Salt Lake City has played a huge role in the history of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Perhaps the most important college game of all time, Indiana State with Larry Bird vs. Michigan State with “Magic” Johnson, took place in 1979 at the Huntsman Center and launched March Madness as we’ve come to know it. At the same venue in 1993, a then-unknown point guard from Canada named Steve Nash led No. 15 seed Santa Clara over No. 2 Arizona in one of the biggest upsets in Big Dance history. Only Kansas City has hosted more tourney games than SLC.
From 1971 through 2006, first-round games were held at the Huntsman Center, but this year the festivities will move to the EnergySolutions Arena for the regionals, aka Sweet 16, with two games on Thursday night, followed by a Saturday game with a berth in the Final Four at stake. This marks the first time that games beyond the first and second round have taken place in Utah since 1983, when the West Regionals were played in Ogden.
BYU got the No. 7 seed in the West and had the potential to make it seem like an extra General Conference weekend by flooding downtown with blue-clad fans, but the Cougs got bounced by Kansas State in the second round.
Thursday’s games pit two highly seeded teams from the Big East and Big 12 that were supposed to be here (No. 1 Syracuse and No. 2 Kansas State) against two teams from mid-major conferences that weren’t (No. 5 Butler and No. 6 Xavier).