The first two rounds of the NCAA tournament might be my favorite long weekend of the year, especially when I started heading to Vegas to take in all the March Madness opening weekend festivities. If you love sports, it’s one of the can’t miss events of the year. Sure, you don’t see any in-person games, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it.
If you haven’t thought about Vegas in March, here’s what you’re missing. Thousands of fans from all 68 teams decent on Vegas and take over every bar, restaurant, casino, patio, and ballrooms. Basketball fans with no rooting interest quickly can buy a stake in the form of a plethora of betting options. The atmosphere reminds me of an indoor college football tailgate stretching up and down the strip all the way downtown, with an atmosphere fueled with booze, lack of sleep, adrenaline, and that magic that is Vegas mixed with the college spirit.
If you love basketball, it is nirvana. If you like to put down a wager, there’s no better time or place. If you love people watching, it’s a carnival of interesting characters. And if you are like me and like all three, there’s no better place to be.
One hint, when in Vegas and everyone is looking at the game, turn around and look at the crowd; The more important the moment, the better. You don’t have to watch the TV to know what is happening. You will see it and hear it through the roar of the crowd. It’s one of my favorite parts.
Because of this unique perspective, I’ve seen many things over the years. Here’s a list of things to watch for when in Vegas for March Madness that you won’t find on one of the seemingly endless supply of screens up and down the Vegas strip.
The First to X Points Roar
The first games tip at
The Split House
For many games, especially in the first rounds, the fans aligned with one school over another is quite skewed. If Kentucky is playing a small 16 seed, the Kentucky fans will outnumber them 100 to 1, if not more. You’ll usually get a nice mix of cheers as everyone not associated with the favorite will jump on the underdog, but it’s a different vibe.
I love the games where two passionate fanbases go head to head and the rooting interest is split. These often happen during the first round with the 7/10 and 8/9 games and can make for a very interesting dynamic.
But the true craziness can happen in the second round if lightning strikes and you get that dream matchup. A great example was the 5 seeded Indiana Hoosiers (27-6) playing the 4 seeded Kentucky Wildcats (27-8) in the second round in 2016 in what many call “the group of death”.
These were two good teams with NBA players on each side (Yogi Ferrel, Thomas Bryan, OG Annunoby, Troy Williams vs Alex Poythress, Skal Labissiere, Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray) and passionate fan-bases that hate each other playing in the second round.
There are usually a few of these dream-matchup possibilities each year, so if one comes about, it’s tons of fun. This often happens in the “group of death”, where the seeds seem a bit off and the match-ups seem to be aided by CBS to get the best ratings. When this happens, we want to be there!
The last few minutes of every set of games usually has moments to watch (the crowd and the game), but when the underdog has the ball with the clock winding down, the energy is the most palpable. Vegas has an energy unlike anywhere else, but it seems as though time stops when Cinderella has the ball at the end of the game.
When the shot goes in? Pandemonium. We all root for these type of upsets, but no where harder than in the Vegas casinos. Take a quick peek around and take it all in.
Why the long face?
We already know. Months of rooting, hoping, and cheering for your team can end by noon on Thursday in Vegas. Top seeds with high expectations are the most common dead-zombie faced stares at the end of the game, but when someone just lost a mortgage payment on a sure thing, they too can take it pretty hard.
This isn’t the most exciting part of Vegas, because it’s not that fun to see someone else’s pain, but it is still part of the experience. Unless Purdue loses in the first round. Then it’s fun! (Go Hoosiers).
Other things you will see
It’s Vegas, so there’s no way we can give you a list of all the crazy things you might see. That’s part of the fun. But you will probably see:
- Grown men and women wearing matching outfits on purpose
- World record distances on wadded ticket throw
- Brackets being burned (or more likely ripped to shreds)
- Someone famous who’s as into the games as you are
- Unlikely friends (i.e. Duke/UNC groups)
- Fans from schools you didn’t know existed
- Plenty of friendly
baskeballfans from around the world to share the experience
- More booze consumed than you care to remember
- A fight or two. Or three or four.
No matter how you do March Madness in Vegas, you will see things that will give you stories for the rest of the time, assuming you remember them. And before you go, don’t forget any of the essentials.