March 18, 2019

A guide for the NCAA men's tournament in Hartford

Photo | XL Center
Photo | XL Center
Downtown Hartford's XL Center will host six games in the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament on Thursday and Saturday.
HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
Pratt Street in Hartford will feature a brew pub when the 2019 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament returns to the XL Center this week.
HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
Pratt Street in downtown Hartford.
HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
Landlord Shelbourne Global Solutions LLC is providing a pop-up lounge, called the “Chill Room,” from Wednesday to Saturday in vacant space at 196 Trumbull St.

The XL Center isn't hosting a top seed in this week's NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament in Hartford, but several high-profile teams, including last year's national champion, will be on display downtown.

Defending champion Villanova (No. 6), which has won two of the last three national titles, is slated Thursday to play St. Mary's (No. 11) in the South Region matchup at 7:20 p.m. That is one of four first-round games XL will host Thursday.

Also in the South Region, No. 3 Purdue is scheduled to play No. 14 Old Dominion at the conclusion of Villanova's primetime slot at 9:45 p.m., with winners of those two games facing off on Saturday at XL to compete for a spot in the "sweet 16" round in Louisville next weekend.

Thursday's opening game, the tournament's first in Hartford since 1998, includes No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 Vermont at 2 p.m. in the West Region. The region also features No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Murray State at 4:20 p.m. Winners will face off on Saturday.

According to tournament organizers, the teams selected to play in Hartford will impact ticket sales, and by a result, traffic at area hotels, downtown parking lots, restaurants, bars and other tourism venues because certain fanbases travel better than others.

Christopher Lawrence, general manager of XL Center operator Spectra Venue Management, on Monday said he is pleased with Hartford's slate of games, which were announced Sunday night on CBS Sports' "Selection Sunday" show.

He is especially bullish about the appearance of Pennsylvania-based Villanova, a decorated team with a large fanbase that will easily access Hartford just 200-plus miles away.

The Marquette-Murray State matchup features some pro-caliber players, Lawrence said, adding that Florida State and Purdue are also Final Four contenders hailing from two major conferences.

"Marquette, Murray State is definitely one of the best first-round games," Lawrence said. "Nobody knew what to expect, but all in all we are pleased with the teams."

There are less than 500 tickets available for game sessions on Thursday and Saturday, according to Lawrence, who expects Villanova and Vermont fans will buy up many of those available seats.

"They're going to go quick," he said.

Organizers expect the tournament to pump at least $7.7 million into Greater Hartford's economy, resulting in an estimated $548,000 in sales tax revenues for the state.

The city has rarely been able to tap those large revenues from the tournament -- the second-largest postseason sporting event in terms of ad revenue -- having only hosted the men's playoff in 1983, 1985, 1988, 1990 and 1998 at the 44-year-old arena, formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center.

Hartford is one of 14 cities hosting games for this year's men's tournament.

With large attendance on Thursday and Saturday, in addition to free practice sessions on Wednesday and Friday, officials are hoping XL, and institutional host UConn, become a frequent host for NCAA men's and women's basketball tournament play.

Organizers are plotting a number of events this week to spur foot traffic in Hartford and entertain the roughly 25,000 fans -- and thousands of others visiting downtown -- expected to attend games at the 16,000-seat arena.

Here are events and attractions being offered downtown this week:

  • A pop-up brew pub will be staged on Pratt Street from Thursday through Saturday, with local distillery Hartford Flavor Co. and the city's four breweries selling drinks between noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Saturday, and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday. The event will include live music, artist performances and TVs placed in the area featuring other tournament games across the country. Mass.-based Northland Investment Corp. is also donating space at 88 Pratt St. for the event.
  • Shelbourne Global Solutions LLC, a prominent landlord in the downtown area, is hosting a pop-up lounge, dubbed the "Chill Room," from Wednesday to Saturday in vacant retail space at 196 Trumbull St. from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The lounge will provide free WiFi, phone charging stations, a digital photo booth, live tournament games, and food for sale provided by Chick-Fil-A.
  • XL is welcoming all fans downtown to visit open practice sessions on Wednesday, where all eight teams will hold 40-minute practices beginning at 11 a.m.
  • Coinciding with XL's tournament play, nearby Connecticut Convention Center is hosting the Connecticut Golf Show from Friday to Sunday. The event will feature a free indoor driving range and numerous brand reps will be on hand.
  • A slew of restaurants and bars downtown are offering discounted meals and drinks this week.

Click here for more event information provided by the XL Center

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Vaunted NCAA basketball tournament returns to unlikely home in Hartford's XL Center

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