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Asheville about to become the hoops capital of the South

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2/29/2012 - Asheville about to become the hoops capital of the South
by Bob Berghaus - Asheville Citizen Times

Asheville, an eclectic city with gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and some of the best microbreweries in the country, will be hosting the Big South Conference men's tournament and the Southern Conference men's and women's tournaments.

Both conferences have held events here in the past but never at the same time. A total of 31 teams representing 20 schools will be descending upon our city with the hope of winning a championship that will ensure entry to the NCAA tournament.

Fans from cities in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and, of course, North Carolina, will come here to cheer on their respective teams. They will fill our hotels, eat in our restaurants and maybe enjoy a brew or two, contributing an estimated $5.5 million to the local economy.

The Southern Conference tournament will begin a four-day run beginning Friday, when the men's tournament begins at the improved U.S. Cellular Center (formerly the Civic Center) and the women's event kicks off at Kimmel Arena on the campus of UNC Asheville.

The Big South Conference tournament will be held Wednesday, Thursday and, hopefully, Saturday at Kimmel. That last day is contingent on the UNCA Bulldogs successfully holding serve during their first two games to earn a berth in the championship game on March 3.

The Bulldogs, who won the Big South regular-season title and are trying to return to the NCAA tournament for a second straight year, have routinely put large crowds in Kimmel this season. Local fans, expecting the Bulldogs to be playing on Saturday, have already purchased almost 2,000 tickets for the championship game.

"The fact that we we've been able to sell that many tickets for the championship game, that people are half hoping and half expecting us to be there is great," said Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach.

The Citizen-Times will provide full coverage both in print and online. We will be tweeting from the venues and providing stories at the completion of every game for our online readers, who can also look for photo galleries and video clips.

We are extending our print deadlines to provide readers with accounts of evening games.

Asheville is one of two cities -- Las Vegas is the other -- that will be holding two conference tournaments during the same week. This promises to be an exciting time for our community and for those who make the trip to Asheville.

Let the games begin.

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