College basketball tournaments big business for Las Vegas

College basketball tournament time in Las Vegas. UNLV men play Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. against Air Force. (Denise Rosch | KSNV)

It's tournament time in Las Vegas.

College basketball teams and their fans are taking over the city this week, as both the Pac 12 and Mountain West tournaments are being held in Vegas -- bringing with them a huge payout for the local economy.

The Lady Rebels play on Tuesday night, and the men's team plays on Wednesday. The men’s team absolutely must win the Mountain West tournament if they want to advance to the NCAA tournament later this month.

UNLV Freshman Forward Brandon McCoy knows the pressure is on. He and his team practicing for their first-round matchup against Air Force in the Mountain West tournament. And fan support he says, matters.

"Today felt different, the atmosphere is more serious," said McCoy. "It helps a lot to see everybody there supporting us through thick and thin. It's an early game but we hope to see a handful of people."

Unfortunately, attendance during regular season games has not been the best.

Coach Marvin Menzies says the athletic department is taking steps to improve marketing and bring fans back. But bottom line he says, the crowd likes winners.

"If we can do all the right things on and off the court people get ingrained with these young players. Come out and support them the more they get to know them too," said Menzies.

And this week UNLV has plenty of competition for attention. Fans outside the Thomas & Mack flashing colors for Wyoming, Fresno, and Colorado State.

"The reason I come to these games, I want to look at the teams and get a good idea to fill out your bracket," said basketball fan Rusty Purvis."

Diehard fans from many different teams can also be found around T-Mobile arena, where the Pac 12 Men's Basketball Tournament also begins on Tuesday.

Jeremy Handel with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority says the four college tournaments, including the PAC 12, bring in $30-40 million dollars to our local economy.

"If you're a sports fan, you should be here this month," said Handel. "Las Vegas, with 150,000 hotel rooms and multiple arenas that they can play in, really gives an opportunity for us to turn March into a sports month."

Back at practice, UNLV players say they're not focused on their recent slump. The slate is wiped clean at tournament time. A cheering section helps, but it's pride on the line.

"I'm not thinking about the fans right now," said UNLV Guard Jovan Mooring. "They come, they come. They don't, they don't."

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