Zeigler sidelined by a late-season ACL tear.
Player to watch: We already know UCLA will be without injured lockdown perimeter defender Jaylen Clark for the postseason. On Thursday, we’ll find out how serious heralded center Adem Bona’s shoulder injury really is. In Bona’s absence against Arizona in the Pac-12 title game, UCLA resorted to having 6-7 forward Jaime Jaquez play some center with its two remaining big men in foul trouble. The battle-tested Bruins might survive a round or two without Bona at full strength, but they’ll need his shot blocking and energy in the later rounds.