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Official Review by Jeremy Mauss, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Each March since 2007, the Mountain West Conference has held its postseason tournament at the Thomas and Mack Center, with the winner earning a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
The Thomas and Mack Center is tucked away by itself, but it is still just a few miles off of the Las Vegas Strip, and is home to one of the best shows in Las Vegas: The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.
The league did move the conference tournament to the Pepsi Center in Denver from 2004-06, but the results were poor with poor attendance numbers. The tournament is scheduled to remain at the Thomas and Mack through 2016.
The Thomas and Mack opened up in 1983 and holds 18,776 and there have been multiple upgrades in that time. Most notably a new four-sided video screen which was installed in 2008.
The primary use is for the men’s and women’s UNLV basketball teams. Other events that the arena has held include being the home of Team USA basketball for its training and summer camps, the Utah Jazz briefly called the Thomas and Mack home during the 1980s, the 2007 NBA All-Star game, the Mountain West men’s and women’s conference tournament, Arena Football is making its comeback in 2015 and it’s also home to some of the biggest rodeo events in the country.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food at the Thomas and Mack is your standard arena style of food which includes subs, hot dogs, bratwursts, nachos, burgers, garlic fries, ice cream, cotton candy and more. Everything can be had for under $10. The type of food is somewhat disappointing since Las Vegas itself has a wide variety of dining options, but the food that is available tastes good.
Pepsi products are the soft drinks of choice. The arena also serves to the adult crowd with alcoholic beverages available for purchase which include Bud Light, Coors Light, Budweiser and more. There is also a full bar area where specialty and mixed drinks can be purchased, plus an even a wider variety of beer available.
The 12 concession areas allow for plenty of time to easily get in and out of a line to purchase concessions.
The Thomas and Mack is full of history with the championship banner of the 1990 team, the Final Four appearances and seeing the great names of retired jerseys of Rebel greats such as Greg Anthony, Reggie Theus, Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Armon Gilliam and others hanging from the rafters just show how great it is to be a UNLV fan.
Having attended multiple games with and without UNLV playing during the 2015 Mountain West Tournament, the crowd provides an extra sense of importance in every game. The championship game did not even feature UNLV, as Wyoming and San Diego State squared off, and the arena was full and even louder when UNLV played a few nights earlier.
The Thomas and Mack Center is on the southwest side of the UNLV campus and walkable from most of the university. The other end of the arena is not the best part of town, and outside of some apartment complexes nearby that is about it for where the arena sits.
Even though the arena looks like it is by itself, it is not far from other activities or even restaurants to visit before or after the game. One would have to walk through UNLV's campus on Maryland Ave and to find plenty of variety of restaurants to visit, such as In-N-Out, Cafe Rio, Smashburger, Aloha Kitchen and a smattering of bars.
Mountain West fans show up in large numbers for the conference tournament. Being in a destination like Las Vegas does help a lot. Multiple teams brought in a lot of fans and outside of the hometown UNLV fans, the Wyoming Cowboys and San Diego State Aztecs fans packed the arena for each game they played.
During the championship game between the Aztecs and Cowboys, The Show -- which is San Diego State's loud student section -- sat directly behind my seats and they were dwarfed by the Cowboys fans that made the title game feel more like a home game for the Cowboys.
Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt agrees with that sentiment about the crowd in the title game.
"It was crazy," Shyatt said in the postgame press conference. "You said it, it was a home game. Every time we scored, you could see three fourths of the gym stand up and clap. Every time they started chanting the W Y O or our band started playing "Cowboy Joe." Man, no other way to put it, but it was a home game."
While Las Vegas is a reasonable drive for most of the Mountain West, it is a nearly five-hour drive from San Diego, but Laramie, Wyoming, to Las Vegas is a 12-hour drive.
All of the fans at the arena were all in all great with other fans with some trash talking between each other, and nothing got out of hand.
Driving in to the arena requires taking I-215 via the airport and then taking Tropicana Avenue into the arena. Depending on traffic and time of day it can be an issue getting to the stadium. The games during the day were easy to get to and did not take too long.
Parking is a little bit more expensive for the tournament, it is a reasonable $15 for the day. There are four places to park with two entrances. The first on the east side off Swensen Road after going through the airport tunnel and the other is on the north side taking Tropicana. There are only 4,000 parking spots so getting to the arena early for the evening games would be a good idea, and especially for the championship game.
Even for the later and title game crowd, getting into the arena is fairly easy.
In a tournament setting there will be a fair share of blowouts which hurt the experience some, but the Mountain West tournament countered a few bad games with plenty of very good games. The quarterfinal games between UNLV vs.Utah State and then Wyoming vs. Utah State was the best stretch of games. Rebel and Cowboy fans packed the arena and both of those games came down to the final possession.
The semifinal game between Boise State and Wyoming was the only overtime game of the tournament. Hearing how loud the Cowboy fans were against the regular season champion Bronco fans made the game a great experience to see in person.
The title game was the loudest out of any game, including the Utah State vs. UNLV thriller. Wyoming fans clearly outnumbered San Diego State fans and made the arena rock in a tight championship game.
All of that could be had for $100 for the entire tournament, when purchased ahead of time, and that includes all nine men's game, and all the women's games if one desires to take in everything. The cost of the food and drink is reasonable for a tournament setting.
Being in Las Vegas is a nice perk for this arena since it is nearby the Strip and can provide plenty of activities after a tournament game, or even if one wants to take a break for a while. During the games there is not a bad seat in this arena and the large video screen provides plenty of replays of the game.
While this is played at the home of the UNLV Rebels, the conference removes as much of the UNLV banners and signage as possible to make this feel like a neutral site atmosphere.
The tournament itself is one of the more exciting and even though the Mountain West is not considered a power league, it certainly holds its own for competitive and exciting games at the conference tournament. Usually, the Mountain West has at least one ranked team, and sometimes more.
Member Review by JasonBartel on Mar 18, 2013
The Mountain West Conference has been holding its basketball tournament at Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas since 2007, and will continue holding it there through at least the 2016 season. The conference also held the tournament there from the conference’s inception in 1999 through 2003 before it temporarily moved to the Pepsi Center in Denver. Thomas and Mack is typically the home of the UNLV men’s basketball team during the season, but it is almost impossible to tell that during the tournament.
In 2012-13, the Mountain West had nine basketball members. They will be expanding to eleven members moving forward. Those schools are: Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada-Reno, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State and Wyoming. San Jose State and Utah State will be the tenth and eleventh schools in the conference. Hawaii is a football only member. BYU, TCU, and Utah are all former Mountain West members.
Thomas and Mack was first opened in 1983, and has a basketball capacity of 18,776. 18,500 attended the 2013 MW Championship game. In addition to UNLV and MW basketball, the facility has also been host to the 2007 NBA All Star Game, an Arena Football League team, Big West Conference and WAC basketball tournaments in the 1990s, a Lakers playoff game in 1992 due to the LA Riots, as well as various wrestling and boxing matches and concerts.
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