March Madness has already started with the glory of the conference tournaments
I swear, one of these years, I am going to go to Las Vegas around this time and binge on one of my guilty pleasures.
I’ll head out there on a Friday night, and we’ll just see what happens. Maybe the good times will be so epic that the whole thing will last all the way into the following weekend.
Now, given that I’m 41 and boring, my Sin City adventure probably isn’t going to look too much like The Hangover. While it would be cool to hang out with Mike Tyson (less so, his tiger), the type of excessive Vegas blowout I am talking about revolves around college basketball.
For my secret sporting love is going on right now — this part of the college hoops season when anything is possible and dreams are both alive and magnified. Of course, the Tournament, with all its madness and mayhem, bracketology and underdog magic, has massive resonance and the ability to transfix the nation across three weekends.
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) March 9, 2020
However, for me, the week we are in the midst of, where the sports landscape can’t swing its elbows without bumping into another conference championship taking place, is the highlight of the campaign. As heavyweights, hopefuls and a few no-hopers slug it out for conference bragging rights, an elevated tournament seed or just a shot at seasonal survival, you can find more thrills, narrative and entertainment than even the NCAA bracket itself.
So why Vegas? Good question. A lot of people head to the Nevada desert across the first two tournament weekends, despite no actual games being played there, because it is a great place to gorge on basketball.
With 48 games across four days on the Thursday-through-Sunday of the opening week, a sportsbook with countless screens the size of an average home, filled with other like-minded fans, plus the chance for a sneaky proposition or two, is many a fanatic’s idea of nirvana.
Well, during Championship Week, you still get all that, plus the opportunity to geek out on even more live basketball in person. Vegas is the only city in the nation that plays host to four conference tournaments, and this would have been an especially worthwhile year to go, with some of the top teams in the nation on display.
Catch the thrilling ending between The Aggies and San Diego State ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/60KmmWkVb2
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) March 8, 2020
Last week saw the Mountain West do its thing at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center, just off The Strip. San Diego State, who three weeks back were the last undefeated Div. I team in America, got upturned by Utah State in the title game, ending any chance of them securing a tournament top seed.
Tonight sees the culmination of the West Coast Conference, with the mighty Gonzaga — a genuine contender to cut down the nets early next month — taking on St. Mary’s in the final at the Orleans Arena.
The same venue will host the Western Athletic Conference starting on Thursday, while the Pac-12 event gets underway at T-Mobile Arena, starting tomorrow.
In the past in Vegas, there have been games from three tournaments all on the same day. It is a little more spread out now, but you can still easily bounce between two venues and back again, and when you’re done with that, bounce once more into a comfy sportsbook recliner and catch everything else.
“If you’re just a fan who wants to throw on some basketball and be entertained, with Gus Johnson on the call… it’s gotta be the @BIGEAST.”@clubtrillion shares which conference tournament you should be watching this week ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/BxsVakweEZ
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) March 8, 2020
Or try to. There is a lot to catch, with Tuesday alone featuring 18 games from 10 tournaments in 12 states plus the nation’s capital. The drama is human and present and intoxicating. You see dreams come true and others thwarted. You see the kind of effort that comes from players knowing this could be their last game, not just in this uniform, but ever.
The system is not entirely equitable. In less heralded leagues, weaker teams that get hot can play themselves in at the expense of consistent performers who delivered all season long. It is not perfect, but it is a ton of fun and frankly, for the casual fan whose March hardwood experience begins next Thursday, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Don’t just take my word for it. FOX Sports bracketology expert Mike DeCourcy assured me that loving this particular week of college basketball was not based off flawed logic.
“Once the channel universe on all of our televisions became more vast, it became apparent there was no more glorious week for a college basketball fan than selection week,” DeCourcy told me, via text message. “What could be better for a basketball fan than more basketball?
“So many get caught up in what’s lost as a result of this format, the precious gift of the NCAA tournament automatic berth going to the champion of three days rather than three months, and they miss what a wonderful spectacle that creates. This is my favorite week of the year. The next three are very close in the discussion, but give me wall-to-wall college basketball and I am a happy man.”
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) March 6, 2020
One time in the 2000s, DeCourcy sat in his house and watched all or part of 32 different games on the college tournament Friday, a feat which at the same time manages to be worryingly obsessive, mightily impressive and completely insane.
And, now that I think about it, totally the sort of thing I would do while my wife is at work and forget to tell her about.
Now, where’s that remote?