NCAA Tournament dates set: everything you need to know


Kentucky freshman guard Ashton Hagans bring the ball to half-court during the game against Auburn in the NCAA tournament Elite Eight on Sunday, March 31, 2019, at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Kentucky was defeated by Auburn 77-71 in overtime. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Braden Ramsey

Coach Cal’s Cats have a lot of work to do before they can even think about securing a spot in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but if they manage to snag a berth, we now know exactly when each round will occur.

Tuesday afternoon, the NCAA released it’s schedule for the 2021 rendition of “March Madness”. While the general structure remains the same, there are some notable changes:

– The First Four will be played in its entirety on one day.

– Sweet Sixteen matchups will not overlap in any fashion.

– Elite Eight games will take place on Monday and Tuesday.

The announced slate allows the organization to maintain its original target dates for the Final Four (Apr. 3) and National Championship game (Apr. 5).

“The 2021 March Madness schedule is primarily a function of the health and safety protocols for all participants… and fan engagement during a relatively traditional tournament timetable,” said NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt in a press release. “We are most appreciative of CBS Sports and Turner Sports for their collaboration and support.”

This year’s tournament will be hosted entirely in Indiana, with 55 of the 67 contests taking place in Indianapolis. Six different facilities, including Mackey Arena and Assembly Hall – the home arenas of Purdue’s Boilermakers and the Hoosiers, respectively – are being fitted for action.

The full breakdown of each round can be seen below:

First Four: Thurs., Mar. 18

Mackey Arena and Assembly Hall will each host two contests, involving the “last four in” (final at-large squads) and the four lowest seeded conference champions (teams No. 65-68 overall).

No. 65 will face No. 66, and No. 67 will take on No. 68 per usual. Each of the four schools to win on this date will play in the round of 64, specifically on the second day of the round.

First Round: Fri., Mar. 19 – Sat., Mar. 20

The two-day stretch where the bulk of the madness occurs, Bankers Life Fieldhouse (home to the NBA’s Indiana Pacers), Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler), Indiana Farmers Coliseum (IUPUI) and Lucas Oil Stadium (NFL’s Indianapolis Colts) are brought into the fold as host sites. Each building will only have one game going on at a time.

Mackey Arena and Assembly Hall will also be used for some of these games. Just like much of recent history, the networks of CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV will air the opening round. The winning teams from Thursday’s First Four will all play their next opponent on Saturday.

Second Round: Sun., Mar. 21 – Mon., Mar. 22

With more than half the teams now eliminated, we say goodbye to the courts outside of Indianapolis (Mackey, Assembly). The four remaining floors will again have games broadcast over CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV.

Sweet Sixteen: Sat., Mar. 27 – Sun., Mar. 28

In what’s typically the window for the Elite Eight is when we get this year’s Sweet Sixteen. Hinkle Fieldhouse and Bankers Life Fieldhouse will both see four contests over the two-day span, each of which will be in its own time slot.*

Elite Eight: Mon., Mar. 29 – Tues., Mar. 30

When the lights get brightest, the seating capacity tends to get largest. As a result, all four Elite Eight matchups will have their own primetime slot in the stadium Peyton Manning helped build.

Those that punch their ticket to the Final Four (Sat., Apr. 3) and eventually the National Championship (Mon., Apr. 5) will again see the 70,000 seats Lucas Oil packs, along with any additional provided on the floor level.

With a likely limited capacity, the scene may seem even more cavernous than ever before when the championship trophy is hoisted. But regardless of the format being different, getting a tournament at all is better than what transpired last year.

*Specific networks for the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four and National Championship were not included in the NCAA press release.