By the time the weekend is over, brackets will be busted, upsets will be pulled, and the field of 68 will be pared down to just 16.
In the meantime, arenas across the country — from Albuquerque to Pittsburgh — will host the first rounds of another NCAA Tournament, the annual college basketball showcase also known as March Madness. Millions of people will be watching the drama unfold on television and those who want to see it live have been scrambling to make travel and ticket arrangements. Each school in the tournament is given an allotment of 550 tickets.
Two games each on Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, narrowed the field to 64. The tournament begins in earnest with games in all four regionals on this Thursday and Friday, March 15 and 16. The ultimate destination is The Final Four, March 31–April 2 at the Superdome in New Orleans.
No. 1 seeds Syracuse (East), Kentucky (South), North Carolina, (Midwest) and Michigan State (West) naturally come in as the favorites, but upsets are always looming. Only once (2008) since 1979 have all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four.
Here’s a look at the regionals. All ticket prices are secondary market listings from search site TiqIQ.com
Sites: Pittsburgh, Albuquerque, Nashville
Winners advance to: Semifinals and final, March 22-24, TD Garden, Boston
Outlook: No. 1 seed Syracuse (31-2) coming off a loss to Cincinnati in the Big East tournament, could see the Bearcats again in Atlanta. Cincy is the No. 6 seed. Syracuse’s national title hopes took a big hit with the loss of 7-foot center Fab Melo, who was ruled ineligible and won’t play in the tournament. No. 2 Ohio State, coming off a Big Ten title game loss, No. 4 seed Wisconsin, another Big Ten power, and ACC tournament champion Florida State could also stand in the way of the Orange getting out of the East. One of the most intriguing early match-ups is No. 12 seed Harvard, making its first NCAA appearance, taking on SEC tournament champ Vanderbilt — the so-called “Harvard of the South” — this Thursday afternoon in Albuquerque. That’s also one of the most inexpensive games. The average ticket price for that session, which begins with Montana playing Wisconsin, is $64, with “get-in” prices starting at $33. One of the most expensive early sessions features No. 10 West Virginia, playing in nearby Pittsburgh, facing tournament regular Gonzaga. That Thursday night doubleheader, with the Loyola (Md.)-Ohio State game, has an average ticket price of $270.81
Sites: Louisville, Portland, Ore., Albuquerque, Greensboro, N.C.
Winners advance to: Semifinals and final, March 23-25, Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Outlook: Lurking for top seed Kentucky on Saturday at the KFC Yum Center in Louisville is defending champion Connecticut. That’s if the No. 9 seed Huskies can get past No. 8 Iowa State and the Wildcats win their opener. A potential UConn-Kentucky match-up has the highest average ticket price of the weekend at $278.66 and a get-in price of $189. There were more tickets purchased on StubHub.com for the Louisville site, which is also hosting West Regional games, than any other NCAA site this week. Duke is the No. 2 seed in the South as the NCAA selection committee looks to re-create the classic Duke-Kentucky East Regional final of 1992, won by Christian Laettner’s buzzer-beater for Duke. This time, they’d meet at the Georgia Dome next Sunday. A potential Notre Dame-Duke game this Sunday in Greensboro has an average ticket price of $125.85. As for upset potential, Virginia Commonwealth, which made a Cinderella run to the Final Four last year, is a No. 12 seed in Portland, Ore., vs. No. 5 Wichita State ($63.98 average ticket price) and No. 11 Colorado, coming off a Pac-12 tournament title, opens with No. 6 UNLV in Albuquerque ($86.98)
Sites: Greensboro, Nashville, Columbus, Ohio, Omaha
Winners advance to: Semifinals and final, March 23-25, Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis
Outlook: The seedings point to another classic matchup in the final next Sunday in St. Louis: No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 1 North Carolina in the Jayhawk-friendly Midwest. UNC’s road begins in nearby Greensboro and Kansas starts in Omaha vs. Detroit, both on Friday, March 16. Prior to Kansas’ opener is No. 10 Purdue facing No. 7 St. Mary’s in Omaha (average ticket price $174.33). Kansas’ potential second game, Sunday, March 18 in Omaha vs. St. Mary’s or Purdue, carries a hefty $225 average ticket price. Attention bargain hunters: The Friday afternoon doubleheader in Columbus of No. 6 San Diego State vs. No. 11 North Carolina State followed by No. 3 Georgetown vs. No. 14 Belmont has a $36 get-in price.
Sites: Columbus, Portland, Louisville, Omaha
Winners advance to: Semifinals and final, March 22–24, US Airways Center, Phoenix
Outlook: No. 1 seed Michigan State faces a tough road to reach what would be a seventh Final Four in 13 years for coach Tom Izzo. Looming on Sunday in Columbus is No. 8 seed Memphis, should the Tigers get by Saint Louis in their opener. The potential Memphis-MSU match-up has an average ticket price of $153.95 and the opening session featuring those teams Friday, March 16 in Columbus has a $135 average ticket price. Meanwhile, No. 2 Missouri has never been to a Final Four. Could this be the year Mizzou breaks through? Missouri takes on Norfolk State in the opening session during the afternoon of Friday, March 16 in Omaha. Preceding that game is a match-up between No. 10 Virginia and No. 7 Florida. It’s the most expensive opening session with a $190 average ticket price. Long Beach State over New Mexico during the afternoon of Thursday, March 15 in Portland, Ore., with a get-in price of only $17, could be the No. 12 vs. 5 upset that is an annual occurrence. Keep an eye on the Racers of Murray State, who have only lost once. They’re a sixth seed and open with Colorado State on Thursday, March 15 in Louisville and will likely face No. 3 Marquette for a shot at the Sweet 16.