There will be no place quite like Las Vegas for college basketball in the two-week run-up to the NCAA men's and women's tournaments.
Over a span of 11 days, leading to the eve of Selection Sunday on March 17, 40 schools are competing at Las Vegas for NCAA tournament spots. No other city in America is hosting more than two conference tournaments. Vegas has four.
"It's somewhat of a basketball haven right now," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "Vegas' own mini-version of March Madness."
The Pac-12 men join the party this year, following the lead of the West Coast Conference, Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference. All six Bay Area Division I men's teams will play in Vegas. The Pac-12 women's tournament is in Seattle.
On the men's side, nine of the top 30 vote-getters in The Associated Press Top 25 poll will be in Vegas -- including top-ranked Gonzaga of the WCC.
Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events, a nonprofit that helps attract and facilitate events, loves the NCAA tournament. But, he noted, "It all starts in Las Vegas."
And the options seem endless in Vegas: Golf, shows, dining, sunshine and, yes, gambling. It's that side of Sin City that has historically kept the NCAA from staging any of its championship events there. But the NCAA does not dictate what individual conferences do.
Vegas has a dark side. On Feb. 22, the city made the kind of headlines the visitors bureau grimaces at when a shooting on The Strip left three dead, including Oakland rapper Kenny Clutch.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said the league heads to Vegas aware of all potential pitfalls.
"Certainly Las Vegas is a place where you can sort of get lost in the middle of the night," Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said. "As coaches, we have to do a good job of staying on top of that."
"You're not going to see teams parading through casinos," Scott said.
The WCC, WAC and Mountain West report no significant issues during their visits to Las Vegas.
After 11 seasons at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and facing a steady decline in attendance, the Pac-12 tournament has moved to the MGM Grand Garden Arena. For Scott, Las Vegas fulfilled his top priority: "We ultimately decided to pick the city that created the most excitement."
No doubt, said Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson. "You come to watch your team win and if they lose, 30 seconds later you shrug your shoulders and go on to something else," he said.
Pac-12 tournament attendance dropped in recent seasons, from a peak in 2007, when the event drew an average of just under 17,000 per session, including 18,259 for the championship game. Last year saw the worst numbers in 11 seasons, capped by a title game played in front of barely 11,000.
Cal coach Mike Montgomery agrees it was time for a change.
"People from other parts of the league didn't look at L.A. as being anything special," he said. "Maybe people from Corvallis and Pullman will want to take a vacation for 3-4 days and sit in the sun by the pool."
Vegas has been ideal for the WCC, which is negotiating to remain at the 7,471-seat Orleans Arena. "We didn't know what to expect when we went there five years ago," WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said. "But it has been sold out in advance (four of five years) and proven that our model works."
The WCC has taken a bit of Vegas out of the equation, with the Orleans agreeing not to sell alcohol in the arena or take bets on WCC tournament games. None of the other leagues playing in Las Vegas have requested those concessions.
The Mountain West has enjoyed robust attendance the past five years, thanks in part to playing its tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center, home court of member school UNLV.
The WAC hasn't done as well in its two seasons at the Orleans and may consider a change. The league faces different challenges, including smaller fan bases that don't travel well, the lack of a marquee program and a fluid league membership. It drew an average of 1,870 fans per session last year, only 1,405 for the championship game -- both the smallest ever for a WAC tournament.
"We're going to have to make a decision whether a neutral site trumps the home arena and the guaranteed home crowd," WAC interim commissioner Jeff Hurd said.
The Pac-12 is counting on a sturdy fan base, the potential for five teams to reach the NCAA tournament and the lure of the MGM Grand to create a special tournament. Scott said ticket sales are strong. The Garden Arena, which has been reconfigured to seat 13,500 for basketball, has hosted the likes of U2, Lady Gaga, Mike Tyson and Manny Pacquiao since opening in 1993.
Into that glitzy setting steps the Pac-12, ready to make its own splash. Said Scott, "We're setting the bar pretty high."
Bay Area News Group staff writer Jon Wilner contributed to this report. Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/CalBearsBANG.