Ready for March Madness? Two Pa. favorites take the court this week.

As the NCAA Tournament tips off tonight, many Pennsylvania sports fans have filled out their brackets with even more enthusiasm than usual.

This year, Pa. residents have two of their own beloved schools in the mix — Penn State and University of Pittsburgh — for the first time in decades.

Penn State hasn’t made it to the NCAA Tournament since 2011. After their impressive, near magical run during the Big Ten Tournament, local fans are anxious to see if the Nittany Lions can continue their momentum.

To see it live, you’re going to have to stay up late. The estimated start time on Thursday night is 9:55, making it tough viewing for both school children and early risers alike. 

Pitt, with their 11 seed, drew one of the unique Tuesday night matchups. Their 9:10 start tonight on Tru TV isn’t quite as bad as 9:55, but it’s not nearly as convenient as the 6:40 start time of the first game.

Why do they even have this extra round of games, often referred to as “The First Four"?

Well, tournaments work perfectly when you have four, eight, 16, or 64 teams. The brackets match up and everything is equal. When the NCAA decided to expand the field beyond 64, first to 65 and then to 68, it necessitated adding these Tuesday night games to keep the rest of the tourney intact.

In fact, these four extra games have been played since 2011. And while many would see it as a disadvantage, the success of some “First Four” winners have been undeniable.

Three schools — Lasalle, Tennessee, and Syracuse — have made it all the way to the Sweet 16 before losing. Two other schools, VCU in 2011 and UCLA in 2021, have gone all the way from the First Four to the Final Four.

Having Pennsylvania’s two “Power Five” conference schools playing in college sport's greatest tournament certainly adds to the excitement for fans in northcentral Pa.

Whether Penn State can ride the momentum from last weekend, or whether Pitt can capture some mojo from past success stories of the First Four teams remains to be seen. But if you’re going to see it, it might require an afternoon nap, some caffeine, or maybe even a tardy slip for your kid the next day at school.

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