Basketball buffet: Asheville hosts two conference tourneys in March Madness lead-up


Basketball fans in Asheville will have the chance to dine on a veritable basketball buffet this week as the city plays host to action from two conference tournaments.

The UNC Asheville men’s basketball team, which finished atop the Big South Conference in regular season play, won the right to host that tournament’s quarter-finals and semi-finals on their home court, Kimmel Arena. They’ll play the winner of  Presbyterian versus Charleston Southern at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

That same night across town at the US Cellular Center, the Southern Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournament action begins. The women will kick it off on Thursday with top-seeded Mercer facing 8th-ranked Western Carolina University. The Southern Conference men’s play begins at 5 p.m. Friday with The Citadel facing off against VMI.

The UNC Asheville men

The UNC Asheville men’s team has had another stellar year, and they’ll be tough to beat at home. They’ve gone 13-1 in Kimmel Arena this year, which has a great environment for the Bulldogs.

Last fall, Coach Nick McDevitt was picked as pre-season Big South Coach of the Year, and senior guard Ahmad Thomas was picked as preseason Player of the Year.

They’ll be fun to watch. If they make it to the finals, they’ll play for a spot in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Sunday. Let the March Madness begin!

Southern Conference tournaments and community events

The Southern Conference has made Asheville its home for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments for several years running. The Western Carolina University men’s and women’s teams are the area teams to cheer on at the event, which will draw several thousands fans from the the conference’s other schools over the weekend. Be prepared tight parking and plenty of traffic around the US Cellular Center all weekend.

There a several events planned beyond just watching basketball games which are aimed at garnering community support. Here’s a quick look:

-The Downtown Dribble beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 3: Cheerleaders, bands and mascots will be on hand to kick off a dribble parade through downtown Asheville. Each participating kid will get a T-shirt and basketball as they move from Pack Square to the US Cellular Center entrance.

-Ingles Jamfest, 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 4, outside the US Cellular Center: The outdoor tailgate party will feature local musicians Joe Lasher Jr.  and Lyric. There will be food and drink vendors. The event will benefit the Hoops Against Hunger initiative. (Bring in an approved food item and get $5 off a single-session ticket.)

-Hometown Heroes Night, Monday, March 5: Local police, fire and emergency services personnel will be honored at the championship game. The game starts at 9 p.m.