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How Las Vegas became the mecca of college basketball with 10 different conference tournaments

Breven Honda

In the month of March, college basketball takes over the sports landscape with conference tournaments and March Madness.

Before the 32 automatic bids from each conference and the 36 at-large teams are announced to make the 68-team field, conference tournaments are held to determine the 32 tournament champions.

Las Vegas provides perfect spot for college basketball tournaments

There are places around the country that bring a lot of hype come early March during conference tournament action as a teaser for the NCAA Tournament.

One of those places is Las Vegas, which hosts five men’s and five women’s tournaments around the Sin City.

Conference Location
PAC-12T-Mobile Arena
Mountain WestThomas & Mack Center
West Coast ConferenceOrleans Arena @ Orleans Hotel
Western Athletic ConferenceOrleans Arena @ Orleans Hotel
Big WestDollar Loan Center (Henderson, Nev.)
2022 college basketball tournaments

The West Coast Conference kicks off the basketball festivities at Orleans Arena before the Western Athletic Conference takes over to conclude the week.

Meanwhile, the Big West is new to the Las Vegas college basketball tournament environment as their games takes place in Henderson, Nev. at the Dollar Loan Center. The Big West tournament is also the first event being held inside the new Henderson venue, which opened a couple weeks ago.

The Mountain West Conference plays their tournament games at the Thomas and Mack Center, the home site of UNLV.

Of course, the Pac-12 tournament is the closest event to the Las Vegas Strip with games being held at T-Mobile Arena, the home of the NHL franchise Vegas Golden Knights.

Not only does Las Vegas get to witness the fanfare from over 100 teams for the two-week span, but some of the best teams in each conference are represented. From Gonzaga and Arizona on the men’s side to Stanford on the women’s side to having teams such as Cal State Fullerton and New Mexico State, looking to make a Cinderella run in the upcoming 68-team bracket.

Related: Top odds to win March Madness

New Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said with the growth of sports in the Sin City and countless locations, it has become a new opportunity for college basketball.

“Las Vegas has been the entertainment capital for a long time, and I think it’s becoming the sports capital,” Kliavkoff said to the Washington Post. He cited the “walking distance from some of the venues to lots of hotels,” the hotels “at various different price points, so people with different budgets can afford to come” and “so much else to do while you’re here.”

Add in the perspective of the Mountain West having four teams in the NCAA tournament this year, which is the most teams in the field since 2013, and the competition throughout the city increases.

Boise State defeats San Diego State to win MW Title

“It actually felt like (the Mountain West was) a Power 5 conference this year,” San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher said after the Aztecs’ 53-52 loss in the MWC tournament championship game on March 12. “So many times, we go into this game, and we know we have to win just to get in. So, you look at all these teams – the Big Ten, the ACC, the SEC, all the top seeds are getting knocked out. They know that they’re there to play in March in the NCAA Tournament.”

Despite losing to Boise State, SDSU has been to the MW tournament final five consecutive years and in 12 of the last 14 seasons.  

Abilene Christian, who lost to top seeded New Mexico State as a No. 6 seed in the WAC tournament championship on Saturday, won the WAC tournament a season ago and received one of the 32 automatic bids into the Big Dance. They would go on to pull off an upset as a No. 14 seed against Big 12 opponent Texas, who was a No. 3 seed.

First-year Abilene Christian head coach Brette Tanner said being able to compete as other tournaments are taking place in the same city gives an added energy and more realization to concentrate on the goal: to get to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s been a ton of fun, a ton of work,” Tanner said Friday evening. It’s been sleep and ball, sleep and ball. You don’t really experience Vegas. It’s a great place. There’s a lot of fans. It’s a great experience. But the bottom line is we’re here focused on the job at hand.”

Whether it is conference tournaments in March or non-conference events in November, such as the Good Sam Empire Classic that featured the nation’s best teams like Gonzaga and UCLA, Las Vegas has become a premier environment for college basketball to feature the top teams and the best crowds in the West.

Related: 2022 March Madness: Everything you need to know