March Madness 2024 viewer's guide: What to watch and skip on Thursday

It’s officially March Madness time. After First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday, the first full day of the NCAA tournament kicks off on Thursday with 16 men’s games spread out over 12 hours. Mississippi State and Michigan State get things started, while Washington State and Drake wrap up the first day of action.

Here’s how Thursday’s schedule will unfold and which games you should be prepared to keep an eye on. We’re going to see an upset or three throughout the day, right?

Thursday afternoon

12:15 p.m. — No. 8 Mississippi State vs. No. 9 Michigan State (CBS)

12:40 p.m. — No. 6 BYU vs. No. 11 Duquesne (TruTV)

1:30 p.m. — No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 14 Akron (TNT)

2 p.m. — No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Long Beach State (TBS)

2:45 p.m. — No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Wagner (CBS)

3:10 p.m. — No. 3 Illinois vs. No. 14 Morehead State (TruTV)

4 p.m. — No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 11 Oregon (TNT)

4:30 p.m. — No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Nevada (TBS)

Must-see: Dayton is favored by 1.5 points over Nevada. This matchup of mid-majors could be one of the best games of the day. Colorado State showed out for the Mountain West on Tuesday night in a blowout win over Virginia and Nevada finished second in the conference with a 13-5 record. The Wolf Pack get to the line a lot; they shoot 25 free throws per game.

Dayton, meanwhile, doesn’t foul that much. The Flyers average just over 13 fouls a game — only four teams in the country foul less often. Dayton also shoots 40% from behind the 30-point line. Leading scorer DaRon Holmes II averages over 20 points and eight rebounds a game.

Must-skip: North Carolina should have an easy time with Wagner. This game is on CBS thanks to North Carolina’s name recognition, not the projected quality of the game. The Tar Heels are favored by 24.5 points over a Wagner team that survived three late game-tying shot attempts by Howard on Tuesday night in the First Four.

Most likely potential upset: Could the Pac-12 champions take down the Gamecocks? South Carolina outperformed its underlying statistics this season as the Gamecocks were one of the biggest surprises of the SEC. The Gamecocks went 26-7 this season by limiting their opponents from shooting 3-pointers. Opponents made just six threes a game against South Carolina.

Oregon had lost three of its last five Pac-12 games entering the tournament before beating UCLA, Arizona and Colorado to win the Pac-12 title. Center N’Faly Dante averages 16 points per game and is shooting a remarkable 70% from the field. If Oregon does win, oddsmakers don’t see it as much of an upset. The Ducks are just 1.5-point underdogs.

Arizona's Caleb Love has scored just 19 points over Arizona's last three games. Is he in line for a big March Madness? (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
Arizona's Caleb Love has scored just 19 points over Arizona's last three games. Is he in line for a big March Madness? (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Player to watch: Arizona shouldn’t have much trouble with Long Beach State, but it’s worth checking on Caleb Love. The former North Carolina star was the Pac-12 player of the year this season after transferring to the Wildcats over the offseason. Love averaged over 18 points per game and is shooting 42% from the field, though he’s struggled recently. He’s scored just 19 points over Arizona’s last three games. Love needs to be great if the Wildcats are going to make a run.

Thursday evening

6:50 p.m. — No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Colorado State (TNT)

7:10 p.m. — No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 14 Oakland (CBS)

7:25 p.m. — No. 5 Gonzaga vs. No. 12 McNeese (TBS)

7:35 p.m. — No. 2 Iowa State vs. No. 15 South Dakota State (TruTV)

9:20 p.m. — No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 Saint Peter’s (TNT)

9:40 p.m. — No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 NC State (CBS)

9:55 p.m. — No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 13 Samford (TBS)

10:05 p.m. — No. 7 Washington State vs. No. 10 Drake (TruTV)

Must-see: McNeese State is 30-3 under former LSU coach Will Wade. You may remember his name associated with a “strong-ass offer” from the FBI investigation into college basketball in the late 2010s. The Cowboys are one of just 40 teams in college basketball to win 30 games before the tournament and are led by senior guard Shahada Wells.

Gonzaga has won 14 of its last 16 games entering the tournament after the Zags were 11-5 following a January loss to Santa Clara. The late-season surge easily got the Bulldogs an at-large berth into the tournament. Both teams average over 49 points per game and shoot over 49% from the field. This could be a game where the first team to 90 points wins.

Must-skip: Iowa State showed it had a case to be a No. 1 seed in its blowout win over Houston in the Big 12 title game. The Cyclones are favored by 16.5 points against South Dakota State and could force the Jackrabbits into a bad shooting night if their defense continues to be ferocious.

Tennessee should also win easily against Saint Peter’s, but we’re fully aware of the Saint Peter’s magic from 2022 and Tennessee coach Rick Barnes’ struggles against the spread in the NCAA tournament. Barnes' teams are just 3-14-1 ATS since 2010 and Tennessee is favored by 21.5. That stat and that line have us thinking Tennessee wins by 17 or so.

WACO, TX - MARCH 2: Head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks calls a play as Kansas takes on the Baylor Bears in the first half at Foster Pavilion on March 2, 2024 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Could Bill Self's Kansas team be in trouble without Kevin McCullar? (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Most likely potential upset: Kansas could be in some trouble without leading scorer Kevin McCullar. Coach Bill Self announced Tuesday that McCullar would miss the entire NCAA tournament after he’s been extremely limited in practice over the past six weeks. Kansas played the Big 12 tournament without both McCullar and Hunter Dickinson and lost by 20 to Cincinnati.

Dickinson is back in the lineup for the Jayhawks and will need to have a big game inside. Samford is capable of spreading Kansas out and shoots 39% from the 3-point line. Kansas may try to slow the game down a bit to prevent Samford from playing at its frenetic pace.

Player to watch: Remember former Oral Roberts star Max Abmas? He was one of the breakout stars of the 2021 NCAA tournament as the No. 15 Eagles beat Ohio State and Florida on the way to the Sweet 16. Abmas scored 80 points over Oral Roberts’ three tournament games.

After four seasons at ORU, Abmas is now at Texas. He transferred to UT before this season after the Longhorns made a run to the Elite Eight in 2023. Abmas leads the Longhorns with 17 points per game.