Men's NCAA Notebook
Michigan State Spartans Taking Advantage of Home Crowd
Sunday, April 5, 2009
DETROIT, April 4 -- As expected, Saturday's crowd broke the NCAA basketball tournament attendance record. A crowd of 72,456 filled Ford Field, breaking the record of 64,959 set in the Louisiana Superdome for the 1987 national championship game, in which Indiana defeated Syracuse.
Fans arrived hours before the start of the games and gathered at restaurants and bars in the blocks around the stadium. While each school had a designated establishment to call its "official" home, virtually all other territory was claimed by fans of the Spartans. Back-and-forth chants of "Go Green" and "Go White" echoed across opposite sides of Adams Street three hours before the first game tipped off. Overflow crowds spilled into tents set up in adjacent parking lots on a brisk but sunny day.
Inside the stadium, the seats filled up early, with Michigan State taking on Connecticut in the first semifinal. Each school had a section of seats in the stands clearly identifiable by the clothes worn by the fans sitting in them, and the sections on the floor behind the baskets were filled by students sitting behind their respective pep bands. But the rest of the vast building was filled by a sea of green and white.
When the U-Conn. students began a chant during warmups, they were quickly drowned out by cacophonous boos rained down from the upper levels. Huskies Coach Jim Calhoun was greeted with chants of "Cheat-er," a reference to a recent Yahoo.com report on possible NCAA violations committed by a former U-Conn. team manager. Magic Johnson's image on the two large video screens evoked loud ovations; Johnson led Michigan State to the 1979 national championship.
Michigan State is the first school to participate in a Final Four in its home state since Duke played in Charlotte in 1994.
The home-court advantage didn't seem to influence the officiating as the Spartans were called for 13 more fouls than the Huskies but still prevailed, 82-73. The win gives Detroit area fans something to applaud in the building that is the regular home to the NFL's Lions.
Massimino Cheers Wildcats
Rollie Massimino, the coach who led the Villanova Wildcats to their only national championship in 1985, was in the third row of stands to root on his former program and his protege, Coach Jay Wright. Massimino said he didn't offer Wright any advice when they spoke hours before the Wildcats played North Carolina in the Final Four on Saturday night.
"He asked, 'What do you think today should be?' " Massimino said. "I said, 'It's up to you. Just have some fun. You're the man. You're going to make it happen.' "
Massimino's eighth-seeded Wildcats stunned the Hoyas, 66-64, in one of the great upsets in sports history. Villanova was making its first trip back to the Final Four since that historic night. Massimino, a fixture behind Villanova's bench during the tournament run, believed this year's Wildcats can go all the way.
"It would be a wonderful thing," he said. "I spent a third of my life at Villanova, and I love the institution and the people around there."
Spotlight Off of Michigan
The Final Four marks the end of an impressive run of scheduled, marquee sporting events in Michigan.
Since the fall of 2004, the Ryder Cup, baseball's all-star game, Super Bowl and PGA Championship have been played on Michigan soil.
Basketball Hall of Famer Joe Dumars, the Pistons' president of basketball operations, said he attended the Super Bowl, all-star game, Ryder Cup and NCAA regional during the Motor City's recent run.
Dumars said he hopes he doesn't have a long wait to make a short trip to another signature attraction as a fan.
"People have to know, if they didn't already, that people are going to support a major sporting event here," he said.