March Madness Day 1 primer: First Four schedule, times, channels, scores, predictions

The 2021 NCAA Tournament tips off Thursday with First Four matchups at Mackey Arena and Assembly Hall.

March is finally here. After a regular season full of ups and downs, it’s time to settle in and watch the field of 68 get things started on Thursday with First Four matchups.

Things will look a little different this year. First off, every tournament game will be played in the state of Indiana and the March Madness calendar has been adjusted to accommodate for any potential COVID-19 concerns. The usual two-day First Four slate on Tuesday and Wednesday is now a Thursday quadruple header.

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Without further ado, let’s check out the four matchups that will kickstart the madness of March.

No. 16 Texas Southern vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s

  • Time: 5:10 p.m. ET
  • Channel: truTV
  • Venue: Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Ind.)

The first NCAA Tournament game since Virginia topped Texas Tech in the 2019 national title, SWAC champion Texas Southern takes on NEC automatic-bid winner Mount St. Mary’s for the right to battle Michigan on Saturday.

Johnny Jones’ TSU Tigers have as much experience as any team in the field of 68 and have several notable ex-transfers on the roster in Michael Weathers (Oklahoma State), Galen Alexander (Georgetown), John Walker (Texas A&M), John Jones (Nevada), Justin Hopkins (Samford) and Jordan Gilliam (UC Riverside). Texas Southern isn’t afraid to assert itself in the paint.

Mount St. Mary’s climbs into the tournament field after beating Wagner and Bryant on the road in the NEC tourney. Damian Chong-Qui is the star to watch here, a 5-8 point guard averaging 15.1 points and 5.5 assists per game with the knack for hitting clutch shots. Dan Engelstad’s team is especially strong defensively.

Texas Southern vs. Mount St. Mary’s (-1) expert picks
  • Andy Dieckhoff — SU: Texas Southern; ATS: Texas Southern
  • Brian Rauf — SU: Mount St. Mary’s; ATS: Mount St. Mary’s
  • Connor Hope — SU: Texas Southern; ATS: Texas Southern
  • Eli Boettger — SU: Mount St. Mary’s; ATS: Mount St. Mary’s
  • Lukas Harkins — SU: Mount St. Mary’s; ATS: Mount St. Mary’s

Mount St. Mary’s guard Chong-Qui is a star to watch
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—Simulations: DPI | College Hoops 2K8
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No. 11 Drake vs. No. 11 Wichita State

  • Time: 6:26 p.m. ET
  • Channel: TBS
  • Venue: Mackey Arena (West Lafayette, Ind.)

A battle of former MVC foes takes the Mackey Arena stage in the second matchup of Thursday’s quadruple header. Newly minted Darian DeVries and Drake narrowly snuck into the field after starting the season 18-0 as injuries to lead guards Roman Penn and Tank Hemphill significantly altered the rotation.

While Penn is done for the year, Hemphill is expected to play Thursday night for the first time since Feb. 10. If he’s up to speed, the Bulldogs should have a solid chance against Wichita State.

Interim-turned-permanent head coach Isaac Brown did a masterful job propelling the Shockers to an NCAA Tournament berth after a tumultuous offseason. Sophomore guard Tyson Etienne is tallying 17 points a night for a WSU team that has won eight of nine. The winner will take on USC on Saturday.

Drake (-2) vs. Wichita State expert picks

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—Simulations: DPI | College Hoops 2K8
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No. 16 Appalachian State vs. No. 16 Norfolk State

  • Time: 8:40 p.m. ET
  • Channel: truTV
  • Venue: Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Ind.)

The second 16-seed battle features Sun Belt champ Appalachian State against MEAC title winner Norfolk State. App State is making its first tournament appearance since 2000 while Norfolk State is back in the dance for the first time since its 2/15 upset of Missouri back in 2012.

Appalachian State’s ability to defend the perimeter could be the key to advancing. Norfolk State is 32nd nationally in 3-point percentage and the Spartans know how to complement the perimeter shooting with drawing fouls. Three different Norfolk State players are shooting above 40 percent from deep on at least 50 attempts.

App State, meanwhile, is stronger defensively. The Mountaineers made a stunning run in the Sun Belt tournament, capturing four wins in four days after finishing the regular season with just one win in seven tries. Three of the team’s last five victories came in overtime as Dustin Kerns’ group has shown the ability to step up in clutch moments.

Appalachian State (-3) vs. Norfolk State expert picks

Ranking the 68 NCAA Tournament teams
—Simulations: DPI | College Hoops 2K8
West Region tournament preview Heat Check Premium


No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 11 Michigan State

  • Time: 9:57 p.m. ET
  • Channel: TBS
  • Venue: Mackey Arena (West Lafayette, Ind.)

The nightcap is a pair of high-major powerhouses battling for the right to take on No. 6 BYU in the round of 64. Both programs began the season with much higher expectations than a First Four appearance, which could lead to a hard-nosed affair at Mackey Arena.

The Bruins and Spartans enter the tournament with varying trajectories. UCLA was 13-3 and ranked 21st in the AP poll at the start of February and crashed down the stretch with four straight losses to finish the season. Mick Cronin’s defense allowed 1.13 points per possession over its four-game losing skid.

Michigan State, on the other hand, could be on the verge of another Tom Izzo run in March. The Spartans were 10-9 and 4-9 in Big Ten play at one point but turned things around with wins over Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan and an Indiana sweep to close the season. Aaron Henry could be pivotal for MSU if it hopes to live up to the expectations of bracket pickers across the country.

UCLA vs. Michigan State (-2) expert picks

Ranking the 68 NCAA Tournament teams
—Simulations: DPI | College Hoops 2K8
East Region tournament preview Heat Check Premium

Eli Boettger
Eli Boettger

Heat Check CBB founder, editor