For basketball fans around the country, the end of Mardi Gras can only mean one thing (other than a hangover), and that is the countdown to the Final Four. For the first time since 2003, college basketball fans will descend upon New Orleans for the Super Bowl of college basketball beginning March 30, with our very own Tulane University serving as the host institution. Hoops lovers have been waiting with bated breath to hear the sound of rubber soles squeaking on the freshly polished floors as they watch four teams representing their respective regions battle it out for the crowning of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
As a city that is no stranger to sporting events, New Orleans is geared up for the masses to celebrate one of America’s most competitive sports. Although the festivities last for less than a week, the tournament is estimated to bring in tens of thousands of tourists and more than $150 million for the economy. For those of you who don’t crunch numbers on a daily basis, that’s approximately $37.5 million dollars a day. In my personal opinion, not a bad investment for selling a record-breaking 75,000 seats.
Although the fate of these four college teams will depend on two single-elimination games, the events and activities will last from March 30 until the kings of hoops are crowned on April 2. Our gracious hometown, in conjunction with the numerous sponsors, have set up a plethora of activities for residents and visitors alike.
Coach Jeryl Fischtziur–local basketball coach and mentor to New Orleans’ own Danny Granger, lead scorer and forward for the Indiana Pacers–knows a few things about attending the Final Four. Currently serving as both the athletic director at Grace King High School and JPPSS East Bank Coordinator, Coach Fischtziur and his wife have attended 20 Final Four Championships, with their current streak reaching a consecutive 16 years to date. Although he admits his favorite part of attendending the Final Four is getting the opportunity to see coaching friends from all over the country, he and his family do their best to make it to every event.
Yes, large gatherings of people are no strange occurrence in New Orleans, but in order to maximize your Final Four experience, you should take advantage of all of the events the city has planned. Some, such as the Coaches vs. Cancer Luncheon and various team gatherings are reserved for those in-the-know, but there will be more than enough to choose from even if you don’t plan ahead.
Beginning with the most stationary of events, the NCAA will be sponsoring Bracket Town Fan Fest in the New Orleans Convention Center. This 300,000 square foot setup will serve as a home base for fun-filled activities such as interactive sports games, daily youth clinics, three on three basketball games, and autograph sessions with legendary coaches and former college hoops stars. Entrance to these events is only $10 for adults and $6 for children, students, seniors, and military. For those of you more competitive at heart, put your athletic prowess to the test in one of the NCAA’s sport settings and show the crowd what you’ve really got.
For the opposite end of the spectrum, NCAA will also be hosting a sports writing workshops for aspiring high school and college journalists interested in pursuing a career in sports writing. Participants will be able to not only ask questions to current USBWA (US Basketball Writers Association) panelists, but some lucky students will be selected to receive press-credentials to join the pros at one of the official Final Four media events.
Now, on to the dreamers in the crowd! For those hoping to one day alley-oop with the best of them or those simply wishing to relive the days of old, there are quite a few activities to get you close to the action. The Reese’s College All Star Game starts Friday, March 30 at 4:30 p.m. giving attendees a chance to witness rare conglomeration of college basketball stars perform in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, all free of charge. To keep the hype up, the following day there will be NCAA Youth Clinics at both the Alario and Reily Centers to give aspiring Jordans a great way to hone your skills and learn from the best while they’re in town. Another great activity that won’t cost you a dime is the Final Four Dribble, which allows those 18 and under to enter into a marathon of dribbling stretching from the Superdome to the Convention Center. With free admission and complimentary T-shirt, basketball, and admission to Bracket Town, aspiring hoopsters can’t go wrong.
For those coming in town or just visiting, everyone is invited to open practices at the Superdome to watch their teams practice one more time before the semifinals kick off. A few lucky fans in attendance will also be randomly selected to win semifinal and championship tickets to boot. To me, that’s worth taking a day off! And of course if you’d rather watch the game with your closest friends in a comfortable setting, there will be designated “home bases” for each region at area restaurants downtown.
For anyone coming in from the East region, you can set up camp with your fellow fans at Poppy’s Time Out in Spanish Plaza and sip on their famous Hornet’s Bite as you pull for yours. For those Midwestern birds flying South for the tournament, plan on heading on over to the Crazy Lobster and lap up a Crescent City Cooler to calm the stress what’s sure to be a phenomenal game. All of you Westerners are in for a treat as you’ve been given Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar as your stomping grounds for the tournament where I’m sure the fair will delight and Da’Killer Blue Whale will leave you thinking you’ve washed up on shore! Of course we can’t forget our own Southerners, so make sure and raft on down to Huck Finn’s and make sure to watch for those Gator Bites!
All fans should load up on enough Final Four equipment, uniforms, memorabilia and gear to last for a lifetime... or at least until the next Final Four. If you can’t make it to the game or one of our local spots, catch the game live on the go with TruTV. No matter where you choose to be, the fun of the Final Four is always within easy reach. For a complete listing of all events including dates and admissions, visit ncaa.com.
Final Four Teams
Strengths: There is no situation that the Cardinals won’t be ready for thanks to Pitino, who is a veteran coach who has accomplished everything at the collegiate level. Peyton Siva has proven to be a great leader at the point guard position down the stretch.
Weaknesses: The team doesn’t have a player averaging more than 13 points per game this season. It also is known for its stretches of inconsistency this season, which have resulted in key losses.
Chances of winning: The Cardinals are the closest thing to Cinderella in the Final Four. They won the Big East tournament as a seventh-seed. They appear to be hitting their stride at the right time. They could be a team of destiny.
Strengths: The Buckeyes are loaded with talent and have a great coach in Thad Matta. Thomas has averaged 21.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in the tournament, Sullinger averages 18 points and 8.3 rebounds in the tournament and Craft averages 5.8 assists. Buford averages 14.4 points per game.Weaknesses: There is a small chance that the team could rely too much on its starting lineup. Sullinger, who can’t afford to get in foul trouble, has done that this season.
Chances of winning: The Buckeyes have been making believers all season long. This could be their year.
Strengths: The Wildcats have six players averaging 10 points or more this season. This could be the most talented team in the tournament. Kidd-Gilchrist, a projected NBA lottery pick if he goes pro, averages 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds. Freshman forward Anthony Davis leads the team with a 14.2 point average.
Weaknesses: There is a lot of pressure on this team to win it all, which could result in some short shots in crunch time. They also have a lot of distractions. Coach John Calipari has yet to prove that he is a legitimate big-game coach.
Chances: This season is a failure for Kentucky if it doesn’t win the championship, because the talent is there.
Strengths: Junior forward Thomas Robinson averages 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds. Senior guard Tyshawn Taylor averages 16.6 points and 4.7 assists. Coach Bill Self is one of the nations’s best coaches, and is great at making sure his teams don’t self destruct.
Weaknesses: The Jayhawks chances usually rise and fall on the play of Robinson. Taylor has had stretches of inconsistent 3-point shooting. They always seem to lack a certain special feeling about their players and their chances of winning it all.
Chances: Don’t overlook the Jayhawks. Teams that do what they are supposed to do usually hoist the title in the end. This team just quietly does it job. Now it’s in the spotlight, and it’s ready.