To many sports fans, the month of March is a very exciting time of year. Millions of brackets are made in preparation for one of the most popular sports tournaments in the country; March Madness.
64 of the best teams in the NCAA are seeded into the tournament, and shortly after, madness ensues. Tons of games are played all over the country from Thursday to Sunday, and fans are drawn to the Cinderella stories and intensity of game play.
This year, the madness made it’s way back to Hartford, with First and Second round games being played at the XL Center on Thursday, March 21 and Saturday, March 23.
This was the first time Hartford has hosted tournament games since 1998, and at the time, Hartford was exposed for sub-par marketing and advertising for the games. However, Hartford would like to turn that around with this year’s slate of games.
Wildcat Fans Embrace the XL Center
With tickets for both days of games selling very quickly, and having nearby teams like Villanova bringing in a majority of their fans along to attend, this allowed Hartford to take a deep breath.
In talking with Julia Robbins, a Villanova alum and avid Wildcat basketball fan, she expressed, “This is great for the city of Hartford to have something like this back… It’s great to see Nova play nearby.”
With the third of four first round games tipping off at 7:20 p.m., the Wildcats took on the Saint Mary’s Gaels in an intriguing 6 seed v.s 11 seed match up. Villanova was favored to win by five points, however after a sluggish first half, their title defense was looking to be in jeopardy.
However, after ending the first half only leading by two, the Wildcats seemed to turn it on, as they began to go on two separate runs to control the game, and got critical baskets when the Gaels would go on a run of their own.
The entire XL center was ecstatic during this game, as a majority of the audience were Villanova faithful. As for the amount of fans, roughly every seat was taken in the building, and the place erupted after every Wildcat score.
Future NBA Stars Light Up Hartford
Another draw that certainly helped bring in fans on Thursday was the enticing match up between the 5 seeded Marquette Golden Eagles and 12 seeded Murray State Racers. Not only was it the always intriguing 5-12 bracket buster, but it was also a match up between two possible first round picks in the upcoming NBA Draft.
This no doubt drew in lots of fans that weren’t necessarily Murray State or Marquette fans because of the fact that these two are transcending talents that are capable of putting on a show.
“Ja (Morant) has been incredible for us this year,” says Murray State fan Jaden Sutton. “I definitely expect it to be a tough match up, but I think they’ll get the job done.”
Morant didn’t disappoint, as he put up a triple-double in an 83-64 win over Marquette. This was just the 17th triple-double in NCAA Tournament History. It was certainly an exciting game to have in Hartford.
How Did Hartford Do?
The XL Center did a great job handling this event, given that this was a stressful event to handle. The need to clear out first session ticket holders in preparation for the second session starting shortly after was a daunting task, and even though the second session ticket holders were let in a bit late, the event still went smoothly and there was no room for major complaint.
All in all, this weekend of excitement can be noted as a success for the city of Hartford, as countless of fans of basketball showed up and showed out for all six of the games played a the XL Center. It was certainly a confidence-building event for a city that’s seeking more opportunities like this in the future.