Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Final Four Fantastic

Nothing is quite like the Final Four, and Indianapolis is almost the perfect setting for it. They love their basketball in Indiana. I mean really love it. Did you know that 16 of the 17 largest high school basketball gyms in the country are in the state of Indiana? You can feel how they love basketball there. Much like football is revered here, basketball is worshiped there. There might be an empty field somewhere in the state without a hoop hanging on one end, but I didn’t see it. I used to think it was kind of hokey how they felt about hoops. Not anymore. They’re into it, they study it. It’s not casual, it’s serious. They know the schoolboys, they know the moves, they know basketball.

Moving around Indianapolis, you can sense how the Final Four feels at home there. The police, the security guards, the waiters and waitresses, and everybody else it seems are perfectly comfortable talking hoops. The setup in Indy is equally comfortable. Big hotels downtown, all within walking distance to the RCA Dome provide a backdrop for fun. The shopping and the different restaurants and bars provide the outlet for the fans to spend their dollars. Indianapolis civic leaders really did quite a job re-creating the downtown area. The Circle Center mall pulls the whole downtown together, and is the focal point needed. Other cities (Jacksonville) could take a cue from Indy. Even though the game was in a dome, something nobody seems to like, the RCA Dome was set up very well for the games. It didn’t seem cavernous like the Super Dome. Hopefully Minneapolis will have the same feel next year.

The crowd at the Final 4 is different than other major events. It’s taller. No kidding. It seems everybody at the game has played the game at one time or another. There are actual fans at the game as well. It’s not all corporate America. The schools are represented, and there’s a real feel of excitement. Michigan State fans were the biggest group there. Faces painted green, wearing Spartan heads everywhere. What is their deal with Florida anyway? The Citrus Bowl? Steve Spurrier was looking for guys to play in the game, and the Spartans acted like it was the last game ever played when they won. Same thing in the National Championship game. Their fans took some perverse pleasure in running down the Gators, the state, and everything about the south in general. Maybe there’s not enough to do in Lansing. Or maybe it’s just jealousy.

Michigan State played the better game, was the better team and deserved to win the National Title. They had three seniors who played critical roles. Who has three seniors even on the team anymore? They hit the outside shot, pushed the ball up the floor against the press and had more composure in the clutch. They seemed on a mission all year, and fulfilled that with the ring. Morris Peterson was the best player on the floor. Florida’s young players seemed overmatched, including Mike Miller. Billy Donovan couldn’t hit the shots for them. He had them in the right situations and they couldn’t come through. Whether they return to the game next year is immaterial. What counts is he’s building the program with some excitement. Wow, Gator fans are actually looking forward to next year! In basketball no less!