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ROUNDTABLE: Ranking the best March Madness locations

Sunny skies on the horizon?

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

With Northwestern having seemingly cliched a spot in the NCAA Tournament, traveling to wherever its first round site is should be a mainstay of hundreds of spring break plans around NU. Finals Week in Evanston winds down just as March Madness kicks off, which makes it all the more important that the ‘Cats play in a fun city to attract as many students and fans as they can. Read below for our staff’s composite rankings of the eight potential first weekend sites, and some explanations on why each person ranked the cities the way they did.

Note: There was a tie for sixth between Birmingham and Albany. By a vote of 2-1, the editors broke the tie and ranked Birmingham at No. 6.

Possible March Madness First Weekend Locations: Composite Rankings

Composite Gavin Dorsey Iggy Dowling Bradley Locker Sarah Meadow David Gold Ethan Segall Ben Cooper Brendan Preisman Jason Boue Ryan Cole Adam Beck Sophia Vlahakis
Composite Gavin Dorsey Iggy Dowling Bradley Locker Sarah Meadow David Gold Ethan Segall Ben Cooper Brendan Preisman Jason Boue Ryan Cole Adam Beck Sophia Vlahakis
Orlando Orlando Denver Orlando Columbus Columbus Orlando Sacramento Denver Orlando Denver Albany Orlando
Denver Denver Orlando Sacramento Denver Denver Albany Greensboro Orlando Sacramento Sacramento Orlando Denver
Sacramento Sacramento Sacramento Denver Sacramento Orlando Columbus Birmingham Des Moines Denver Orlando Denver Sacremento
Columbus Columbus Columbus Columbus Greensboro Greensboro Sacramento Denver Columbus Columbus Columbus Columbus Greensboro
Greensboro Albany Birmingham Birmingham Orlando Albany Greensboro Orlando Albany Des Moines Des Moines Greensboro Columbus
Birmingham Birmingham Albany Albany Albany Sacramento Des Moines Albany Sacramento Greensboro Albany Sacramento Albany
Albany Greensboro Greensboro Greensboro Birmingham Des Moines Birmingham Des Moines Greensboro Birmingham Greensboro Des Moines Des Moines
Des Moines Des Moines Des Moines Des Moines Albany Birmingham Denver Columbus Birmingham Albany Birmingham Birmingham Birmingham

Gavin Dorsey: Frankly, it’s the top three and everyone else. Orlando is everything you want in a spring break destination — warm, sunny, touristy — and easily the top choice to escape from the bleak 30s that have plagued Chicago’s winter. Denver is a great city, and really beautiful regardless of the season. It would also be quite cool to do a skiing day trip on the ‘Cats’ day (or two) off. Sacramento would let me see the Kings “Light the Beam,” which would be pretty cool, and also likely falls into the warm category. Plus, I’ve never been to California and would like to go.

The rest is a bag of mixed results. Des Moines is last without question... it’s barely even a trip at that point, and not an “exciting” location at that.

Iggy Dowling: I did this without taking into account the fan travel, and putting a huge emphasis on what would allow me to determine whether In-N-Out lives up to the hype. I put Sacramento first, but then I realized that there’s an In-N-Out right outside of Denver — and the view of the Rocky Mountains makes that an easy top option. Orlando is Orlando (imagine going there coming off a WINTER quarter!) and I’ve never been to California, which solidifies Sactown as No. 3. Other than that, I had a remarkably bad experience taking a Greyhound out of Iowa on the Saturday night of Halloweekend, fresh off covering Northwestern football’s blowout loss in Iowa City, so I want nothing to do with that state and Des Moines is dead last. Everything else is pretty interchangeable, though as someone who grew up in New York City, I hate how some people associate an Albany trip with an NYC weekend when the two cities are almost three hours apart by car (and Albany is about as boring as you can get).

Bradley Locker: To me, it’s really Orlando and everything else. Being able to enjoy the warm weather and Disney and Universal Studios, plus watching Northwestern play in its second ever March Madness tournament, is nearly impossible to beat. Denver and Sacramento would also be solid options out west. From that point on, though, the options grow more bleak/boring in terms of both weather conditions as well as attractions (no offense to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham). However, no city collectively has less to engage with than Des Moines, which is why it sits at the nadir of my rankings.

