That expression on your co-worker’s face isn’t stress over his big presentation. No, the look is the one you make when you’re filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket but have no clue which teams to select for the Final Four.
This season, six teams (Kansas twice) sat atop the AP top 25 for at least a week — not a one of them consistently looking like it had much interest in cutting down the nets after the championship game on April 4 in Houston’s NRG Stadium.
If you’re a college basketball fan looking for help in completing your bracket, we can’t assist much. We’re just as vexed as you are about Michigan State and Villanova’s potential. However, if you’re planning on seeing any of the action in person, we do know the smartest plays to make before or after the games in all of the participating cities.
Dayton, Ohio, March 15 and 16
What to do: You may think the dribbling exhibition that players like Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis put on are out of sight, but you haven’t seen anything until you’ve witnessed the lively prints, visually intense Navajo blankets and other optical illusions of “Eye Teasers,” showing at The Dayton Art Institute through April 10.
Where to stay: Even if you couldn’t spy the University of Dayton Arena from your room (which you can), Marriott at the University of Dayton works for a quick break because of its make-it-happen staff and clean, comfortable rooms.
Providence, March 17 to 19
What to do: With a large concentration of registered landmarks (John Brown House Museum) and quirky ones (Arcade Providence, the country’s oldest indoor shopping mall), the Rhode Island capital lets you go on a day-long history lesson before watching your favorite team school the opposition.
Where to stay: Speaking of the glory days, the gracefully aging Providence Biltmore is housed in a preserved 1922 tower that was designed by New York architectural firm Warren and Wetmore, the same group that built New York’s Grand Central Terminal.
Raleigh, North Carolina, March 17 to 19
What to do: Though Wildcats, Ducks and Terrapins will take to the court during the Big Dance, we can’t promise they’ll have the same grace (or amazing windpipes) of the gazelles and giraffes strutting about in The Lion King (Durham Performing Arts Center; through March 20).
Where to stay: Four-Star The Fearrington House Inn, with its distinct Southern décor and grazing goats, feels as if it’s a world away from the noise — even though eardrum-shattering PNC Arena is just 30 minutes from your room.
Des Moines, March 17 to 19
What to do: Though St. Patrick’s Day is technically on March 17, event organizers elected to move the holiday parade to a non-game day (March 18) so out-of-town hoops fans could properly enjoy the color and candy marching down Grand Avenue.
Where to stay: Posh (gas fireplaces, whirlpool tubs) yet practical (three-minute drive to Wells Fargo Arena), Des Lux Hotel is the sort of hip address that everyone on the team can appreciate.
Denver, March 17 to 19
What to do: Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell is fast…but the kinds of speeds that the 2017 Jaguar XE, 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C and other hot-off-the-assembly-line vehicles at the 2016 Denver Auto Show (March 16 to 20) are clocked at are a completely different ballgame.
Where to stay: You can get lost in the spa treatments or Rocky Mountain vistas from your room at Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Denver if you want, but the contests at the Pepsi Center are going to tip off with or without you.
Spokane, Washington, March 18 to 20
What to do: Around the time that Spokane Arena will showcase the future of hoops, the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox will have one of classical music’s most prized young talents, violinist Sayaka Shoji, dazzling the stage (March 19 and 20).
Where to stay: Like Shoji’s interpretation of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto in E Minor,” The Historic Davenport Hotel, Autograph Collection is timeless. From the marble-adorned, two-level lobby to dark cherry, four-poster beds, the Four-Star property is a can’t-miss for discerning travelers.
Brooklyn, March 18 to 20
What to do: Honestly, the New York Knicks haven’t been much to look at this NBA season. Still, the Kristaps Porzingis-DeMarcus Cousins match-up presented in the game versus the Sacramento Kings (Madison Square Garden; March 20) is worth the price of admission.
Where to stay: While the Flatiron District’s New York Edition might be a 25-minute train ride to Barclays Center, the Four-Star property’s sandy-toned elegance and exquisite dining (British chef Jason Atherton’s first U.S. eatery) make the trip viable.
St. Louis, March 18 to 20
What to do: The impact David Bowie had on pop culture will be felt for generations, and poignant musical tributes such as “Starman: A Tribute to David Bowie” (Off Broadway theater, March 18) will stay with you long after you’ve returned home.
Where to stay: Make a complete adventure of your weekend by scoring the Family Getaway package at The Chase Park Plaza. The historic hotel’s deal gets you deluxe accommodations, breakfast and four tickets to the nearby cineplex.
Oklahoma City, March 18 to 20
What to do: Orly Genger’s “Terra” — 1.4 million feet of recycled lobster-fishing rope that’s been painted terra cotta and “weaves” through OKC’s Campbell Park — offers photo opportunities that folks will talk about on your Facebook page for months.
Where to stay: Erected in 1910, Colcord Hotel was the city’s first skyscraper. The 108-room beauty still towers over the competition with its chic aesthetic, 47-inch flat-screen TVs and fine dining at Flint.
Anaheim, California, March 24 to 26
What to do: Through September 5, Mickey, Minnie and the rest of the Disneyland gang will celebrate “60 Delightful Years of Disney Magic” with nightly parades, colorful water displays and a fireworks show that will put a smile on the biggest kid’s face.
Where to stay: Don’t let the name confuse you — Disney’s Grand California Hotel & Spa, with its exposed crossbeams and state-of-the-art fitness center, is the ideal spot for savvy sports fans in need of a respite between sessions.
Louisville, March 24 to 26
What to do: The Louisville Cardinals’ basketball team may not be in the NCAA Tournament, but its high-flying baseball squad (No. 5 at press time), led by the sweet-swinging Blake Tiberi, will be on full display versus No. 18 Virginia at Jim Patterson Stadium (March 25 to 27).
Where to stay: Though the three-minute ride to the KFC Yum! Center is attractive, what we love most about the Hyatt Regency Louisville is its downhome service and delightfully contemporary ambience.
Chicago, March 25 to 27
What to do: Gathering a bunch of inebriated revelers in a facility with multi-million-dollar artifacts all around sounds precarious, but the 70 breweries and hundreds of lager lovers coming together at the Field Museum for the Chicago Beer Festival (March 26) will make it work.
Where to stay: By staying at the Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, you can celebrate your team’s performance with a quiet toast in your 44th-floor suite or, for a bit more pomp, calling the Martini Man, the in-house mixologist who will stop by to whip you up a chocolate martini or whatever libation you desire.
Philadelphia, March 25 to 27
What to do: The Barnes Foundation’s “Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change” (through May 9) is a powerful collection of 50 works that look at the icon’s artistic style during World War I.
Where to stay: Whether it’s luxuriousness (silk curtains, four-poster beds), lunch (Four-Star Lacroix at The Rittenhouse) or location (five miles from the Wells Fargo Center), Four-Star The Rittenhouse answers every call with grace.
Houston, April 2 to 4
What to do: As is annually the case around the Final Four, the downtown events roster is full with everything from interactive fun (Fan Fest, April 1 to 4) and live entertainment (March Madness Music Festival, April 1 to 3) to open team practices (Final Four Friday, April 1) and even a little exercise (Final Four 4 Miler, April 2).
Where to stay: When the crowds around NRG Stadium get overwhelming, escape 10 miles north to Four-Star The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa, an oasis of opulence featuring rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and a wellness facility with 175,000 square feet of calorie-burning potential.