March Madness kicks off from coast to coast this week with league men’s basketball tournaments. These might be the better option for travel and viewing than heading to the big show later this month–more teams, better chances for your team to win, cheaper/more intimate venues. We’ve ranked every conference tournament location by desirability.
Written by Kyle Magin
There’s no place like home. Really, it’s probably a cost-control maneuver by small leagues to host tournament games at the higher-seeded team’s home, but it’s genius. You guarantee an amped up home crowd and you keep student sections involved in the postseason Really, they’re one of the most appealing factors about the college game–a homecourt advantage that can swing a game by 3-5 points and present a panorama of pandemonium for TV cameras to capture. Give me a post-game court rush for watching your off-brand league for two hours and that’s a fair trade. The home team’s fans don’t have to plunk down for plane tickets or premium seats in an NBA arena, to boot. College sports can’t move quickly enough away from neutral site venues that cater to corporate interests, moneyed alumni, khaki trousers and golf clapping, in my opinion. I’d love to see Oklahoma-Kansas for all the marbles at Allen.
2) Vegas–Pac 12, Mountain West, West Coast, WAC
If you can’t go to the fans, take the fans to America’s playground. Vegas is an oasis this time of year–fair weather, Celine shows and the opening of pool party season. Throw in the fact that with games going on for two straight weeks at Thomas & Mack and Orleans you’ll have plenty of action to throw down on that you can buy a cheap ticket to view in person. Bonus points are given to Vegas because it’s probably the most tolerable place to be if your team gets bounced early–just ditch your gear and assuage your melancholy with large-chested women or an AK-47 range, or both.
See Vegas but subtract sports gambling and add 5 million points for better food. Nothing will help you shake a loss like your fifth yard-tall hurricane of the day.
Both of these leagues pretty much suck this year, so skip Winners and head right next door to Losers for karaoke and cheap pitchers. Treat yourself to a tour of Ohio Valley host Belmont’s beautiful campus and then head out to the Hermitage to disabuse yourself of the notion that the antebellum South was anything but an ugly-ass slavery state. When you’re done with that bit of joviality, stumble from bar-to-bar on Broadway and see how many Lilly Pulitzer/cowboy boot girls you can get shot down by.
This would be number 3 if you could guarantee your team gets a bye and late tip-offs. Reno is a half hour to 45 minutes from some seriously good skiing in the Lake Tahoe area. A potentially massive storm is lining the region’s resorts up in its sights just before the Big Sky’s annual shindig is set to tip off so be sure to make plans accordingly. Also, you could just get wrecked on PBRs and challenge the locals to pop-a-shot tournaments at Circus Circus when you’re not at the Reno Events Center.
Your hippie aunt loves this part of North Carolina, so pack your Tevas and hemp bracelets.
7) Anaheim–Big West
Disneyland just jacked up its ticket prices, so buddy up to a cast member over bottomless mimosas at one of the million after-shift haunts and get somebody to sign you in. The dirty secret about Anaheim is it’s actually kind of a shithole outside of the Pond and the park. A few dudes got stabbed there this week during an aborted KKK rally. Watch your game and hightail it out to Seal Beach for oysters and fish tacos.
Orlando is only this high because the pickings get pretty fucking slim from here on out. Enjoy the sunshine between tip-offs and easy access to spring training sites and tee times. Go see Mickey if you have to bring the kids.
9) Raleigh–Big South
This tournament is actually in Buies Creek, North Carolina, on the campus of Campbell University just outside of Raleigh. I’ll bet your old lady will like to tour a nearby plantation’s botanical gardens, and you’ll love that you can bring your own beer into the Chick-Fil-A.
MSG these days is just a nice place to shelter from the astoundingly expensive city just outside its doors. But the Big East is as good as ever–nobody will be surprised to see Villanova or Xavier hoist a banner come April 4. So take in what’s still one of the premier reasons for leagues to get together at this time of year and enjoy the ride.
Pretty soon people are going to get over the novelty of Barclay’s, right? It’s a stadium with reportedly shitty sightlines in an expensive destination with Cor-TEN slapped up on the outside to give it that new-used look. Whatever, a $4.75 bottle of water inside is cheaper than the artisanal fare you’ll be able to buy outside of it so enjoy the reprieve.
Listen, this is my alma mater’s conference in the city I went to college in, but Detroit is no vacation come early March. The saving grace here is that the Horizon–which features two local schools, Detroit Mercy and Oakland–will play its tournament in Joe Louis Arena. This is the home of the Red Wings which is on its way out in the next few years, so the nostalgia and novelty alone will be worth the price of admission.
Kid N’ Play is coming in to play a show for the HBCU league’s tournament, which I bet will be off the hook and feature at least 27 on-stage hype men waving towels.
14) Birmingham–SWAC, Conference USA
I bet you could get Subway to cater your after-party in the Holiday Inn’s Bear Bryant room.
15) Katy, TX–Southland
I have family from Katy and it’s a pretty nice suburb of Houston. Come for the hoops, stay for the outlet mall shopping.
Just as good as holding the B1G tournament in Chicago, minus the gays, good food and fun. Indy puts “well-lit!” on its travel brochures.
Len Bias died pretty close to here.
Warm your hands by the CVS.
Tech N9ne says the girls aren’t damn pretty in KC until summertime, so it’s barbecue for you.
22) Sioux Falls–Summit League
That RA who was total snitch in your freshman dorm? I think his name was Danny G.? He’s an events manager in Sioux Falls now and can get you sweet nosebleed tickets for face value. Push him into the road.
Hands up, Don’t Shoot (another airball, you putz!) Celebrate your time in the Arch City by punching the first Cardinals fan who tells you that he’d rather save the war chest for Matt Holliday than Jason Heyward anyway.