Minneapolis Region proves to be Gator bait
For the second time in four years, Minneapolis was named site of a regional final for this years NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament. And, for the second time in four years, yours truly wasnt about to miss a single dribble.
Fridays regional semifinal had a true Big East feel, despite the presence of Florida, a member of the Southeastern Conference, and Boston College, a former Big East power now gone to the Atlantic Coast Conference. But Villanova and Georgetown rounded out the Twin Cities portion of the Sweet 16, giving the entire region that super-conference feel.
Welcome to what was, at that point, the regular regional. With Billy Packer and Jim Nantz on hand, Minneapolis bracket fell very much into place like many expected, with No. 7 Georgetown upsetting No. 2 Ohio State to get to Minnesota. The other three teams were all top seeds.
My money, not that I gamble, was on No. 4 Boston College. I liked coach Al Skinner. I love their inside game and they had decent enough guard play that I thought they could give Villanova some serious trouble.
Boy, was I wrong. Actually, I wasnt too wrong. Boston College did assert themselves inside. And their guard play was good enough in the beginning that they were able to go up by double digits in the early going.
But, I didnt account for all-American Randy Foye, who carried Villanova throughout the first half, keeping the No. 1 Wildcats in the game. Even more impressive, he hit every clutch shot down the stretch (including overtime), and thanks strictly to Foye, who accounted for nearly 50 percent of his teams production, the Cats survived to advance to Sundays Elite 8 game.
That was fine with the Minnesota fans on hand, as the Villanova Marching Band catered to the home crowd. Twice, before the start of the game and then before the start of the second half, the Cats pep band rocked the dome with their rendition of the Minnesota Rouser, familiar to West Fargo fans as the Packer fight song as well. This played well with Gopher alum on hand, even as their hockey team was in the process of being shocked by Holy Cross in the mens tourney up in Grand Forks.
Sky U Ma, indeed.
Game two on Friday put Florida up against Georgetown. Since my BC Eagles were done, I had to cheer for the Hoyas, hoping the John Thompson III-led squad could tear up the entire bracket.
The Hoyas were stingy. Their defense probably the best I had seen from anyone the entire tournament. But the talent on Flroida was way too strong for the Hoyas, and despite a good showing, the Sweet 16 would be as far as Thompsons young team could go.
The most impressive performance in that contest would be turned in by Gator Taurean Green, who ran the point with poise despite his sophomore status. The Hoya defense was solid, but Green found open men, especially post presence Al Horford, and Billy Donovans club slowly picked Georgetown apart.
That meant Florida vs. Villanova on Sunday, a day that was ruled, ultimately, by a team that wasnt even in Minneapolis.
Enter George Mason University.
The concourse was full of fans watching an entirely different game moments before the Minneapolis Regional Final. So as not to distract the Gator and Nova players during warm-ups, the game was not on inside the Metrodome, so literally thousands of people lined the concourse, watching George Mason battle No. 1 Connecticut. The game went to overtime, and the Patriots pulled off the stunner, becoming the first No. 11 seed to make the Final Four in 20 years.
The roar in the concrete hall was deafening.
Inside the stadium, the Gators and Cats tipped off almost immediately, with people still filing in. It turned out to be a pretty dominating performance by the Gators, who took a 10-point lead early in the first half and really never looked back.
Joakim Noah, Floridas lanky power forward, dominated the final minutes, and earned the Regions Most Outstanding Player. I had to agree, despite his propensity to let his emotions get the best of him at times.
I realize the Vikings and Twins are both looking for new homes, but I hope they keep this event in mind. Minnesota has twice hosted the Final Four and hosted this portion of the tourney on several occasions. Its a good fit, and a great event for the fans.
If they put a roof on that new proposed Viking complex, I dont doubt for a minute the NCAA will make an offer. After all, Ford Field in Detroit, a football stadium with a roof, is hosting the Final Four in a couple years. No reason the Twin Cities couldnt do the same.
And you know Ill be there.