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The opening of the Men’s NCAA tournament is one of the best sports weekends of the year. And while it may be tempting to park yourself in front of the television and watch games all day, there are few things quite like watching a monumental upset or thrilling finish take place in person. We’ve got a packed slate of matchups ahead of us, but four pods, in particular, stand out as places to watch the biggest games. Here’s a look at the best sites to see Men’s March Madness in action this weekend, using insights from SI Tickets.

Des Moines

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  • No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Howard, Thursday, 2 p.m. ET (West Region)
  • No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Illinois, Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET (West Region)
  • No. 2 Texas vs. No. 15 Colgate, Thursday, 7:25 p.m. ET (Midwest Region)
  • No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Penn State, Thursday, 9:55 p.m. ET (Midwest Region)

We’ve got story lines galore to look forward to in Des Moines, where some of the sport’s biggest brands will meet this weekend. This pod features defending national champion Kansas, Big 12 tournament champion Texas, two huge fan bases with March history in Arkansas and Illinois, and two of the hottest teams in the country in Texas A&M and Penn State.

Arkansas vs. Illinois is one of the most compelling games of the first round. The Razorbacks have made consecutive Elite Eight appearances and came into this season with monumental expectations but have been plagued by injuries. The Hogs are finally healthy, though, and have incredible talent in the backcourt, with potential lottery picks Anthony Black and Nick Smith Jr. joining the high-scoring Ricky Council IV. And for the Illini, the duo of Terrence Shannon Jr. and Matthew Mayer has plenty of NCAA tournament experience. The winner of this one could be a tough matchup for Kansas, assuming the Jayhawks can knock off Howard.

Texas could get pushed by No. 15 seed Colgate in the evening window, as the Raiders have led in the second half of their first-round NCAA tournament matchup in each of the last three tournaments. But even if the Longhorns survive Colgate, a tricky second-round matchup awaits. T-Rank pegs Texas A&M as the sixth-best team in the country since Jan. 1, while Penn State has ridden its three-point sharpshooting to the Big Ten title game and a spot in the Big Dance.


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  • No. 5 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 12 VCU, Friday, 2 p.m. ET (West Region)
  • No. 4 UConn vs. No. 13 Iona, Friday, 4:30 p.m. ET (West Region)
  • No. 5 Miami vs. No. 12 Drake, Friday, 7:25 p.m. ET (Midwest Region)
  • No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 13 Kent State, Friday, 9:55 p.m. ET (Midwest Region)

5-vs-12 and 4-vs-13 games are prime upset territory, and we get four such games Friday in Albany, N.Y. Add in the presence of big brands like UConn and Indiana hungry to get back to a Final Four, and this pod should be incredibly entertaining.

The day starts with a battle of two perennial mid-major powers in VCU and Saint Mary’s, who won the A-10 and WCC regular-season titles, respectively. This one could be a defensive battle, with both teams ranking in the top 20 nationally in defensive efficiency. Game 2 features Rick Pitino’s Iona looking for an upset against a UConn team that comes in having won six of its last seven games. Rumors have swirled in recent days that Pitino may be headed to St. John’s following the season, but he could take Iona on a Cinderella run before he moves on to greener pastures.

In the night session, Drake and Kent State have the look of potential bracket busters. Drake won the Missouri Valley and has experience playing in the Big Dance, winning a First Four game against Wichita State in 2021. Four Drake starters were on that ’21 team. It’ll get a Miami team trying to make another run after reaching the Elite Eight last season. Rounding out the night is Indiana, which has high expectations this March in star big man Trayce Jackson-Davis’s final season in Bloomington, taking on a feisty mid-major in Kent State that played tight games with Gonzaga and Houston in nonconference play.

Indiana Hoosiers forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.

Trayce Jackson-Davis will look to lead Indiana to a deep March Madness run.


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  • No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Furman, Thursday, 12:40 p.m. ET (South Region)
  • No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 12 Charleston, Thursday, 3:10 p.m. ET (South Region)
  • No. 5 Duke vs. No. 12 Oral Roberts, Thursday, 7:10 p.m. ET (East Region)
  • No. 4 Tennessee vs. Louisiana, Thursday, 9:40 p.m. ET (East Region)

This could be the pod with the most upsets this weekend. From familiar Cinderellas like Oral Roberts, to teams making their first trip to the Dance in 40 years like Furman, this pod features some of the best mid-major teams in the country taking on programs with championship pedigree.

The headliner of the day, and potentially the entire round of 64, is Duke vs. Oral Roberts. This one features story lines galore, namely that it’s Duke’s first NCAA tournament game of the post–Coach K era. The Blue Devils come in scorching hot after winning the ACC tournament, but have to take on an Oral Roberts team that went to the Sweet 16 just two years ago. Guard Max Abmas, who electrified the tournament in 2021 with his deep shooting range, has another big upset on his mind.

Also intriguing is what could be the tournament's first upset: Furman vs. Virginia. The Paladins have frequently been among the nation’s best mid-majors in the past half decade but finally have broken through to go dancing. They get a Virginia team that has looked vulnerable lately, mostly due to an anemic offense that was held to 49 points in its ACC tournament matchup with Duke.


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  • No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 UC Santa Barbara, Friday, 1:30 p.m. ET (South Region)
  • No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 NC State, Friday, 4 p.m. ET (South Region)
  • No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Grand Canyon, Friday, 7:35 p.m. ET (West Region)
  • No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Nevada/Arizona State, Friday 10:05 p.m. ET (West Region)

This pod features both teams that reached the national title game in 2021, though we won’t get a Baylor and Gonzaga rematch, at least in the tournament’s first round.

Baylor could have a tricky path out of the opening weekend, taking on a UC Santa Barbara team loaded with high-major talent in its first game. The Bears will have to improve their effort defensively to make a deep run in March after struggling mightily on that end of the floor this season, ranking in the bottom 50 nationally in two-point FG% defense. Even if Baylor survives the Gauchos, a second-round matchup against an explosive offense like Creighton or NC State will be difficult.

Since the First Four started in 2011, at least one team from the First Four has won a game in the round of 64 in all but one year (’19). Could the winner of Nevada and Arizona State be that team? TCU has a dynamic point guard in Mike Miles Jr. but has struggled with inconsistency this season. The winner of that game likely will get a crack at No. 3 seed Gonzaga, assuming the Bulldogs can get past Grand Canyon.