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March Madness 2019: How to watch NCAA basketball tournament games live

You don't need cable or satellite to watch the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and Final Four.

ACC Basketball Tournament - Championship

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 16: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts against the Florida State Seminoles during the championship game of the 2019 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 16, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

SL / Getty Images

Let the madness ensue! The field is set for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Zion Williamson led Duke to the top overall seed. Virginia, North Carolina and Gonzaga are the other No. 1 seeds. The No. 2 seeds are Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan and Michigan State. When filling out your bracket, potential Cinderallas to look at are Belmont, Murray State, New Mexico State and UC Irvine.

Games begin on Tuesday with the first play-in games, but the Madness doesn't really begin until first full day of the tournament on Thursday, which ought be celebrated as a national holiday.

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When are the March Madness games on?

With 68 teams invited, the NCCA holds four play-in games to get the field down to 64, at which point the math works out to have four regional tournaments of 16 teams each. The winners of the four regional tournaments then advance to the Final Four, held this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  • March 19-20: First Four play-in games
  • March 21-24: Rounds 1 and 2
  • March 28-29: Sweet Sixteen
  • March 30-31: Elite Eight
  • April 6: Final Four
  • April 8: National Championship Game

Which channels are the games on?

March Madness games are shown across four channels: CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. (Editors' note: CNET is a division of CBS.)

How can I watch for free?

Go to the NCAA's March Madness Live site or use its March Madness Live app and you'll be able to watch games for free. As with most things that are free, there is a catch. 

To get full access to every game you'll need to sign in with credentials (username and password) from a pay TV provider, typically your cable, satellite or live TV streaming service. 

If you don't sign in, you'll be limited to only a 3-hour preview, after which point you'll need to log in to continue watching games on TBS, TNT and TruTV. Games on CBS, meanwhile, don't require pay TV credentials so you can stream all of them for free.

What are my other streaming options?

Cord cutters can use a live-TV streaming service to watch March Madness. In order to watch CBS's coverage, however, you'll need to make sure the service carries your local CBS station. Some streaming services carry all four channels for March Madness, but others will require you to mix and match services, which can save you money but could present a challenge when frantically changing channels to catch a potential buzzer-beater at the end of a close game.

Other stuff to know about live TV streaming services:

  • You'll need a solid internet connection.
  • You can watch any of them on TV as long as your smart TV has the service's app. You can also watch on your TV using a media streamer, including Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV and Chromecast.
  • You can also watch on iPhones, Android phones and tablets and PC browsers.
  • You can sign up and cancel anytime, no contract required.
  • All of them offer free trial periods, so you can sign up to watch and then cancel.

Disclosure: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of products featured on this page.

Streaming services with all four networks

YouTube TV ($40)

YouTube TV costs $40 a month and includes CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. Enter your zip code here to see if you live in one of its CBS markets.

See at YouTube TV

Hulu with Live TV ($45)

Hulu with Live TV costs $45 a month and includes CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, but check to see which live channels Hulu offers in your area.

See at Hulu with Live TV

Fubo TV ($45)

Fubo costs $45 a month and includes CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. Check to see if Fubo offers a live feed of CBS where you live.

See at Fubo

PlayStation Vue ($45)

PlayStation Vue's $45 Access plan includes CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV.  Check out which live, local networks you get on the PlayStation Vue Plans page.

See at PlayStation Vue

DirecTV Now ($50)

DirecTV Now's cheapest, $50-a-month Plus package includes CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. Click here to check availability of live local channels in your area.

See at DirecTV Now

Mix-and-match March Madness options

AT&T WatchTV ($15 or free) + CBS All Access ($6) = $21 or $6

AT&T WatchTV is a relative newcomer to the streaming game. It offers a more limited number of channels compared with its competitors but is much cheaper. It costs $15 a month for most people, but AT&T wireless customers on qualifying plans can get it for free. Among the 35 channels Watch TV offers are TBS, TNT, and truTV. 

Meanwhile, CBS All Access carries live CBS stations in many areas of the country (check the site to see if you're covered) for $6 a month. Combine the two and you can watch all of the tournament games for about half the cost of a more fully-featured streaming service above.

Sling Blue ($25) + CBS All Access ($6) = $31

Neither of Sling TV's plans offer CBS, but its $25-a-month Sling Blue plan includes TBS, TNT, and truTV. Pair it with CBS All Access to pick up the games on CBS and you are still paying less than a competing streaming services at $31 a month. Better yet, you can sign up at a discount: Sling Blue is currently $15 a month for the first three months for new subscribers, bringing your March Madness cost down to $21 for the tournament when paired with CBS All Access.

OTA antenna for CBS games = free

Another option for watching games on CBS is to use an antenna to get free, over-the-air TV. You can attach an over-the-air digital antenna to nearly any TV, and solid antennas start as little as $10.

March Madness in 4K

Subscribers to DirecTV's satellite service are in for a treat this month. DirecTV will reportedly broadcast March Madness games from March 19-30 in both 4K and HDR. You'll be able to watch only a selection of games in 4K. The 4K broadcast schedule is reported to be on six days of the tournament from three locations:

  • March 19-20: First Four play-in games from Dayton, Ohio
  • March 22 and 24: Rounds 1 and 2 from Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • March 28 and 30: Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight from Anaheim, California
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Originally published on March 5.
Update, March 18: Adds detail of the bracket being set.