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It isn’t even feeling grateful for a bottle of water and a national anthem performed in less than three minutes.
It’s being in a ghost town.
This is the eighth Final Four held here, dating to 1980 when Louisville beat UCLA in the championship game in the old Market Square Arena — which seated 16,530. UCLA is here again this weekend, but that 1980 team doesn’t exist in the NCAA record book. It is one of many teams wiped from the history books for getting on the wrong side of the NCAA police.
The previous time the Final Four was played here, in 2015, the attendance in this building for the title game between Duke and Wisconsin was 71,149. Chances are the total attendance for the 66 games that will decide this championship (one was lost the first weekend to the coronavirus) won’t be a whole lot more than that.
But there was never any doubt that this tournament was going to be played, despite the ongoing pandemic. Not having a tournament last year cost the NCAA almost $500 million in television revenue. Losing ticket sales or concessions or parking may hurt a little. Losing TV money is catastrophic.
And so, even if this year’s event has been simply a television show, it was going to happen. It didn’t matter that the players for the four finalists have been in Indianapolis for nearly three weeks, going through constant coronavirus testing and quarantines. It didn’t matter that their lives have been nowhere close to normal to reach this point.
Last summer, Dan Gavitt, the NCAA vice president who runs the tournament, convened a weekly Zoom call with prominent coaches to discuss one topic: How do we get the season to March intact enough to hold a legitimate 68-team tournament?
“Every decision we made was about making sure we could have a tournament,” said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has won three of his five national titles in Indianapolis. “Everything else was secondary.”
If nothing else, the Gonzaga-UCLA game made all the effort that went into creating this three-week TV extravaganza worth all the effort. Every time it looked as if the ‘Zags were going to take control of the game, the Bruins had an answer — including in the final seconds of overtime, when they tied the game one last time at 90-90 with the clock headed for zero and double-overtime.
And then, in one of the most remarkable moments in tournament history, Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs streaked downcourt and released a 30-footer just before the buzzer that somehow banked in for an
If nothing else, this on-again, off-again season with a Final Four played in a near-empty city and a near-empty arena will get Gonzaga and Baylor — the two best teams all season — playing for the championship.
MINZY Writer – Just One More Chapter Poster
But Duke is nowhere to be found here, and neither are so-called blue bloods such as North Carolina — Dean Smith’s last Final Four was across the street in the Hoosier Dome — Kansas, Kentucky or Michigan State: The just-retired Roy Williams got to his First Final Four here with Kansas in 1991; Tom Izzo’s national title was won here in 2000. No Final Four city has more history than this one.
What makes this site so great for an event such as this is that everything is within walking distance downtown. The dome is a short walk from most of the major hotels. There are great restaurants — notably the iconic St. Elmo Steak House but plenty more — within a few blocks. The convention center, which would normally host all of the meetings and seminars conducted by the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the “Fan Fest,” is steps from the hotel where all four teams are housed.