Road to the Final Four: The XL Center in Hartford
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament returned to Hartford CT this year for the 1st/2nd rounds. This is the first time Hartford has hosted the “Big Dance” since 1998. A lot has changed in that time. Hartford has put an emphasis on improving facilities and building new ones. In 2014 the XL Center underwent a $35 million dollar renovation.
In addition to the improvements there are also new facilities popping up in Hartford. The Hartford Yard Goats opened up Dunkin Donuts Park in 2017. It has been a huge success and has been voted the #1 double A ballpark for both 2017 and 2018 by Ballpark Digest. The improvements and renewed investment in sports no doubt helped the city bring the NCAA tournament back to Hartford.
The XL Center played host to 8 teams from different conferences and regions of the country. By seed here are the teams that played in the Hartford portion of the NCAA tournament: Purdue (3 seed), Florida State (4 seed), Marquette (5 seed), Villanova (6 seed), Saint Mary’s (11 seed), Murray State (12 seed), Vermont (13 seed), Old Dominion (14 seed). There were some schools who were very happy to get placed in Hartford. The first game up was Vermont vs Florida State. This game sounded like a Vermont home game. There was a large contingent of Vermont fans and they made their presence known. The home court feel was ultimately not even to get Vermont past Florida State though.
The other team with a large contingent of fans was Villanova and they had more luck in their game against St. Mary’s. There were also a good amount of fans who were there just to see some NCAA tournament action and didn’t have an affiliation with any of the schools involved. Some came to see Ja Morant and others came to see how their bracket would shake out, that’s the beauty of the NCAA tournament.
The XL Center may be situated around some good restaurants/bars but there is also some pretty tasty food inside the arena. There are the standard concessions with standbys like popcorn, hot dogs, peanuts etc. But there are also stands with local flair like Ted’s Restaurant, where they sell their legendary steamed cheeseburgers. The XL Center also has a Chick Fil-A inside which is extremely popular so be prepared to wait for your chicken sandwich fix.
The XL Center is right off of the highway in downtown Hartford and is easy to get to. There are many parking garages and lots around the arena that were reasonably priced at $10. The fans were all knowledgeable and seemed to really understand the game. There was some good natured ribbing between opposing fans but nothing that ever crossed any lines. The cheerleaders and bands for all of the schools added a great feel to the atmosphere. College bands and cheerleaders are great at getting the crowd involved and entertaining during timeouts and stoppages. Add in some mascots and high level basketball and you have an extremely exciting few days.
While Hartford might not seem like an A-list destination, it definitely deserves to be in the NCAA tournament rotation and I hope it comes back in the near future!