Welcome to the Final Four

By JeffGraveline

During the weekend of April 3-5, the National Collegiate Athletics Association took over Indianapolis to hold the conclusion of the men’s basketball season, the Final Four. Following a season full of freshman sensations, great plays and unexpected upsets, the men’s basketball teams from West Virginia University, Duke University, Michigan State University and Butler University traveled to Lucas Oil Stadium to crown a

national champion.

As the teams readied to play, fans from across the nation followed their beloved alma mater or the team they’ve always rooted for on “the trip of a lifetime.”

“I’ve been pretty much waiting my whole life for this,” said West Virginia University psychology student Nathanial Warman. “I’ve been down here for about 12 hours now and it’s been a great time. I haven’t seen some of my college friends in a long time and this is great. On a scale of one to 100, I’m at about a 98.3 percent right now.”

The Final Four is more than just cheering on a favorite team to the pinnacle of college basketball. Besides the games, the bonding friends share during a trip to the Final Four, the Fan Experience and the allure of traveling to a new city to celebrate the sport of basketball drew thousands to Indianapolis.

The Fan Experience, where attendees had a chance to meet current and former players, coaches and NCAA legends, was offered throughout the weekend and drew thousands of people to the Indianapolis Convention Center. Inside the center, fans could participate in a skills challenge, play pop-a-shot, see the NCAA national championship trophy or watch live music performances.

“There’s so much to do here, they have something for everybody,” said Libby Skilnik, a Chicagoland native. “[At the NCAA Fan Experience] my brother shot some baskets, we saw the championship trophy and the other night we saw Daughtry at the music venue.”

Outside of the Fan Experience and throughout the streets of Indianapolis, fans poured over vendors’ merchandise. Offerings from the vendors included T-shirts, hoodies, pennants and hats. Fans purchased Final Four logo items and items marked with their team’s logo or colors.

While most fans of Michigan State, West Virginia and Duke had to travel a large distance to arrive in Indianapolis, fans of the Butler Bulldogs were in their home town.

With Butler’s campus so close to where the games were held, a sea of Bulldog blue flooded the streets the entire weekend.

On the Butler campus, fans of the Bulldogs and those hoping to witness history visited Hinkle Fieldhouse to watch either the Final Four games or the Championship game.

They also visited the student bookstore, where items bearing the Bulldog logo flew off the shelves.

When the Bulldogs advanced past the Spartans and the Duke Blue Devils beat West Virginia, it set up a National Championship showdown between David and Goliath.

The game would feature perennial power Duke against the upstart Bulldogs in a game many predicted as a blowout for the heavily favored Blue Devils.  As students and fans arrived in droves to Butler on April 5, the campus was soon crawling with Bulldog backers.

As the National Championship game unfolded, chants of “Let’s Go Dogs,” and “[Expletive] Duke,” rang out in Chumley’s, a local sports bar packed with Butler students and fans.

Sadly for the Bulldog nation, Butler would fall just short of conquering the college basketball world as Gordon Hayword’s last-second half court shot looked perfect, but hit the back of the rim and fell harmlessly away, securing Duke’s 61-59 win.

“This sucks, [Butler] was so close to making it happen,” said Sean Skilnik, a patron at Chumley’s and Libby’s brother. “If they just could have done a little more in the first half, we’d be out celebrating right now. I guess there’s always next year in Houston though.”