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C-USA officials, coaches confident setup for hoops tourney will be a hit

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

FRISCO -- Conference USA commissioner Judy MacLeod admits she experienced a few nervous moments when she walked into the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco on Sunday and saw nothing other than a forklift or two.

The league was just hours away from staging its men's and women's basketball tournaments simultaneously on two temporary courts placed on what is normally a football field. By Tuesday, those courts were set up in what are usually the venue's end zones with two specially designed sound-deadening black curtains hanging between them.

C-USA is the first league to try the setup for a conference tournament.

MacLeod and league officials are confident the experiment will go off without a hitch when the event tips off today with 12 men's and 12 women's teams competing for automatic bids to the NCAA tournament.

"It looks fantastic," MacLeod said. "What has made me feel really good is seeing the student-athletes come in. They love it. The whole reasons we did it was to try to create something special for the players."

Each court will have seating for about approximately 2,000 in temporary bleachers. The Ford Center's permanent seats will be behind the baskets.

The C-USA tournament was played the last three years in Birmingham at Legacy Arena and Bartow Arena, where UAB plays its home games. The new setup will allow fans to walk back and forth between games.

C-USA moved its conference basketball tournament to Frisco with the idea of making it a destination event for fans of the league's teams in addition to attracting the attention of local community.

The league will soon find out what the response is after taking a risk by moving the event to a neutral site. North Texas is the closest C-USA school to The Star and ranked 10th out of 14 teams in the league in home attendance for men's basketball with an average of 2,252 fans per game.

Four teams in the conference averaged at least 6,000 fans per home game in men's basketball - Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, UTEP and Western Kentucky. All are more than 600 miles away from The Star.

"We feel good about attendance," MacLeod said. "There is a good surrounding area for fans with restaurants within walking distance. The local community has also been very supportive. Time will tell on the numbers."

UNT women's coach Jalie Mitchell is excited about the setup and the potential for a big turnout.

"It looks really good," Mitchell said following UNT's practice at the Ford Center on Tuesday. "There was another practice on the other side of the curtain going on. I didn't hear much. I don't know how much that will change when there are whistles and crowds. It's excellent that the men and women are under the same roof. You have access to any game you want."

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.