Sixteen teams are left in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and these four venues play host as the field is narrowed to four. Two 20,000-seat pro arenas – one Midwest-honest, the other LA-glitz and glamour, and two oversized football stadiums – one University-owned and regularly converted to basketball and the other a big ol’ Southern football mansion, definitely not suited for basketball. This is the big time, with lots of fans, media and businesses wanting in, so sometimes the buildings are oversized and not quite right. The games, however, are set to impress.
Quicken Loans Arena, né Gund Arena, home of Cleveland Cavaliers – aka the House that LeBron built – is a basketball building through and through. The 21-year-old, Ellerbe Becket-designed downtown arena is the best fit of the four for a basketball game. Its layout makes it the most intimate setting of the four venues, featuring a unique seating bowl where on the sidelines the lower, middle and upper tiers are relatively equal in size but the lower and middle merge behind the hoops.
Staples Center, designed by NBBJ is the 19,000-seat sporting palace in downtown LA. It’s the home of NBA’s Lakers and Clippers, WNBA’s Mystics, the NHL’s Kings and is the centerpiece of the LA Live entertainment supercomplex. Staples features 166 luxury suites, compared with Quicken Loans’ 88, catering to the moneyed LA fan base. The majority of seats including the suites are in the lower bowl close to the action, making Staples Center a good spot for a game, especially compared with this round’s next two arenas.
Syracuse’s Carrier Dome, built in 1981 on the campus of Syracuse University in the heart of Central New York, is a four-hour drive from New York City. The multi-purpose home to Syracuse basketball, football and lacrosse teams, the domed concrete building is brutalist architecture to be kind, an eyesore to be honest. Ugly or not, it has some major college hoop credibility, having seen the rise of Big East, and it’s pretty neat that it brought the Regional Finals to only the second college town in the tournament. For the basketball configuration, the building is essentially cut in half, with the court placed in the football end zone and temporary bleachers erected across the football field. A curtain is dropped behind the bleachers and 30,000+ fans will pack in, creating a surprisingly supercharged sporting atmosphere.
The final building, NRG Stadium, sits adjacent to historic Astrodome in Houston, TX. Regular home to NFL’s Houston Texans, the Populous-designed stadium is one of our favorite NFL parks. The retractable, ePFTE-fabric roof generously floods the interior with natural daylight, whether open or closed, and features a seating bowl quite tight to the playing field. For basketball though, it’s a different story. Although it hosted the 2011 Final Four and will host the same final round in 2016, this is not a basketball facility. Fans will be far from the action and unless it’s sold out, which these rounds won’t be, it will feel cavernous. Whoever comes out of this round will have a substantial advantage in the finals in Indianapolis, having sharpened their shooting ranges in a oversized building, a notoriously difficult task.