EUGENE — The Pac-12 Conference heads for Las Vegas this week, hoping the conference has made a winning bet in moving its tournament to the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
"Any time you're doing something for the first time, there's an excitement about it," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "Hopefully, it'll take off, and I think eventually it will "… hopefully, people will get used to going to Las Vegas."
At Las Vegas
Wednesday's First Round
Stanford (8) vs. Arizona State (9), noon
Colorado (5) vs. Oregon State (12), 2:40 p.m.
USC (7) vs. Utah (10), 6 p.m.
Washington (6) vs. Washington State (11), 8:40 p.m.
UCLA (1) vs. Stanford-Arizona State winner, noon
Arizona (4) vs. Colorado-OSU winner, 2:40 p.m.
California (2) vs. USC-Utah winner, 6 p.m.
Oregon (3) vs. Washington-WSU winner, 8:40 p.m.
There are indications that at least for this first occasion, the fans of the Pac-12 schools are ready to follow along. The Friday night semifinals and Saturday night championship game are expected to draw large crowds, no matter which teams are involved, and even teams out of contention have done well on advance ticket sales.
Utah, for instance, sold out of its allotment, and the Utes finished 10th in the regular season.
"In talking to our fans, they know they can go there for three or four days, and it's a win-win situation," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "They can enjoy watching basketball, but if their team (is eliminated), it's still a fun place to be.
"It's not like in Las Vegas you've got to figure out what to do with your time."
That was certainly in the thinking of the Pac-12 in making the move from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. There seemed to be a sense that if not watching basketball, what fan wanted to be in Los Angeles for up to a week.
"I don't think people around the conference look at Los Angeles as a destination place or some place that they want to go," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said.
But he also wonders whether in the long term, any site will maintain itself as a strong draw for Pac-12 fans, simply because "I don't know how good of a traveling league this is "… maybe it's because of the distances (between schools), but people just aren't in the habit of traveling (for games).
"When I look at Las Vegas, there seem to be more things that are oriented to making it a destination for three or four days. Other leagues have proven that's a good place" for conference tournaments.
In this case, the Pac-12 is definitely more follower than leader, with three other conferences already holding their tournaments in Las Vegas and highly rating the experience.
The West Coast Conference began last week at the Orleans Arena and concluded Monday with the women's championship in the afternoon and the men's title game at night.
The Western Athletic Conference will then begin its men's and women's tournaments today at the Orleans Arena, with the title games Saturday. Also starting today are the Mountain West Conference tournaments at the Thomas and Mack Center, UNLV's home facility, with title games Saturday.
"I'm thrilled to be moving to somewhat of a basketball haven when you consider all the tournaments that are being played there," Krystkowiak said.
Only the Pac-12 will use the facility at the MGM Grand, which was tested for use as a basketball site early this season, including a game involving Oregon State, the lone Pac-12 school that has been inside that casino arena.
"It really looks like it will make for a great environment," OSU coach Craig Robinson said. "Personally, I had never played a game in a casino before, but the folks there did a great job of hosting."
Robinson said he thinks fans "will be happy no matter where they're sitting" in the facility and he likes the idea of the MGM Grand being large enough that it can house all 12 teams, and most of their supporters at one site.
There are, naturally, questions about the wisdom of bringing a bunch of college athletes to a city that, it might be said, offers some potential distractions that could lead to problems.
"I think coaches worry about everything," ASU's Herb Sendek said. "We worry that guys make good decisions every night "… there's trouble to be found no matter where you're at."
And, after all, every team comes here intent on finding some late-season success, and to the winner goes the Pac-12's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Maybe it's the sense this will be a truly neutral site, or it could be the parity in the league this season. Look at the final weekend of the season for evidence of that, and perhaps expect more of that starting Wednesday.
"I'm looking forward to it, and our fans are looking forward to it," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "Whether it's in Las Vegas or Los Angeles, all I care about is that we're in it, and it's well run."