In reverse chronological order:
10. McKale Center in Tucson, University of Arizona (1977, 1979, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2005, and 2011).
Most famous game–1993 Second Round involving the Fab Five when Jimmy King beat the shot clock off a Jalen Rose leaner to give Michigan a hard fought 86-84 overtime win over UCLA.
9. The Omni in Atlanta (former site during 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, and 1992)
Again, their most famous game occurred in the early run of the Fab Five. Michigan survived a score against John Cheney’s famed Temple zone defense 73-66 in the First Round.
8. Tie, United Center in Chicago (1998, 2002, 2007, 2011) and
Allstate Arena (formerly named as Rosemont Horizon 1987 and 1993).
Tons of cool games from both popular venues situated near some of America’s busiest expressways. DePaul was one of the last teams to utilize a true home court advantage en route to a Sweet 16 appearance in 1987.
VCU used their opening round in Dayton (another selection listed below) as the Rams snagged a pair of upsets in the Windy City–first by double digits over Georgetown and surviving a knock-down, near dragfest with Purdue en route to their first Final Four appearance.
But the all-time best belongs to Jason Kidd and the California Golden Bears upsetting the then two-time defending champions of Duke in 1993. That Second Round game to close out the Saturday session was everything you wanted in a tournament game–mood swings, great plays, and lots of guts left out on the floor.
7. Verizon Center, Washington DC (1998, 2002, 2008, 2011).
6. Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina (1980, 1983, 1986, 1989, 1992, 2001, 2006, 2009, 2012, and will be back hosting again in 2017).
1998 First Round, Washington appeared to have an upset win in the cards but Richard “Rip” Hamilton made a soft seven-foot shot at the buzzer to give UConn the win.
5. University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio (1970, 1973, 1976, 1981, 85-86, 91-92, 1995, 2001, 2006, 2009, 2013 plus other play-in Games 1983, 1984 and since 2001).
George Mason’s run of being Giant Killers began here, along with a classic in the 2009 First Round when tiny Siena upset Ohio State in two overtimes.
But since 2011 having four opening round games is a bit much, plus reading about the scathing locker room quarters as mentioned by some CBSSports.com bloggers made me lower this ranking from a previous high between 2 and 3 in prior years.
4. Tie with Oklahoma City:
Oklahoma State Fair Arena, 1957
The Myriad, 1994 and 1998
Chesapeake Energy Arena (2003, 2005, 2010, and will host again in 2016).
The Pacer Play, First Round 1998 Valparaiso vs. Ole Miss–you know the rest:
3. Salt Lake City:
Jon M. Huntsman Center (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006) and EnergySolutions Arena (2013 and will host again in 2017).
Little Steve Nash, who was a totally different guy and had a lion sized heart when Santa Clara became the first 15 seed to upset a 2 seed in Arizona in the 1993 First Round. Twenty years later, a game involving Gonzaga proved to be just as huge.
2. Taco Bell Arena, Boise, Idaho (1983, 1989, 1992, 1995, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2009, and again will host in 2018).
Two key endings immediately come to mind, the 1995 Second Round with UCLA edging out Missouri:
and 2001 involving 15 seed Hampton shocking then then 2 seed Iowa State.
Finally, here is the Number One First/Second Round NCAA Tournament Venue Of All-Time, According To This Blog Reporter:
1. Memorial Gymnasium on the campus of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee (1982, 1989, and 1993).
Built in the early 1950’s, the uniqueness of this gym is unlike any other in American sport.
There is no air conditioning inside the gym, but instead is only on the practice courts. But the team’s benches are on opposite ends of the court–a full 94 feet away from each basket.
Also, instead of having the Vanderbilt cheerleaders looking directly to the right of the basket along each baseline–there they all are in clear view of the TV cameras with tons of room to spare.
Even the seating arrangements according to their Wikipedia page is “almost Cinemascope-like”, taking you back to a simpler, earlier time.
But in terms of overall early round venues, this was the best of the best.
Next week, we will look back at the Top 10 Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight venues. Plenty of recent classic stadiums which are no longer around will comprised a majority of that list.