Mar 20, 2012, 9:00 AM EDT
With the Sweet 16 set, the most pressing question(s) shouldn’t be about match-ups and who will win (although that Kendall Marshall wrist injury is a pretty intriguing story line).
No, with sixteen unique fan bases descending on four cities in this beautiful country, the most important discussion should be the amount of excitement one can expect to have if attending any of these games.
Even if you have no rooting interest but live in Atlanta, Boston, Phoenix or St. Louis, you may want to get a quick education on what to expect if you plan on immersing yourself in the frenzy before, during, and after the games.
A brief overview on what to expect at each location is below…
South Region (Atlanta)
I pretty much decided to write this article based solely on the mayhem that is likely to ensue down in Atlanta. The South Region is going to be ridiculous, and if you live in the area but have no affiliation to any of the four schools involved, I still highly recommend hovering in and around the Georgia Dome. Grab some of your friends, find a suitable watering hole, and just observe.
If there aren’t fist fights, there will at least be some fantastic banter between IU and UK fans. The Wildcats are the favorites; the Hoosiers beat them in December and want/need/gotta have this for affirmation of the reclamation of their program’s mystique.
Fan interest level (on a scale of 1-5): 7
Big Blue Nation, one of the few state schools in the country that pours all their emotions into basketball and not football, can already smell their team’s eighth National Championship. But the Hoosiers are also all-in on basketball, and this weekend could steer this program back to where they want to be.
Xavier, a small, basketball-first school, is also completely invested in hoops. While they’re a second weekend mainstay that has yet to reach the Final Four, they’re thrilled to still be playing based on how this team seemed to fall apart post-Crosstown Brawl.
Projected nuttiness outside the dome: 5
It’s going to be crazy, and based on location, all four fan bases will travel in droves. Wildcat and Musketeer fans will be co-mingling down I-75 en-route to Atlanta, with Hoosier fans likely joining them depending on where they’re packing up the mini-van
It’s a straight shot six-hour drive from Cincinnati (I made the trip to the Atlanta regionals in 2004), so there’s really no excuse not for any of these Mid-west fans not to road trip it down to the games.
East Region (Boston)
A great sports city that almost takes pride in being a terrible and apathetic college sports city, Boston at least boasts plenty of transplants from around the country, meaning there’s pockets of Badgers, Bearcats, Buckeyes and (especially) Orange fans in the area.
Tickets are already sold out, and because these schools all hail from a BCS-conference, the fan and alumni base is big enough to ensure a respectable turnout of fans taking up space at the row of bars outside the TD Garden on both Thursday and Saturday. In fact, the city expects this NCAA regional to generate triple the dollars than what hosting the regional did back in 2009, as that time around the four participating schools were much smaller.
Fans Interest Level: 4
And that’s only because I question Ohio State fans interest in this portion of the tournament. Think about it: they’re football first, and have been a Final Four contender for the past few seasons. How jazzed are they, really, about the regionals?
That being said, I know that the Orange (it’s supposed to be Syracuse’s year) and Bearcat (first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2001) fans are being completely unproductive this work week.
Projected nuttiness outside the Garden: 3
Syracuse is a four-hour drive from Boston, and their alumni are planted all over the East Coast.
Cincinnati fans don’t want to miss such a great opportunity to check out a new city with their team having a realistic shot of playing for a trip to the Final Four.
Ohio State is like a small country, so it’s a numbers game with them. You know they’ll fill their allotted tickets plus a few more.
Badger fans love to party so we welcome their drinking acumen into the Hub, assuming they show up.
For everyone that rolls into town: there’s about three dozen bars in a two block radius of the arena, so no shortage of options to drink up before game time.
West Region (Phoenix)
I know it’s impossible, but it would be great if we could suddenly relocate this section of the bracket to a more travel-friendly venue when there are no participating teams within two time zones of the place.
Consider: the campuses of Michigan State, Marquette, Florida and Louisville, are all located located more than 1700 miles from the arena they must travel to compete for a trip to the Final Four.
Sort of impractical in these lean economic times, no?
Fans Interest Level (on a scale of 1-5): 4
What’s great about this region is its got three “basketball first” schools, and Florida, which just really enjoys winning things.
With both games up in the air – I have a sneaking suspicion about Louisville – nothing is certain. All four schools have been to the Final Four in the past 10 years, but only Michigan State has been since 2007. There’s a lot of pride at stake here.
Projected nuttiness outside the arena: 2
I’m sure each school well sell their tickets, but expect a dead arena for both Sweet 16 games, especially Michigan State – Louisville, which tips at 4:47 local time.
Downtown Phoenix is also infamous for being a ghost town, so if you are headed west for the games, I’d be interested to know how visitors spend their off-day free time (golfing in Scottsdale?) and pregaming before you enter US Airways Arena.
Midwest Region (St. Louis)
The region that was most flipped upside down in the first weekend, the Midwest could either be really great for the casual fan, or just really great for NC State and Ohio.
Let’s be honest, Cinderella stories are great, but they’re usually supposed to end right about now and make way for the big boys. But based on what transpired both on and off the court late Sunday night, the Midwest is anyone’s guess, and fans from any school should be willing to fork over some cash to attend, especially because of the proximity.
Fans Interest Level (on a scale of 1-5): 5
And for a wide range of reasons.
Like they would for any second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, both Kansas and North Carolina fans have canceled all other social plans for the weekend to clear out space for one, maybe two big games this weekend, while Ohio and NC State are both ecstatic to be here, but have confident fan bases that are not satisfied.
Projected nuttiness outside the dome: 5
Two reasons: St. Louis is an underrated city to get wild in, and Ohio currently holds the title as the biggest party school in the country.
If the little guy is the one making the biggest scene during pregame “warm-ups”, then you know this is a recipe for an awesome weekend.
Why would Jayhawk, Tar Heel and Wolfpack fans want to get shown up?
Bobcat undergrads are sure to flood the Lou, as the eight hour drive from Athens to St. Louis is the perfect distance for a memorable road trip.
With Atlanta potentially being overrun with Kentucky fans, and Boston unlikely to have hoards of fans from all four participating teams, this region would be my pick to attend if the cost of travel, accommodations and tickets to all three games were not an issue.
Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN
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