March Madness 2018: When the games start, how to stream and more

Here's the cord cutter's guide to watching the 2018 NCAA tournament and Final Four.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
3 min read

Now that the calendar has turned to March, It's time to start paying attention to college basketball beyond its ongoing corruption scandal. Selection Sunday is less than a week away, which means you have precious little time to study up to prepare your NCAA tournament bracket. Will North Carolina repeat as champions of college basketball? Is this the year that Virginia finally wins a title? Will Duke or Villanova make it to the Final Four? Which schools will be the Cinderellas at this year's big dance?

I'm afraid I can't help you fill out your bracket, but I can tell you how you can watch all of the games of March Madness, whether you have a cable subscription or not.

When does the tournament start?

The first play-in games start Tuesday, March 13, and the first full day of madness is Thursday, March 15.

Which channels are the games on?

CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. (For the record: 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. You can watch March Madness Live on iOS and Android devices along with Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV and Xbox One. The app also supports AirPlay and Chromecast.

As with most things that are free, there is a catch. Without proving you are pay TV subscriber, you get only a three-hour preview, after which point you'll need to log in to continue watching.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

I'm logged in. Now what?

You can stream every game of the tournament live on the March Madness Live site or app if you are a subscriber of a participating TV provider. There's a catch, however, even after logging in -- the games on CBS can't be viewed on set-top boxes via March Madness Live, leaving you to watch only on a computer or mobile device.

What are my other streaming options?

Cord cutters can use one of the big five live-TV streaming services to watch March Madness, but you'll need to use a plan or a service that not only offers CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, but also a live feed of CBS and not just on-demand content. In many markets, you can watch on-demand but not live content from CBS and the other local networks.

DirecTV Now

DirecTV Now's cheapest, $35-a-month Live a Little package includes CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. You can use its channel lookup tool to see if you get a live feed of CBS and the other local networks in your zip code.

Hulu with Live TV

Hulu with Live TV costs $40 a month and includes CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, but check to see which live channels Hulu offers in your area.

PlayStation Vue

PlayStation Vue's $40 Access plan includes CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. Channel lineups vary by region, so check out which live, local networks you get on the PlayStation Vue Plans page.

Sling TV

Sling TV isn't the best option because it doesn't offer CBS but does include the other three networks that will broadcast the tournament. Its $20-a-month Orange plan includes TBS and TNT, and its $25-a-month Blue plan includes TBS, TNT and truTV. And if you want to tune it only for the Final Four, then Sling TV will suffice because the semifinal games on Saturday, March 31 and the National Championship game on Monday, April 2 will be broadcast on TBS.

To fill in the gap, you could watch CBS games with CBS All Access, which costs $6 a month and offers a free, seven-day free trial. Another option for watching games on CBS is to use an antenna to get free, over-the-air TV. You can attach an affordable (under $30) indoor antenna to nearly any TV. That fancy antenna of yours, however, won't let you watch any of the games on TBS, TNT or truTV because these cable networks are not broadcast over the air.

YouTube TV

YouTube TV costs $35 a month and includes CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. It's available in dozens of major metro markets, with more being added all the time.

Each of the big five streaming services offers a seven-day trial so you could sign up and watch a week's worth of March Madness for free.

Watch this: How to stream March Madness 2018