Wintrust Arena added to the list of events it is hosting when it was announced last Tuesday that the women’s Big East tournament for the next three seasons would be held there. Since the conferences realignment, the event has been hosted at Allstate Arena in 2014 and 2015, McGrath-Phillips Arena in 2016. Last season it was held in the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Marquette, on their home floor, defeated DePaul.
The men’s tournament has been held in Madison Square Garden since 1983. Marty Murphy, director of ticket sales and operations for DePaul, knows from experience that The Garden is the place to be during the tournament there. He hopes that if they can draw people the way they think they can, Wintrust can do the same for Chicago.
“It’s been a traveling home for the past couple of seasons (…) so to find a home spot for it I think it will bode well for the years to come because it becomes a tradition,” Murphy said.
Another thing that bodes well for women’s basketball will be the size of the arena. At 10,367 seats, Wintrust Arena is far larger than the 3,000 seats in McGrath-Phillips or the 3,700 offered at the Al McGuire Center. The venue is also smaller than the 17,000 seats available for basketball games at Allstate, but women’s basketball head coach Doug Bruno thinks around 10,000 is the perfect size.
“Wintrust is going to be the Mecca of basketball in Chicago, outside of the Bulls,” Bruno said. “It is going to be the place for high school basketball, collegiate men’s basketball, women’s basketball (…) and it’s a perfectly sized place with 10,000 seats.”
Wintrust is already the home of DePaul men’s basketball and six games for the women, as well as regional games in the 2019 NCAA women’s tournament and the home for the Chicago Sky when their season begins in the summer. Murphy hopes that Sky fans who are already used to going to the arena, will be one of the big draws to the Big East tournament outside of the participating teams’ fans.
“We can try to pack it up with youth teams, women’s college basketball fans (…) Sky season ticket holders. If you like women’s hoops, Wintrust arena’s going to be the place to catch it.,” Murphy said.
Of course, he is hoping one of the biggest sections will be DePaul fans. DePaul has been banking that the location will make more DePaul fans willing to go to games, taking about half as long to get to from campus than Allstate. Murphy sees a basketball game as being part of a night out for students, dropping by in the Loop for a meal and then going a few more stops on the L to get to Wintrust for a game.
“It’s important that we get our students down there to check this place out. I think they’re going to love it,” Murphy said. “It’s so much easier to get to (…) with the L train and we’ll have shuttle buses. It could become that fun event where it’s, ‘hey it’s gameday, let’s go downtown, grab some pizza before the game and go cheer on a win’.”
Murphy also hoped it would be a bit of a home court advantage for the women’s team, but Bruno didn’t think that was too important. Bruno noted that playing six games in Wintrust gives them more experience than their opponents, but it wouldn’t be a true advantage. Bruno thought the more important issue was that playing in a bigger and top-notch facility like Wintrust would help grow the game.
“The host institution is required to do a lot of work. So basically (athletic director) Jean Lenti Ponsetto and (school president) Dr. Esteban are supporting women’s basketball by taking on the responsibility of hosting the Big East tournament,” Bruno said. “It’s so much bigger than just a home court advantage (…) it’s about the opportunity to grow this game in a great metropolitan area.”
The women’s team plays their first game at Wintrust in an exhibition game against Saint Xavier on Nov. 5. DePaul will host the Maggie Dixon Classic at Wintrust on Nov. 17 and 18, which will be the first regular season games DePaul plays there. The Big East tournament is scheduled to start on March 3.