For two decades, the Big East has staged one of college basketball’s biggest events: a raucous celebration of the sport in its mecca. Could the Pac-12 one day compare?
UCLA coach Ben Howland was enthusiastic about his current conference’s decision to move its postseason tourney to Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, comparing its potential to that of the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden. He led Pitt to victory in that competition in 2003, shortly began coaching the the Bruins.
“People love to go to Vegas,” Howland said. “It’s gonna be happening. This ticket, in this league, three years from now, will be one of the most difficult tickets in the country to get. That’s what you have to have.
“I’ve said this before. You’ve got to have it at the same place every year. People are going five years from now, 10 years from now — they’re used to going. They can’t wait to go. ‘Even if our team loses, we can just hang out and have fun in Vegas. We don’t have to worry about, you know, changing our flight to come back early. Honey, I have to stay here — it would cost more to change our ticket.’”
Howland added that stricter team rules aren’t needed in the face of these extra distractions. The Bruins will need to get right to work as soon as they arrive in Las Vegas, even if their first tipoff isn’t until Thursday at noon. Their prospective opponents — Stanford and Arizona State — play to advance at noon Wednesday, and Howland has scheduled practice accordingly. Start at 1:15 p.m., and the team should know its enemy as it enters game-specific preparation.
“We’re very structured with our time,” he said. “Our guys aren’t going to be running around, hanging out in casinos or anywhere. We’re on a business trip.”
The law — if not Howland’s rules — figures to keep most of the Bruins out of trouble. Among rotation players, only Larry Drew II and the Wear twins are of age to drink or gamble in casinos.
“I’m happy I’m not 21,” freshman Shabazz Muhammad said.