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Photograph: Visit Las Vegas

There’s no place like Vegas to watch College Hoops: here’s why

This trip is about so much more than basketball

Written by Time Out (Matt Villano). Paid for by Visit Las Vegas

Sure, we care about the games. But to me and my friends, it’s about so much more than that.

Every March, me and my guys fly into Las Vegas from all over the country. We converge at the sports books to watch and bet on the first weekend of contests in the annual men’s college basketball tournament. For the uninitiated, it goes like this: 68 teams, divided into four regions and ranked, compete and are steadily eliminated throughout the month, until just four contenders face off for the national championship in early April.

On paper, our annual College Hoops ritual is all about coming to Las Vegas, cheering our teams and betting on them too. 

But really, if we’re being honest, it’s about camaraderie and friendship and love.

Some of the guys in our crew have been doing this every year since way back in 1997. Others (like moi) are relative newcomers—I’ve only been coming for 15 years. For many of our group, this March trip is the only time we see each other all year.

It is, put simply, a disconnect and reconnect in one—the chance to unplug from the hubbub of our busy lives and plug in to the simple equation of friends, sports, and, of course, Vegas.

Because I’m a travel writer who covers Las Vegas, I’m the de facto cruise director, the guy who calls the shots on what we do, where we go, and how we roll. I’m the one in charge of making sure every year features something novel and cool—easy enough in this city known as The Greatest Arena on Earth™. In fact, there’s so much to do in Vegas one needs to resist overscheduling. It’s a delicate balance, but I think we’ve achieved it. Want to launch your own March hoops trip tradition? Try my agenda: 

Day-by-day: my yearly Vegas basketball trip

Day 1

We fly in at a range of times, and meet up at our hotel (in recent years, we’ve stayed at Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa). We reserve a couple suites as well as a cabana by the pool. We love the experience and vibe in the books at Wynn Las Vegas and Caesars Palace; both are like tailgate parties, but a swank version.

Day 2

A day in Vegas requires the real breakfast of champions. A few of us New York natives are obsessed with bagels and lox, and we wake up early to grab breakfast at Sadelle’s, the upscale Jewish diner inside Bellagio Las Vegas. We spend the majority of the day in the book, but we always plan an excursion to Downtown, largely because I love the history and the drinks at Atomic Liquors, the oldest licensed bar in the city. This year, we’ll swing by Circa Las Vegas as well, since the entire property was built around the three-story sports book. (Also, the pool deck, dubbed Stadium Swim, is laid out like a sports book, but with pool terraces instead of seats.)

Day 3

We make sure to see a live game during one of our days. Since the Vegas Golden Knights burst onto the scene in 2017, we’ve tried to incorporate a game every March. On a recent visit, we nabbed a table in the arena outpost of Hyde Lounge at T-Mobile Arena nightclub and enjoyed bottle service with our hockey. This year, we’re hoping to score the same setup again.

Our four-day escape always includes at least one “nice” dinner, which basically means we hit a restaurant where everyone must wear pants. This year we’ll venture to Resorts World, where we can hit up the brand-new Carversteak, then retire to the Eight lounge next door for Scotch and cigars. If the team is feeling adventurous, we might venture to the Here Kitty Kitty Vice Den for mixologist Juyoung Kang’s epic cocktails.

Day 4

A small phalanx of our gang even tries to squeeze in a hike, as the trails of Red Rock Natural Conservation Area are just a short drive away.  

Yes, we all like to leave with cash in our pockets. But by the time we start heading to the airport for our flights home, we’ve won something far bigger that sustains us till the following spring.

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