MADNESS: The newcomer's guide to the Final Four! 

Welcome to Indianapolis, Kentucky and Wisconsin and Duke and Michigan State fans, and also the 40,000 corporate guests who have no rooting interest whatsoever! I see you’ve found your way to a copy of NUVO, which is this city’s very excellent weekly magazine, not unlike The Economist or The Weekly Standard — except with titty-bar ads there in the back. You’re on the trolley now!

This is the 119th time Indianapolis has hosted the Final Four — or thereabouts — and we have become quite proficient at it. Of course, the last time it was here was in 2010, although that may or may not have ever happened, it is hard to say with certainty. It could have been a weird fever dream of some sort. Looking back, it still doesn’t seem real. Or plausible.

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If you do not recall, Butler University — a quaint schoolhouse of about 78 kids tucked away in a Norman Rockwell neighborhood five miles north of downtown Indianapolis — somehow made it to the Final Four. They did this through an odd combination of luck and VIOLENTLY WRECKING EVERYONE’S SHIT WHO STOOD IN THEIR PATH. Butler did this. Butler — whose gym was where Hollywood filmed the totally fake Hickory High School fictitiously beating the heavily favored South Bend Central because Hollywood likes to film its sports-y things in the soft, glossy light of “get the fuck outta here.” Except Butler’s gym is also where the real “Hickory” team really did beat the heavily favored Muncie Central in the 1954 Indiana State High School title game and now the universe is folding in on itself again, just like in 2010, merely rehashing it.

[Stands up on insane asylum bed, turns down the Philco …]


[Lights another Kyle Singler Duke jersey on fire …]

Haha, yes, those were heady times — if they happened at all, who can say for sure? The point, I suppose, is that no matter what happens this year, it will pale greatly in comparison to 2010. Of course, everything through the rest of eternity will pale in comparison, so do not take it personally. Your teams are great too! It’s just that nobody will be making a movie about them one day and how they were the real-life version of a team that was portrayed in a movie that was the fictional version of an actual team who played in their gym! Or something.

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But never mind all that. This is a new Final Four, same as the others! See that giant blue building to the west? The one with the 26-story NCAA bracket? That is the official seal of the City of Indianapolis. It has been here for six millenia, with only the teams changing. We are professionals. So: Allow me to give you first-timers a quick primer on what you can expect (and not expect) at the Final Four.

The Venue

Lucas Oil Stadium is many things, but a superb basketball arena is clearly not one of them. It’s like some stupid, hyper-artsy Drakkar Cologne commercial where there’s a lone basketball court afloat in the middle of the ocean for some reason, while very serious, well-dressed beautiful people are trying in vain to watch the action from thousands of miles away on shore. That is not hyperbole. (It is perhaps hyperbole, but not really.) In an ideal world, the game would be played in Bankers Life Fieldhouse where there is no bad seat … but this is not an ideal world and the NCAA has many bills to pay and sponsors to entertain, many of whom have lots of friends who all need tickets. Twenty thousand seats is 60,000 too few. It’s $cience.


And that is the crux of the problem. The Final Four crowds are mostly well-connected tourists crossing off a bucket-list item, curious enough to attend — but not invested enough to make noise or yell cruel threats at Duke players like God wants them to do. The environment is not electric, by and large. It is not even “crunked,” as the kids say(?). It is a museum. A sterile, humorless museum built in Jim Nantz’s likeness as an homage to “amateur” commercialism. You can buy 9,000 cubic tons of overpriced Arizona gear, but you can’t buy a goddamn beer.

(That is a biggie, fyi. For real: there is no alcohol sold at the Final Four. You have been warned.)

