For the remaining 64 teams, the start of a singular dream lives -- at least for a long weekend -- in the home of one of eight venues for the second and third rounds..
While the hardwood looks the same as it always has, with the NCAA logo at center court, the name of the host city at one baseline, the venue name on the other and the famed phrase “Road to the Final Four” on every apron, there will be plenty of diversity in the arenas. Here’s a rundown of where you’ll watch the action:
First Niagara Center
Located on Buffalo’s waterfront and the home to the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, expect a capacity of more than 19,000 in an arena easily converted to house basketball. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) will co-host the event with Canisius College and Niagara University, the sixth time that the MAAC has hosted an NCAA championship round at the glass-heavy arena with an exterior reminiscent of a transit mall, all with sold-out ticket sales. The likelihood of another sold-out arena bodes well for creating a madness-style environment.
Opened in 1996, the Ellerbe Becket-designed venue has 80 suites ringing the arena. One of the coolest features of the venue will hide from public view, as the Sabres’ new locker room is circular with illuminated team logos on the floor and ceiling.
BMO Harris Bradley Center
We hope you like granite if you’re visiting the home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. The red and pink granite exterior of the downtown arena that can house 18,600 for basketball flows inside with plenty of granite in the lobby and stairway. Granite columns also hold up a 70-foot skylight, accented by a glass façade and a lead-coated copper roof 13 stories tall at its highest peak.
Opened in 1988, the Populous-designed arena is the only public stadium in North America built fully from the philanthropy of one family, the Harris Bradley family. (No, the arena doesn’t just have a clever name.) It is now one of the oldest venues in the NBA, having opened the same year as arenas in Detroit and Sacramento and after only Madison Square Garden in New York City and Oracle Arena in Oakland, both of which have been remodeled since.
Marquette University, which also calls the arena home, will serve as the site host. The four-level arena has a mixture of suites, boxes and club areas that total more than 60 skyboxes.
The newest of the eight venues we’ll see during these four days -- also the home of the NBA’s Magic -- has a bit of modern flair you won’t see in many of the other venues. Opened in fall 2010, the Populous-designed exterior features glass and metal and ever-changing graphics displayed on a monumental wall along one façade. The most distinct architectural feature, a 180-foot-tall tower lit up with changing LED lighting, helps the center stand out next to the elevated Interstate 4 freeway within the flatness of downtown Orlando.
Not only does the tower serve as a statement, but it also features a team store, meeting space and restaurants.
The Daktronics center hung scoreboard is the largest high-definition scoreboard in the NBA, offering visuals to the 20,000 seats inside the 875,000-square-foot building. Stetson University serves as the host.
Veterans Memorial Arena
The smallest venue -- not by much, mind you -- of the madness bunch takes a different approach than the NHL and NBA venues we’re accustomed to seeing. Hosted by Washington State University, the 11,700-capacity venue in the heart of Washington’s second-largest city opened in 1995 and serves as the home to the minor league hockey’s Spokane Chiefs.
While small, the two-level arena still has a nearly 360-degree LED ribbon board and large video board.
The 2014 tourney represents the eighth time since 2001 that the Ellerbe Becket-designed Veterans Memorial Arena, also referred to simply as Spokane Arena, has brought either the Men’s or Women’s tournament to Spokane.
Host North Carolina State University plays its home basketball in the 19,700-capacity PNC Arena. Opened in 1999, the $158 million venue also serves as the home for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.
The three-level bowl has a full 66 luxury suites and 2,000 club seats, as well as a large restaurant on the club level. In a 2009 upgrade, the arena received a new Daktronics HD scoreboard and two rings of video board encircling the bowl of the arena.
On the exterior, the Odell-designed glass and stone of the commercialized façade of the venue sits among a large parking lot about three miles from campus and nearby the school’s 57,000-seat football stadium.
San Antonio, Texas
The NBA’s Spurs play their home games within the 18,500-seat AT&T Center, which opened in 2002 as an alternative to the uniquely shaped Alamodome.
Designed by Ellerbe Becket and local firm Lake | Flato, the exterior was inspired by the “outdoor fiestas and culture of South Texas” with a series of tall porches and broad overhangs, some of which feature cables holding sheet-metal panels, “an idea borrowed from local cattle yards.” The floor sits recessed into the ground, which makes for a lack of stairs to reach the lower bowl. Corner stairs are wrapped in perforated-metal, sun-screed silos.
The University of Texas San Antonio will host the site.
San Diego, Calif.
Just nipping Spokane Arena with its 12,400 capacity (including roughly 4,000 bench seats at the top of the single-bowl style), San Diego State University serves as the natural host to the only one of the second- and third-round venues located on a college campus.
Opened in 1997, the arena was built on the site of the old Aztec Bowl football stadium and has hosted NCAA tournament hoops in both 2001 and 2006. Architect Sink Combs Dethlefs designed the Southwestern-styled building into a canyon hillside. Two sections of the football stadium’s original concrete bleachers and cobblestone walls fame each side of the arena’s north entrance.
Inside, expect a $1.2-million octagonal scoreboard to provide some modern touches.
St. Louis, Mo.
Opened in 1994, the home of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues will serve as the largest venue for the first full weekend of tournament action. With 22,000 seats for basketball in its downtown location, the Missouri Valley Conference -- which also annually hosts its basketball tournament in the arena -- will serve as the site host.
The 12-story glass and concrete structure designed by Ellerbe Becket boasts a contemporary design and modern amenities common in NHL arenas, including a Daktronics message board on the building’s exterior, a center hung Daktronics board inside and a 360-degree ribbon board, the largest ribbon board in any NHL arena.
The arena sits on the former site of the 1932-built Kiel Auditorium, which stood for six decades. Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and technology for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.