NCAA Tournament should return to NYC as frequently as possible

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

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NEW YORK -- It took 53 years for the NCAA Tournament to return to Madison Square Garden.

I think the question everyone here is left asking is, "Why?"

College basketball proves annually that some of its best moments come under the glare of MSG's lights, which glow brighter and can be more rewarding, more longlasting than any in basketball. No matter the level. You can recall so many of the great games, shots, moments and miseries that took place on the corner of 33rd and 7th during the past 45 years -- and now I'm only speaking to the college hoops memories.

Imagine how much richer the sport's history would've been if MSG had served as host even only a few times in the modern tournament era. How we went more than five decades without putting the biggest basketball event in the world, in the biggest city in the world, in its defining sports landmark, is baffling.

So the NCAA better do its damnedest to make sure it never again goes another few years -- let a lone half a century -- between Garden games from here on out. Because what just happened over four days and two nights gave us great theater (as we had to expect) and an indelible three-pack of games that reminded us of how great college basketball can be when you can pack the place and trigger buzz that can't be faked.

The NCAA will decide on its first- and second-weekend tournament sites for 2016, 2017 and 2018 later this year. If it's smart, it'll make sure the a portion of the party is right back here in two years at the Garden.

Then book a spot in Brooklyn, at the Barclays Center, for 2016.

And come back across the bridge for MSG the next year.

If the bids are in, or if the interest exists, it's the biggest no-brainer ever. New York City can host and provide and drive fans from all over in college basketball more than any other spot on the planet. This city lures you, and it will always pride itself on its undying appreciation for basketball. Why would you pass up the best stage for your best event any longer?

C (USATSI)
Connecticut made the East regional perfect this year, but the Garden is special always. (USATSI)

UConn was a serendipitous participant in this year's East region, of course. But the Garden will draw no matter what. Iowa State and Virginia -- holy Virginia! -- arrived like armies. The Cavaliers' faithful rivaled what UConn put under the roof on Friday.

That energy, it rocks you. I felt tense just being a part of it. And that sensation from the crowd comes through on television too.

The prices this past week were outrageous. The Huskies fan base forced the secondary ticket market to creep into the $600s for individual tickets -- in the cheap seats. Of course UConn's presence in this regional uplifted MSG to the superb basketball domain that it's always been. If felt special, in large part because a "local" team was involved.

It felt like a Big East tournament, only bigger. It was a rock concert.

"The reason I called timeout with six seconds left, it was so that the UConn fans could really enjoy it a little longer," Tom Izzo said afterward.

They knew the feeling. It was familiar -- yet totally new. Perhaps that vivacious crowed helped get Connecticut to another Final Four, this time behind 41-year-old Kevin Ollie, who was coaching in his first NCAA Tournament.

"It was just an amazing feeling to do it in Madison Square Garden, and for the NCAA not to be here for 50 years and then we come out and we win it, it just puts a great bow on this gift," Ollie said.

And while the regional was a great setting, it wouldn't hurt to consider putting the first weekend here, either. One plague on the NCAA Tournament has been inconsistent attendance at venues. It's a crapshoot. Sometimes, the games lack energy, and bodies, throughout.

Would not be an issue in Manhattan or in Brooklyn.

Plenty have probably grown tired of the wax-poetic narrative that surrounds good hoop in New York City. But stereotypes, good and bad, often exist for a reason, and the truth is there is no major venue in the world like what this one can provide. It's not the most gorgeous arena; it's not the most lavish arena; it's not the newest arena; it's not the oldest arena.

It's the World's Most Famous Arena. And as decades of Big East tournaments -- among many other big games -- have shown us, when college basketball is at its best inside this joint, there's a warm chill that overcomes everyone.

I could spend 800 words going into what elevates players' games, the way Shabazz Napier channeled Kemba Walker, who channeled Talik Brown, who channeled Richard Hamilton. Or pick another player: Gerry McNamara, Patrick Ewing, Pearl Washington. They've all had huge moments. They've all been great, and none involved the NCAA Tournament. The sport, which doesn't need any help in March, would give itself just one more really good reason to be interesting.

"We feel the intensity from our crowd," Napier said. "We feel the intensity just from the overwhelming sensation when you first walk in here. It's just a special feeling to continue to create our history and win games here."

UConn was the perfect team to win in Madison Square Garden's tournament return. But let's try this again a time or two -- or 10. We'll see that it'll feel right no matter who comes in with hope and who leaves with the nets. The best stage deserves the best tournament. This bracket was meant for this building.

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