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NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship concludes first week with strong ratings, attendance and scoring marks

David Worlock, NCAA

Terrific broadcast ratings and near-capacity crowds across the country, along with the usual assortment of upsets and competitive games that annually define the opening weekend of March Madness, set the stage for what promises to be an exciting weekend of men's basketball regional action later this week.

Millions of fans tuned to linear coverage on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, with the momentum beginning with the Selection Show on March 17, when 5.9 million viewers tuned in to CBS for the bracket unveiling. That number was up 16 percent from last year and is the best total in five years. First Four games attracted a total of 6.2 million viewers, up 14 percent from last year and the second highest total for Tuesday and Wednesday at the First Four since the format debuted in 2011.

First-round games Thursday and Friday drew an average 8.53 million viewers, which is the third most in tournament history, behind last year's total of 8.62 million and the 8.56 million who watched in 2015. Thursday's average of 8.5 million viewers makes it the most-watched opening day of the first round since 2015, and Friday's average of 8.6 million viewers is the second most ever for the Friday of the first round, trailing only last year's 8.8 million.

The numbers got even better on the weekend. Saturday's games averaged 10.8 million viewers across CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, making it the most-watched first day of the second round ever. That brought the tournament average through Saturday's games up to 9.0 million viewers, making it the most-watched tournament through that stage in the history of the event. 

Add to that the millions who are tuning into the action on March Madness Live, the tens of millions engaging on social media and the terrific crowds at venues across the country, and it's evident the tournament remains among the world's most popular sporting events.

Attendance at the First Four, which was played Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, was north of 24,000 fans, who witnessed three games decided by single digits, including an overtime win by Grambling. Nearly 260,000 fans watched first-round games Thursday and Friday in Brooklyn, New York; Charlotte, North Carolina; Indianapolis; Memphis, Tennessee; Omaha, Nebraska; Pittsburgh; Salt Lake City; and Spokane, Washington, with seven of the eight sites selling between 95 and 100 percent of their tickets. Second-round games Saturday and Sunday also drew well, with 131,073 fans buying between 97 and 100 percent of the available tickets at seven of the eight sites.

Tournament scoring is up compared with last year, thanks to five teams topping 100 points, another eight scoring at least 90, and 21 others putting up 80 or more, 13 of which scored between 85 and 89. For perspective, teams scored 100 or more points just six times in the past 10 tournaments, and there were only five 90-point games in last year's tournament. Through Sunday's games, teams are averaging 73.1 points per game, up from 69.5 in last year's tournament.

After just a single overtime game last year, this year's tournament has already featured five, including Saturday night's double-overtime thriller between Creighton and Oregon and Sunday night's remarkable win by Houston over in-state rival Texas A&M. There were 11 lower-seeded teams that won first-round games Thursday and Friday, which ranks as the sixth-highest total since 1985, when the field expanded to 64 teams. With 11th-seeded NC State winning its two games, the championship has a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16 for the 41st time in the 45 tournaments since seeding began in 1979.

"The Division I Men's Basketball Championship is off to a captivating and enthralling start by every measure," said JoAn Scott, the NCAA's vice president for men's basketball. "We should never take for granted the way the men's basketball championship delivers every March, and this year the tournament is as popular as it has been in many years. The competitiveness and talent of the student-athletes and teams leads to compelling performances and stories. March Madness is unlike anything else on the sports calendar, and the next two weeks of the tournament should be special."

Action resumes Thursday night with regional semifinal games in Boston and Los Angeles. Los Angeles' doubleheader begins with Arizona taking on Clemson at 7:09 p.m. ET on CBS, followed 30 minutes later by North Carolina battling Alabama on CBS. The first game in Boston features UConn facing off against San Diego State at 7:39 p.m. ET on TBS and concludes with Illinois playing Iowa State 30 minutes later on TBS. Friday's slate will see Marquette taking on NC State at 7:09 p.m. ET in Dallas on CBS, followed 30 minutes later by Duke going up against Houston on CBS. Friday's games in Detroit feature Purdue playing Gonzaga at 7:39 p.m. ET and Tennessee facing Creighton 30 minutes later, both on TBS.

Saturday's Elite Eight games in Boston and Los Angeles will be played at 6 and 8:30 p.m. ET on TBS, with the game order announced late Thursday night. Sunday's games in Dallas and Detroit will be played at 2:20 and 5 p.m. ET on CBS, with the sequence determined Friday night. Tickets for regional games can be purchased at

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