Guest Column: The Guide to Attending the NCAA Tournament

By Brian Litvack



Brian Litvack is an executive at Sportsvite.com and blogs about basketball, life, his career, and his interests at blog.littyhoops.com.

Brian Litvack can barely contain his excitement after San Diego upsets UConn in Tampa during 2008 NCAA Tournament.

I’m bracket surfing with the fam to Washington DC on Thursday for the first (oops, I mean second) round of the NCAA Tournament at the Verizon Center. This is an annual family tradition for the Littyhoopsters.  Pick a city.  Watch basketball.  Seems simple, right?  Not quite, my novice Bracketeer.

Here’s Littyhoops guide to KILLING IT at the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

First, for those non-fanatics, here’s the deal. The opening rounds of the NCAA Basketball tournament is played in eight different cities each year. Each region hosts eight teams. There are four games (doubleheader in the day and night) the first day and then all of the winners play in a second round doubleheader two days later.

1. Pick Your City

There are two different schools of thought on how to pick the right city. You can plan your trip months before Selection Sunday. In the case of my dad, he starts planning the next trip on the travel home from the current one.  This is a great way to visit different cities and arenas and lock down travel and hotel accommodations.  Our crew has been to Chicago, Philadelphia, Tampa, Providence, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Worcester and Long Island.  The big issue here is that you don’t know what schools you will see play until they are announced just a few days before.

The other method is to follow your favorite school or alma mater wherever they are sent to play.  For this strategy to work, your school has to actually make the tournament each year.  Fans travel in packs with each other and try to out-dominate the rooting sections of other schools with weird chants and cheers.  Until this year if I employed this strategy with the Johnnies or even Michigan this article might be about the NIT (NIT = not killing it).

2. Hotel Proximity

It’s imperative to stay at a hotel that is walking distance to the arena.  There’s a good chance you might make the trip 4x in one day since it’s crucial to get a cat nap between sessions.  Also, most hotels will be prepared for the tournament crowd adding to the Bracketville vibe in the lobby, bars and travel back and forth.   In some cases, the actual teams might be staying at the same hotel. In Tampa, I met my dad in the lobby and he was trembling. I asked him what happened and he said he just took an elevator ride standing next to the giant Hasheem Thabeet.  Colby and I ran into Tayshaun Prince at the Roosevelt Field mall when he was at Kentucky.  Last year, my dad stalked the Ohio Bobcat players at the food court to tell them how proud he was that a MAC team (he went to Bowling Green) knocked off Georgetown.

3. Know your Arena

For one shining day, the arena will be your home, so quickly get acclimated with your confines. Scout out the concessions.  Befriend the ushers.  Make sure you have quick access to the televisions in the hallway to watch the close endings of other games. At the Wachovia Center, I eat Crab Fries at Chickie’s and Pete’s.  At the Dunkin Donuts Center, I’m hopped up on coffee. Some arena’s have bars or lounges that are a great place to hang out between games or during blowouts.  I once found myself spending half the day in a secret stadium cigar lounge with leather sofas (can’t even remember the city). These days, it’s also important to check out the wireless and internet situation as you can now watch other games on your mobile device or iPad.  Ain’t technology grand! I remember back when we used transistor radios to get score updates from other regions.

4. Find Good Seats

The arena is never completely full as many fans buy tickets for all the sessions but don’t have the stamina of a true basketball junky. That means it’s usually pretty easy to move around and find open seats. Do it!

Yet another winning move is to go sit in the student section of the teams that are playing. In 2003, I was surrounded by cheeseheads as Wisconsin-Milwaukee held the ball for a final shot down by one point to Notre Dame.  The energy and noise was astounding only to turn to heartbreak moments later when a UWM big guy missed an open layup to end the game.

5. Know Your Teams

Obviously, if you’re following specific teams that will dominate you’re rooting interests.  But it’s great to learn about the other teams, coaches, players and fans.  At some point during every trip you’ll get a pure slice of precious college basketball.  So when a 7’5” British guy comes in on the last play of the game you can be the hero in your section who knows everything about him (Neil Fingelton for Holy Cross).

I’ve had the luck to see an under the national radar Dwayne Wade at Marquette, a before he was famous Rajon Rondo on Kentucky and I fell in love with a USC team in 2001 that featured Brian Scalabrine, Sam Clancy and David Bluthenthal. My first ever tournament action was watching Ivy leaguers Matt Maloney and Jerome Allen dismantle #6 Nebraska team led by the Polish Rifle Eric Piatkowksi.
My sister Courtney actually has begun to research each team and then jots color coded notes on index cards about the teams and players.  I wonder why she goes to all that trouble when she could just watch thousands of hours of college basketball during the season instead.

6. Root For the Underdog

There’s nothing better when the arena comes alive as an underdog makes a run at a traditional power.  It’s like everyone in the building just gulped a 5 Hour Energy.  The fans are suddenly infected with the madness and start rooting like crazy for a team that only hours before meant nothing to them.

In 2002, we lived and died with Creighton as they defeated Florida in overtime on a game winning three pointer.  In 2005, my sister Lisa lost her mind and started cursing out a section full of Syracuse fans after Vermont’s TJ Sorrentine pulled up from infinity to swish a three to knock out the defending champions.  In ’07, we watched #16 Albany take a double digit lead in the second half against UCONN in an attempt to make history only to get worked down the stretch.  But nothing tops 2008 in Tampa (aka Upset City) where all four games were upsets.  My little sister watched in horror as my dad taunted Vanderbilt as they were getting worked by Siena at the half.

7. Find the Best Sports Bar In Town

No matter where you go you will have a day off between games.  That means it’s time to watch more games. Tournament time is usually busy at sports bar so make sure you stake out the right spot and get a reservation.

8. Embrace The Madness

Eat, sleep, drink college basketball.  Remember, there are 12 other games going on that day and 16 more games the next day. It’s just the right amount for the human brain to comprehend and enjoy. So please don’t waste any room in your brain thinking or talking about anything else besides basketball.

Follow these few easy steps and I’m sure you’ll be hooked for life. Hopefully one day soon you’ll be dragging your wife and kids to random arenas to overdose on college basketball.  That’s my plan in life.

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3 Responses to “Guest Column: The Guide to Attending the NCAA Tournament”

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  2. Hoops Fan says:

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