LEXINGTON — The Road to the Final Four will begin in the Bluegrass State during the next five years, with stops planned at Rupp Arena and the KFC Yum! Center.
Although Kentucky won’t be competing at Rupp Arena when it hosts the first- and second-round games in 2021, the Wildcats could be playing in Louisville when it hosts the opening leg of the tournament in 2019.
Opening round games also will be played in Indianapolis (2020), Memphis (2021) and Cincinnati (2022) in the immediate future. Cincinnati hasn’t hosted an NCAA Tournament game in 30 years, although Dayton has served as the site for the First Four for several years.
“Working with our valued host institutions and conferences, as well as sports commissions and cities, to create a great atmosphere for student-athletes, coaches and fans with the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments is our goal every year,” NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said in a release. “We’re looking forward to working with the groups that earned preliminary-round basketball sites, as well as the local organizing committees already slated to host NCAA Men’s and Women’s Final Fours.”
Although the Southeastern Conference Tournament will be played in St. Louis next season, Nashville will host first-round regional games in 2018. Kentucky has won three straight SEC tournament titles and nine in a row at Bridgestone Arena.
Kentucky has played well during its tournament games in Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center, compiling a 4-0 mark. During their successful NCAA Tournament run in 2012, the Wildcats defeated Western Kentucky and Iowa State in the first two rounds. Three years later, Kentucky opened the tournament with wins over Hampton and Cincinnati before falling to Wisconsin in the national semifinals.
Louisville opened its NCAA title run at Rupp Arena in 2013, defeating North Carolina A&T and Colorado State during the first two rounds of the prestigious tournament. The title was Louisville’s third and first under Rick Pitino, who led the Wildcats to the national title in 1996.
Future Final Four sites are San Antonio (2018), Minneapolis (2019), Atlanta (2020), Indianapolis (2021) and New Orleans in 2022),
Other NCAA events will be held in Lexington during the next five years include: Rifle (2020), men’s and women’s track and field (2020), and the men’s and women’s cross country event will be held in 2021 at Masterson Station Park in 2021.
“We are honored to earn the right to host these five NCAA events in the coming years,” UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said. “Hosting in the postseason is important to reaching the elite status we are pursuing and I would like to thank our staff for all the hard work that goes into hosting championship-caliber events. We are proud to continue to show off the city of Lexington by bringing thousands of visitors to our community through these events.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. He can be reached at email@example.com