NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament first-round play tips off Thursday, March 16. For many, the tournament’s opening day marks an unofficial hard-court holiday. But multitasking is still possible. As you take in all the action, consider the eight first- and second-round host cities as potential destinations for your next meeting. If they can lodge, feed and entertain eight college basketball teams and tens of thousands of excited fans, they can handle your group.
Buffalo, New York
Overall No. 1 seed Villanova University leads the tournament field into KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo. Since 1996, more than 11 million spectators have attended live events at the 19,200-seat venue. Hockey fans make up a substantial portion of that total—the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres play at KeyBank Center. As the birthplace of buffalo wings, the city offers up the most gameday-appropriate signature food of any destination on this list. Local arts and cultural offerings—and Niagara Falls—deserve postgame attention, too.
The tournament provides yet another reason to visit Orlando, central Florida’s theme park and convention hub. Games tip off at Amway Center, a high-tech 20,000-seat venue near the downtown entertainment core featuring modern architecture and a signature illuminated spire. It opened in 2010 as the home court of the NBA’s Orlando Magic and a premier regional performance venue. The 875,000-square-foot facility has also hosted U.S. Olympic Trials for the Summer and Winter Games.
Both the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and the Marquette University men’s basketball team count BMO Harris Bradley Center as their home floor. That proves the 18,600-seat arena can handle hordes of hoops lovers. As expected, the Midwestern city offers local brews to quench fans’ thirst. More active amusements are available, too. Visitors can sample more than 130 miles of bike trails, stroll the Milwaukee RiverWalk winding nearly 3 miles through downtown, or hit the links at the city’s 15 golf courses.
Salt Lake City
Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City has presented varied and prestigious sporting events, from the NBA Finals to the figure skating and short track speed skating competitions at the 2002 Olympic Games. This week, college basketball fans take up residence at the home arena of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, which seats nearly 20,000. After the buzzer sounds, visitors can head for the mountains, explore Temple Square or check out the Great Salt Lake.
Greenville, South Carolina
March has been busy at Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Earlier this month, the facility hosted the 2017 SEC Women’s Basketball tournament, won by the women of the University of South Carolina. Now the nearly 16,000-seat arena prepares to welcome postseason NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament action for the first time in 15 years. Greenville will taunt travelers with tasty temptations, as the city has developed into South Carolina’s inland culinary capital.
Fittingly, the basketball-crazed Hoosier State gets in on postseason tournament hosting duties. Indianapolis’ 750,000-square-foot Bankers Life Fieldhouse seats 18,165. Inside, artwork and memorabilia showcase the history of the hometown team, the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. Downtown fixtures such as Monument Circle, Indiana State Capitol and Indiana Convention Center are located nearby. Bankers Life Fieldhouse offers a more intimate space than the city’s Lucas Oil Stadium, the 67,000 seat multipurpose facility where late-round tournament games are often played.
This week, 19,000-seat BOK Center trades hockey for hoops. The Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League are the venue’s main draw. But the Oilers are accustomed to sharing their space with a variety of visitors, from Sesame Street Live to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. While in Tulsa, feast your eyes on the abundance of Art Deco architecture in downtown’s Deco District. Planners, file away these facts: Tulsa features a 310,000-square-foot convention center and more than 14,500 hotel rooms citywide.
The brand-new, 17,500-seat Golden 1 Center in California’s capital city provides a home for the Sacramento Kings of the NBA. It also anchors Downtown Commons, a 1.5 million-square-foot development project encompassing office space, residential units, hotels and retail shops. After a Sept. 30, 2016, ribbon-cutting ceremony, the venue hosted concerts by legendary musician Paul McCartney and welcomed hometown fans for the Kings’ home opener in October. The first indoor sports venue to earn LEED Platinum designation stands ready to take on this week’s crowds.