The Bars

Each team’s fanbase will organically migrate to a lone downtown chain bar that they are familiar with and they will not venture from it. RAM, Hooters, Champp’s — they are all relatively the same in their Bud Light-blandness, but so be it. Whichever group arrives there first and pisses around the perimeter stakes it as their territory. Make no mistake, Mr. & Mrs. Reffett from Sheboygan, battle lines will have been drawn: do not go venturing into an opposing team’s temporary establishment. Kentuckians, for example, find it rude when you accidently stumble into their Ruby Tuesday wearing your block-of-cheese hat yelling about how they are a bunch of cheating hill folk who will have these Tournament wins vacated in three years anyway. Such carelessness is unwise in the presence of ill-tempered diabetics jacked up on Beam & Monster Energy; they will put a powerful beatdown on you with their reachin’ sticks.

click to enlarge If you wanted to see scantily-clad women you have to pick up the actual paper. Those ads start on p. 34. HAHAHAHAHA. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • If you wanted to see scantily-clad women you have to pick up the actual paper. Those ads start on p. 34. HAHAHAHAHA.
  • Wikimedia Commons

The corporate crowd, meanwhile, will be holed up in the Capital Grille bar or Palimino or the 1933 Lounge above St. Elmo not giving a shit one way or the other. Your odds of getting stabbed/verbally assaulted dim considerably in these places, but you will be surrounded by such an alarming array of assholery and Brooks Brothers dad-jeans that catching ebola in an alley outside the Wild Beaver Saloon will seem like the more favorable option.

If you are a decent human being and enjoy chill people and you're not carrying an AR-15, I recommend Dorman Street Saloon (best overall bar), Keystone Sports Review (best wings), Sun King Brewing (best beer), Flatwater Restaurant (best deck), or La Piedad (best Mexican food/wonderfully surliest staff).

The Recent SB101 Controversy

Perhaps you’ve heard that our Esteemed & Wonderful Leader — Governor Kim Jong Jesus — signed a bill into law that makes it totes legal for businesses to have separate (but equal!) STRAIGHT water fountains and GAY water fountains, just like in 1948 Jim Crow’s wet dream, because if there’s one thing Jesus hated it was that touchy-feely bullshit about “not judging people.” He HATED lepers and tax collectors and everyone different than him! And besides, if God wanted gay folks to have the right to shop in a Pep Boys Auto Store, He would’ve said so!

  • Come for the hoops, stay for ... JUST PLEASE STAY THE GOVERNOR'S A MORON.
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In reality, first-time Indy visitor: we are so very very sorry. Really. We are so ashamed. Our awful governor will not rest until Indiana is officially a Christian State through & through, and if that means laying waste to our entire economy and any chance of survival in 21st century markets, then so be it. He is so terrible, you guys. Once the NCAA relocates to a more hospitable city – like, say, Tehran – there will never be another Final Four here. You have nothing to lose!

The Matchups

Saturday at 6:09 – Duke vs. Michigan State.
Saturday at 8:49 – Wisconsin vs. Kentucky.

What Will Happen

In a make-believe world of Hickory goodness, we would all be treated to Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker being a boss and telling Bo Ryan in the huddle, “I’ll make it,” and then calmly drilling a 20-footer at the buzzer right in one of the Harrison twin’s faces. We would all storm the floor and party until next Wednesday, forgetting to even play the championship game. It would be historically grand.

click to enlarge Freshmen ... freshmen everywhere. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Freshmen ... freshmen everywhere.
  • Wikimedia Commons

But because God now hates us and wants us to burn in a lake of hot misery, go ahead and chalk up a Duke/Kentucky Final. (Sorry, Badgers and Sparty! Blame Mike Pence!) It will be quite unpleasant. Lucas Oil Stadium will be an indecipherable sea of blue and self-importance on Monday night. It will be intolerable. Like choosing which arm to have amputated for no reason at all, there is no good choice. All of America will have lost before tip-off.

That said, we must all put aside our differences and our prejudices and our sense of decency and simply root for a Kentucky loss. (Not a Duke win, mind you! But rather a Kentucky loss. It is slightly more palatable that way!) An undefeated team losing the final game of the season in the home state of the LAST team to go undefeated is as 2010 Butler-y as we could possibly hope for. It will have to do.


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Roy Hobbson

Roy Hobbson

Roy Hobbson writes about sports, fatherhood and sometimes nachos. He was responsible for the now-defunct IndyCar blog called The Silent Pagoda.

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