March Madness: Thursday was the most-watched opening round of the NCAA tournament since 2015

The First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday were up about 18% from last year, too

The NCAA men's tournament is off to a great start for CBS and TNT.

The opening round of the tournament on Thursday marked the most-watched opening round of the tournament since 2015, the networks announced on Friday. The four networks — CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV — averaged 8.5 million viewers throughout the day.

While the first round of the tournament is still going on, it’s easy to see why Thursday performed so well. There were a slew of major upsets throughout the day that knocked out all but about 100 perfect brackets made through Yahoo Sports. Three different No. 11 seeds upset their opponents, starting with Duquesne’s win over No. 6 BYU. Then Oregon knocked off No. 6 South Carolina in the afternoon, and NC State kept its hot streak alive after its ACC tournament title win by beating Texas Tech on Thursday night.

But it was Jack Gohlke who stole the show on Thursday. Gohlke led No. 14 Oakland to a massive upset win over No. 3 Kentucky. He dropped 10 3-pointers, which was just one shy of the all-time single-game tournament record, and had 32 points in the win. It marked just the latest postseason struggles for Kentucky, which of course renewed calls for head coach John Calipari’s job.

Then in the final game of the day, Kansas nearly blew a 22-point second-half lead over No. 13 Samford. The Jayhawks, who have been struggling in the lead up to the NCAA tournament, only won after a controversial foul call on a Nicolas Timberlake dunk in the final seconds.

In all, it was a great first day of basketball.

Bill Self and Kansas wrapped up the opening day of the NCAA tournament with a tight win over Samford on Thursday night.
Bill Self and Kansas wrapped up the opening day of the NCAA tournament with a tight win over Samford on Thursday night. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The first four games were up significantly from last year, too. This year’s games totaled just more than 6 million viewers on Tuesday and Wednesday on truTV, which is up about 18% from 2023. That’s still significantly lower than the record 7.77 million that was set in 2021.

Last season’s title game, when UConn rolled over San Diego State, actually averaged a record low with about 14.7 million viewers. The women’s championship game, when LSU beat Caitlin Clark and Iowa, averaged nearly 10 million viewers — which made it the most watched women’s college basketball game at the time.

While it remains to be seen how the rest of the two tournaments play out ratings-wise, we’re already off to a great start.