While you check out the variety on the court in the Sweet 16 (and then Elite Eight), don’t miss the medley of arenas that offer up everything from NBA allure to college history and stadium size for the next two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Here’s the rundown of four starkly different venues set to host March’s continuation of madness:
Quicken Loans Arena—Cleveland, Ohio
We may not see LeBron make an appearance in the home of the NBA’s Cavaliers this weekend, but the Midwest bracket’s top four teams—Kentucky, West Virginia, Notre Dame and Wichita State—will play in front of roughly 20,500 fans in The Q.
Opened in 1994, Dan Gilbert has spent more than $40 million on renovations to the Ellerbe Becket-designed venue in the heart of downtown and located next to Progressive Field. His improvements include a 28-foot-high scoreboard with a circular LED ring, new seating and a variety of televisions and Smartvision screens throughout the venue.
While downtown, The Q makes use of its space, including a regulation-sized practice court, an exact replica of the main court, and an underground service area that puts 55,000 square feet of space for tour bus and semi-truck parking below the arena.
On the outside, the glass canopy entrance creates a signature element at 480 feet long, 440 feet wide and 140 feet high using 350 panes of glass. To accent the major glass feature, the angular roof design was created in the actual shape of the arena turned at a 90-degree angle.
Staples Center—Los Angeles, California
As home to two NBA teams, a WNBA team and a NHL team, NBBJ-designed Staples Center is easily one of the busiest venues in the nation. Anchoring AEG’s L.A. Live complex, a growing district filled with shopping, entertainment, dining and residential options in downtown Los Angeles, next to the L.A. Convention Center, Staples will bring about 19,000 fans into downtown for the tournament.
The circular and slanted downtown arena boasts 2,500 tons of structural steel to merge with glass for a modern aesthetic. But this arena is all about business, with a three-story office tower adjacent and meeting rooms filling the 950,000-square-foot, five-concourse venue, easily one of the largest arenas in North America.
Carrier Dome—Syracuse, New York
The largest on-campus arena in the nation again gets some NCAA tournament play this year.
Opened in 1980 with a Teflon-coated, inflatable fiberglass roof, the Finch-Heery-designed venue hosts more 49,000 for Orange football, but typically maxes out at about 32,000 for basketball. The NCAA tournament last played in Syracuse in 2000.
Dubbed the Loud House because of the way the dome keeps the sound bouncing, the East Regional teams of North Carolina State, Louisville, Oklahoma and Michigan State will all try to create their own noise in 2015.
The dome—with no air conditioning despite the sponsor—was built on the former site of the school’s football stadium and also replaced the school’s Manley Field House as the home of the school’s men’s basketball and lacrosse teams.
NRG Stadium—Houston, Texas
Consider the South Regional as a trial run for next year’s Final Four. NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Texans, will pare down to seat 31,450 for the 2015 tournament and then open up next year for its full 71,500 capacity.
NCAA tournament spokesman David Worlock tells SI.com that parts of this year’s tournament will give the organizers a feel for next year while parts will prove different for Duke, Utah, UCLA and Gonzaga.
“We will have some of the seating area curtained off and the courtside won’t be exactly like it will be for the 2016 Final Four, but the court will be in the center of the field,” he says.
Far different from a NBA arena, the Populous-designed football stadium opened in 2002 with a retractable fabric roof and removable natural-grass playing field that creates plenty of space for conventions, rodeos and basketball. NRG has hosted NCAA tournament games in 2008, 2010 and the Final Four in 2011.
Located next door to the Astrodome, NRG Stadium will provide an oversized feel to the tournament with one of the largest video boards in any North American sporting venue at 14,549 square feet.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.