This March Madness, the Sacramento region has much more skin in the game than whatever fans wager in office pools.
The Aggies punched their ticket Saturday night in Anaheim with a 50-47 victory to win the Big West tourney championship, turning the tables on UC Irvine, which trounced them a week earlier to win the regular season title.
UC Davis plays in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday. If the Aggies beat N.C. Central, they would move on to play blue-blood Kansas in Tulsa, Okla., on Friday with a chance to make even more history – the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1.
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The new Golden 1 Center was built to keep the Kings and NBA in town, but it also was designed to lure back the NCAA tourney. When it was Arco Arena, the old building in Natomas hosted the NCAA in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2007. But its age eventually turned off the NCAA, which rejected two bids.
Golden 1 Center is already nearly sold out for first- and second-round games Friday and Sunday. Sacramento can expect lots of Oregon and UCLA fans in town, joining the strong alumni bases here, as the two Pac-12 powers headline the eight teams in the local field.
Every tournament, it seems, there’s one city with the incredible upsets that make March Madness so crazy and compelling. Why shouldn’t it be Sacramento this time?
Either way, it’s great for local college basketball fans. It’s also a bonanza for downtown hotels and restaurants, with an estimated economic impact of $5 million to $5.8 million.
And if Golden 1 and Sacramento can be gracious hosts, the NCAA could return soon, perhaps even for a regional championship.
Welcome back to Sacramento, big-time college hoops. It’s been too long.