Each spring, the tournament prods people with no knowledge of or interest in college basketball to dutifully fill out brackets predicting the winners of more than 60 games. It brands it all as “March Madness.” But with schools sent to sites far and wide — Syracuse, for instance, opened its tournament San Jose, more than 2,800 miles from home — the very atmosphere the sport boasts about can be sucked out of arenas like Verizon Center.
Two of the other region sites this weekend — Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex. – are the regular homes to NFL teams. The other, Los Angeles’s Staples Center, is home to the Lakers and Clippers of the NBA and Kings of the NHL. The Final Four will be held in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, the 17th straight year it will be staged in a domed arena of that seats more than 40,000 fans.
To the television viewer, none of these venues will look different from the other. Georgetown’s court won’t host the tournament, nor will that of the Wizards. The NCAA has its own court for each arena — natural wood for the floor, black paint on the sidelines, a blue NCAA logo at center court. Washington? Los Angeles? Indianapolis? How to tell?
Larranaga is the one guy who smiles at the mere thought of playing here. He left George Mason for Miami two years ago, but he remembers all the games he watched here involving Georgetown or the Wizards, the games he coached in the annual December BB&T Classic, and those two games in March 2006.
“It’s not just any other arena,” he said Wednesday, smiling. “This is the Verizon Center.”
But he didn’t venture to use that sense of place as motivation for his players. “He didn’t tell us that specific story,” said Miami senior Julian Gamble.
It is a story that is well-known in the lore of the NCAA tournament.
But only those who were there have a true appreciation for where it happened. The next weekend, while George Mason played on in 2006, Verizon Center welcomed back the circus, and returned to its regular life on F Street.