A Tale of Two Cities

2 cities.

2 conferences.

9 games.

14 teams.

10 NCAA Tournament teams

4 top 4 seeds

The #1 overall seed.

All in a four day span.

The SEC Tournament in Greenville, SC was a good time. I went to the second round and quarterfinals, catching 12 of the 14 teams/bands in the process. I got into town on Thursday morning, and headed streat to the arena for a noon tip. In front of the venue sat the conference's boastful slogan: It Just Means More. 

And indeed, it did. The second game of the early session featured the Lady Vols, one of the pillars upon which the sports of women's college basketball stands. And while that session was full of orange-clad fans, they were everpresent throughout my time in Greenville.

So too were fans of the home team, the South Carolina Gamecocks. In addition to owning the state and being the undefeated 1 seed and favorite in not just this tournament but the big one, the drive from Columbia to Greenville is the shortest (though Athens is technically closer.)

Thursday's games were general admission, and I'll give you one guess as to where I spent my time. Yup - right by the bands. The ticketing map implied the bands would be diagonal from one another - each to the right of their respective basket - but they were directly across from one another. While the bands were directly off the court, there was a good 40-50 feet between the baseline and the first row of stands, filled only by band, cheer and dance. There wasn't enough rise on the front row of the stands for tiered temporary seating, so it was bare for yards behind the basket.

The sessions that day were well attended - but not so much so that I couldn't bounce around. By the quarterfinals on Friday, though, I had to stick to my assigned seat. The top four seeds entered the field in the quarters, and the early session was the best attended, this time featuring both the Lady Vols and the Gamecocks. 

With all due respect to my hometown, Greenville offered something Greensboro does not: A viable downtown talking distance from the arena. The evening session began at 6pm each day, only leaving about an hour and a half from the early sessions to the evening, but there was no issue grabbing food or a drink between them. It also made it easy to bleed tournament/conference branding into the rest of the downtown area.

The tournament's two biggest moments - the gamewinning three from Kamilla Cardoso in the semis, and the scuffle in the finals - both happened after I had left town. I had been planning for months to go to the SEC tournament and knew I'd be there for the second round and quarterfinals, but since I knew I'd be traveling during the semis of both tournaments and I haven't typically gone to ACC Tournament finals, I didn't expect to hit both. But it just so happened they had general admission tickets available that were the right price, so I ended up with Sunday plans as well.

Walking into the Coliseum is a well-worn path. I first checked out FanFest before heading up and into the arena. College GameDay was broadcasting from the championship game - my suspicion is that it was an easy add-on from having been at Duke-Carolina the night before. But while I was expecting the crowds and audience engagement, it was simply the home of the show. 

The crowd was NC State heavy - to be expected from a team a short drive down I-40 - but ultimately Notre Dame would take the crown, as Coach Niele Ivey notched championships as a player, an assistant, and now as head coach. And while the champion Irish would earn a 2 seed, the Wolfpack still earned a hosting seed, landing at the 3 in Portland 4.

This two step was fun. Time will tell if I repeat next year - the SEC will be in Greenville again, before returning to Nashville. Both leagues will look different next year, as the SEC adds Oklahoma and Texas, and the ACC brings in Cal, Stanford, and SMU. Then again, I could set course for other leagues. In similar travel time to Greenville, I could head west to Asheville for the SoCon tournaments, and if the Big South returns to High Point, it's right down the road. I know this postseason's not yet over, but it's already on my mind how I can imbibe as much live hoops as possible next year.