Like so many other fun things, March Madness starts in Las Vegas.
Of the 32 men’s college basketball tournaments, five take place in metropolitan Las Vegas. Some even occur at venues near prominent Nevada casinos. The tournament winners collect automatic bids to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, which concludes with the Final Four and national title game in Houston.
Here’s a primer to the five events happening in Las Vegas that precede March Madness. Don’t be surprised if you see lots of tall young men and women walking around The Strip wearing college swag.
If you’re coming into town for one of these tournaments, remember that you must register in-person to use Nevada sports betting apps. You can do so at sportsbooks around Las Vegas.
West Coast Conference Tournament
Dates: March 2-7
Venue: Orleans Arena
Teams Participating (10): University of San Diego, Portland, Pepperdine, Pacific, University of San Francisco, BYU, Loyola Marymount University, Santa Clara, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
What To Know: The Orleans Arena is located at the Orleans Hotel and Casino in the Las Vegas Valley. The WCC uses a unique system for its conference tournament where the top two seeds in the regular season (in this case Saint Mary and Gonzaga) receive byes straight to the tournament semifinals.
Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s tied for the regular season title with 14-2 records and split regular season meetings. Saint Mary’s received the top seed based on the NCAA’s NET rankings, a computer rating system.
Dates: March 7, then March 9-11
Venues: Michelob ULTRA Arena for first round, then Orleans Arena
Teams Participating (12): Utah Valley, Sam Houston, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, Seattle, Grand Canyon, Tarleton, California Baptist, Abilene Christian, UT Arlington, UT Rio Grande Valley, Utah Tech
What To Know: This event actually is played in two different arenas. The four-game first round takes place at the ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino before taking a day off and switching to the Orleans Arena.
Tarleton and Utah State are not eligible for the NCAA Tournament, because they are still in their “transitional period” after playing in Division II. They can play in the conference tournament. New Mexico State won’t be competing in the tournament after cancelling its season in February when allegations of hazing among players became public.
Big West Tournament
Dates: March 7-11
Venue: Dollar Loan Center
Teams Participating (10): UC-Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, Hawaii, Cal State-Fullerton, UC Davis, Long Beach State, Cal State-Bakersfield, UC San Diego, Cal State-Northridge, Cal Poly
What To Know: The Dollar Loan Center is the home of the Henderson Silver Knights of the American Hockey League, an affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL. The facility opened in 2022, and its first event was last season’s Big West Tournament. Cal State-Fullerton won the title, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in school history. It lost to Duke, 78-61 in the first round.
Long Beach State has the most tournament titles (5) of any team still in the conference. UNLV and Utah State have each won more, but switched conference affiliations.
Mountain West Conference Tournament
Dates: March 8-11
Venue: Thomas & Mack Center
Teams Participating: San Diego State, Boise State, Utah State, Nevada, San Jose State, New Mexico, UNLV, Fresno State, Air Force, Colorado State, Wyoming
What To Know: The Thomas & Mack Center is the home floor of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels and has hosted this tournament since 2007. San Diego State has won two of the last three Mountain West Tournaments contested and is one of the favorites coming in. They split regular season meetings with Boise State this year.
Dates: March 8-11
Venue: T-Mobile Arena
Teams participating (12): UCLA, Arizona, USC, Arizona State, Oregon, Utah, Washington State, Washington, Colorado, Stanford, Oregon State, California
What To Know: The top four seeds get byes into the quarterfinals. The PAC-12 didn’t start a conference tournament until the 2001-2002 season, and it moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 2012 before shifting to the T-Mobile Arena (the home of the Vegas Golden Knights) in 2016.
UCLA has already clinched the regular season title. It’s the Bruins 32nd regular season conference title. Both UCLA and Arizona are ranked in the Top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll.