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Official Review by Matt Trebby, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Since 1983, Madison Square Garden has been home to the Big East Tournament. Throughout all those years, many memorable and amazing moments have been created.
The Garden has seen a six-overtime game, some of the best games in college basketball history, and some of the best teams in college basketball history.
Every year, each Big East school travels to New York City and the world’s most famous arena regardless of their school’s chances. During the 2013 tournament I was fortunate to encounter a few DePaul and South Florida fans, who had no business spending the type of money they did to support a team as poor as their school.
It’s evident why they did it, though: the experience of watching even just one game at the Garden is very memorable.
Unfortunately, due to the major conference realignment happening all over college athletics, the glory of the Big East Tournament may have seen its end with the 2013 version, won by the Louisville Cardinals.
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The variety isn't great when it comes to the food offered at the Big East Tournament. I walked around the Garden during games and found many of the concession stands to be closed for the tournament. The main meals that would constitute dinner being offered were chicken tenders and fries for over $9 and pizza, which was not cheap either.
On the beverage side of things, if you want to have a beer while watching basketball, be ready to pay at least $9 for anything that isn't Bud Light. Even for that, you will likely have to dish out at least $8.
I was quite disappointed with the prices and lack of variety, but they're both fairly easy to explain. The first issue is because of the location: New York City. Good luck finding inexpensive. The second is simply that the Garden doesn't see the Big East Tournament as Knicks or Rangers games, so fewer concessions are open, which is understandable.
The first night of games I attended featured No. 12 Seton Hall vs. No. 13 South Florida and No. 11 Rutgers vs. No. 14 DePaul. Those are games that aren't any good, right?
If you give a crowd at the Garden a close game, they will respond. At the end of the Seton Hall vs. South Florida game, things got tight. The Bulls blew a big lead and the Pirates ended up winning in overtime. Seton Hall's fans didn't even travel that well from New Jersey, but the atmosphere was still electric. It was all people that love basketball that were cheering for a good game.
The rest of the tournament was awesome. Syracuse fills the Garden with Orange, and Connecticut and Notre Dame are not too far behind in terms of team apparel. Otherwise, every school is well represented and the atmosphere at the Garden is incredibly unique. Everyone knows they're at a special place, and that makes the quality of basketball irrelevant sometimes.
If you're at the tournament for a specific school, you'll likely find a specific bar for each school. For example, I was there covering Marquette and I know the school had a bar that everyone met before and after games called Mustang Harry's.
But you're in the middle of Manhattan, too, about 10 blocks south of Times Square and a cab or subway ride away from a good restaurant or bar. I always enjoy New York pizza, so I tried to find a different place after every game.
Otherwise, if you walk north to Times Square, there are plenty of options. You'll find national chains like Applebee's and Dave & Busters. Also, you'll find many different pubs or local restaurants that will strike your fancy. Just north of the Garden I discovered Angelo's, a pizza place literally above the Ed Sullivan Theatre where David Letterman tapes his nightly show.
That's just one of the many places you can find by walking north toward Times Square. New York City isn't the type of place to lack good places to eat.
For the aforementioned session of games I attended on the first night of the tournament, I sat in front of a couple of Syracuse fans. Behind them were a few people from South Bend to support Notre Dame. I spent the whole Seton Hall vs. South Florida game talking to them about their respective schools and Marquette.
I've never attended a session of games at the Garden where I didn't end up having some great conversation with the people next to me. There could be Georgetown and Syracuse fans next to each other, and while they may hate the other school, they'll talk and have a good time.
It's something about the Garden that creates a friendly and fun atmosphere. Everyone is happy to be there and happy to be watching basketball, regardless of what teams are playing.
Most people that are staying in Manhattan for the tournament are at hotels around the Garden, and don't have to walk any more than 15 blocks (about 20 minutes).
Even if that isn't the case, chances are you'll be able to find your way to the Garden in a fairly inexpensive and convenient manner by taking the subway.
Cabs can get expensive. The only time I have ever gotten one in my three years of attending the Big East Tournament was late at night. Otherwise, the subway is the way to go. Even if you're staying outside of Manhattan in one of New York City's other boroughs, you'll be able to find a way to get on a train. This year I actually stayed in Queens, and we were a five-minute walk away from a station, and a 25-minute ride away from Manhattan and the Garden.
Another convenient thing about taking the subway to the Garden is whatever train you're on likely stops around or in Penn Station, which is located directly beneath the arena.
It costs $31 for a week pass (as of March of 2013), and it's worth it. Single rides are about $2.75, which compared to a $20 cab ride from another part of the city to the Garden is great.
This is where it can get tricky. You're probably not going to be able to get tickets at the Garden's box office. You're going to have to scalp. For the first night, the four worst teams in the tournament, I had to pay $20 - which is face value - for a ticket.
The night after, it increased to $40. It gets more expensive as you continue on. If you're going to go just to enjoy basketball, I suggest one of the first two or three nights. The semifinals and championship game get into the triple-digits, but that depends on how willing you may be to watch the game and how much money is at your disposal.
When in the arena watching the games, it's tough to say that the money wouldn't be worth it. The Garden is one of those once-in-a-lifetime arenas.
It must be noted that the Garden has undergone some significant renovations over the past couple years, and those have been fantastic. It looks much more modern and does not look completely like an old arena now.
Now, there are two clear levels in the Garden, instead of some seats being stuck in the rafters with limited views of the whole arena. It isn't just a place with a great atmosphere anymore: it's a world class sports arena.
The Big East Tournament has been the best college basketball conference tournament over the past 30 years, and it was an honor to get to see the final version in 2013.
I always have fun when I go to a game at the Garden. I've been to eight games there, which includes seven sessions of the Big East Tournament. Every time it has been fun, and even during a blowout the crowd finds a way to create some electricity throughout the arena.
The Garden is the type of arena that most people should have on their sports bucket list, and the Big East Tournament would be a great way to check it off - even after Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse leave and the new conference starts. It will be interesting to see how the vibe changes starting in 2014.
Member Review by jmmanc on Mar 09, 2012
Every March, the NCAA Basketball Tournament takes over the sports world. But before reaching the "Big Dance," many teams have to win their qualifying conference tournaments.
The Big East is arguably the most competitive conference in all of college basketball, and every year for the past 30 years, the conference tournament has been played at Madison Square Garden, "The World’s Most Famous Arena." This is the longest running conference tournament at any one consecutive site in college basketball.
Put yourself in the shoes of a college basketball player. It has to be an incredible thrill to play on the same court and in the same arena where so much history has occurred in the past.
Teams like Syracuse, Connecticut and Louisville highlight the impressive tournament field each year. All 16 Big East teams earn a spot in the single-elimination tournament, but the top four teams get byes through the first two rounds.
Though the action starts off slow the first two days, the excitement kicks up Day 3 with the quarterfinals to see who will compete in the semifinals and championship. The Garden is truly hopping if any of the New York teams are involved.
While many teams are selected from the Big East to participate in the NCAA Tournament, the winner of the conference championship gets an automatic bid. However, usually this team earns a high ranking in its tournament bracket.
Connecticut (2011) is the only team to win five straight games in five days to win the Big East Crown. In that same year, 11 Big East teams earned NCAA Tournament bids.
Georgetown and Connecticut are tied for the most Big East Tournament titles with seven each.
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