Ethan Segall: Orlando is a clear top pick. Could you imagine watching Chris Collins celebrate a Northwestern March Madness win by riding Space Mountain, donning Mickey Mouse ears and all? I think this crew is collectively too low on Albany. What my esteemed colleagues are failing to account for is that Boo Buie is from Albany. A homecoming for Buie in what could be his final stretch as a Wildcat is sure to create some iconic moments. I also have Denver last on my list for altitude concerns. Buie and Audige have played a ton of minutes already, and for a team that has already showed signs of fatigue in the second halves of game, the Mile High City makes me nervous.

Brendan Preisman: I really do not understand the sheer amount of hatred for the Midwest happening in these rankings. Anyone who can sit across from you with a straight face and say they’d rather go to Birmingham than Columbus or Des Moines is insane. Now, Denver has to be the prime spot here with its great mountain views and location between Illinois and California. As my colleagues have mentioned, Orlando is a great choice for the tourism and sunny weather, but gets dinged for being a big distance from most of this team’s fanbase. Des Moines and Columbus are next up because they’re close to big chunks of the student body’s home states: over 40% of the student body is from around the Great Lakes area. After the Midwestern cities, though, it’s looking bleak, unless you really want to tour the ACC Hall of Champions in Greensboro.

Adam Beck: Forget the promise of warmth to come, March is about crazy storylines and there’d be no better storyline than Boo Buie helping Northwestern win a tournament game in his hometown of Albany. The guard has played at an All-Big Ten level, at times single-handedly shoving opponents aside with outbursts of offense. To cap it off with a tournament win in his hometown, cementing himself among Northwestern’s best in modern history, would exemplify NU basketball’s journey back to relevancy. Orlando and Denver are no-brainers in the two and three spots, but after that, don’t hate on Columbus or Greensboro, both of which could provide underrated basketball culture for college’s most anticipated sporting event.

Sophia Vlahakis: I see these eight options as falling into one of two categories: cities you would intentionally visit and cities you may just drive through. Given that it’s spring break, I think Northwestern players deserve to go somewhere where they don’t need to wear a parka and wouldn’t have to be stuck in a hotel while their friends are in Cancun. Orlando has it all, Denver is pretty and I couldn’t tell you what’s in Sacramento, but it’s California! As for the other places, I don’t know what you could do for fun to make the trip worthwhile aside from play basketball. I’m from New York, and I’m not entirely convinced Albany isn’t in Canada.

Ben Cooper: Although my limited knowledge of Sacramento stems from Lady Bird and the Kings, it seems fitting for Northwestern to play in a city that has seen another purple team having some unanticipated basketball success this year. Seeing that beam be lit after a tournament victory would feel nothing short of a dream, and coupled with the warm California weather, Sacramento takes the top spot. The remainder of the list is mainly weather-based, but Columbus is last on my list instead of Des Moines, mainly due to my hometown being Ann Arbor (putting this city anywhere but last would is something my childhood self would never forgive me for).

David Gold: While Orlando would be my No. 1 choice if other factors were not in play, Columbus is the only correct answer for any Northwestern student who wants to see the ‘Cats play in the Big Dance. As the Round of 64 takes place during finals week, Columbus is driving distance from Evanston as students finish the winter quarter. Furthermore, with the Round of 64 just four days after selection Sunday, airfare prices will be sky-high by the time NU supporters know where they are headed, creating a heavy financial burden on college students. If the ‘Cats cannot be a road trip away, count me in to ride It's a Small World with Boo Buie and Chase Audige and see Brooks Barnhizer continue his hot shooting in Toy Story Mania. I would wonder if Matt Nicholson could take down Disney’s famous giant turkey leg. Finally, for my own personal research into the theories of Denver Airport, Denver would be my third choice for the ‘Cats to head west. To add to my fellow New Yorker and esteemed colleague Mr. Dowling's argument, I would like to end any argument that In-N-Out is superior to Shake Shack with a taste test. If NU heads to the Mile High City, you bet I will step off the plane and yell “Wildcat Country, Let’s ride!”