1. Great college basketball.
2. A great trip.
These are the five locales that best combine those two ingredients for me:
5. Hec Ed
Having first visited Seattle for the 1995 Final Four, I believe I've spent about a month there in several combined trips. Only once -- on getaway day following the Bruins' national championship victory -- did I see rain of any consequence. So am I lucky, or good?
Seattle is one of the two most beautiful cities in the United States. But even on a sunny day, a couple of hours spent inside Hec Edmundson Pavilion delivers one of the great college basketball experiences. The purple-clad students in their prime courtside seats deliver an electric atmosphere for which they're given too little credit. The Huskies have been a consistently entertaining team under Lorenzo Romar, whether that was derived from the speed and athleticism of tiny Nate Robinson or the brutal tenacity of Jon Brockman. You won't need a cup of Starbucks to be stimulated.
4. Duke at Cameron
Because it has gotten so much publicity, there's a natural suspicion that a Blue Devils Home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium might be sort of tourist trap. But some places are classic for a reason, like Buckingham Palace or the Edinburgh Castle. They have history, charm and atmosphere that cannot be manufactured. I love how the light wood finish at Cameron gleams, and I continue to be entertained by the cheerleaders' Rock Lobster dance and the sight of the Devil mascot surfing across the rolling bodies of several frat guys.
And no place loves basketball quite the same way as ACC country. If you catch the Triangle on the right day, you might be able to bring along your golf clubs during the conference season. Or, better yet, you might be able to catch a North Carolina or N.C. State home game, as well.
3. A Pac-10 game at Pauley Pavilion
Anyone in a cold-weather city has to appreciate the scene outside Pauley for a Saturday afternoon game in January or February. When Bruins say they have one of the most beautiful campuses, they might or might not be talking about buildings, grass and trees.
The arena itself needs a facelift as much as any 50-something character actor, but the competition and tradition allow you to set that aside. And following the game, there's more to do in LA than anywhere but New York and maybe Las Vegas. And you rarely need a coat to go outside.
2. Early season at Madison Square Garden
Anyone who has been to New York in November or December can tell you there is nothing like Christmastime in the city. New York becomes a blaze of lights, commerce and at least a twinkle of Yuletide spirit. The Garden gives college fans several chances to absorb all of this and to catch some excellent basketball in a magical venue: the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic in early November; the NIT Season Tip-Off at Thanksgiving; the Jimmy V Classic in the first week of December and whomever Duke wishes to play whenever the Blue Devils wish to play them.
Tickets generally aren't that tough to come by and the sightlines at the Garden aren't sacrificed, as in so many modern arenas, in order for luxury box holders to be seen drinking their imported beers.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
1. Saint Joseph's vs. Villanova at the Palestra
Whatever they're charging for a ticket at an online reseller -- if you can afford it, then it's not too much. Think of it as a Rolex. Lots of dime-store wristwatches will give you the correct time -- but none is a Rolex.
There's nothing better in college basketball than Hawks-Cats, because the intensity of the rivalry depends not at all upon the relative merit of the teams. If they're great, the atmosphere will be phenomenal. If they're lousy (not lately) the atmosphere will be phenomenal.
Any Big Five game at the Palestra is going to be a special experience, and most of those games could be attended for less. Any trip to the Palestra means you can get the Philly experience of visiting the Liberty Bell or running up Rocky's original StairMaster. But St. Joe's-Nova is something you will remember for the rest of your basketball-loving life.
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