TRAXLER: As a sports spectacle, Final Four delivered thrills

MINNEAPOLIS--Everything about the Final Four is big. The arena, crowds, the excitement, the level of play, it's all massive. And it's a heck of a lot of fun. In my first trip to a Final Four, it was easy to see why there are college basketball fa...

The ball is tipped off in the championship game of the 2019 men's Final Four between the Virginia Cavaliers and the Texas Tech Red Raiders at US Bank Stadium. Mandatory (Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports)

MINNEAPOLIS-Everything about the Final Four is big.

The arena, crowds, the excitement, the level of play, it's all massive. And it's a heck of a lot of fun.

In my first trip to a Final Four, it was easy to see why there are college basketball fans that make this a regular trip every April. And after seeing Virginia and Texas Tech make the championship game, I have a better appreciation for defense, too.

College basketball has its issues, and right or wrong, those are largely forgotten while at the Final Four. There was some lamenting before the games tipped that the Final Four lacked both star power and college basketball's powerhouse programs.

Frankly, none of that mattered once the games got going. It was cool to see fans from Auburn, Texas Tech and Virginia-all either first timers overall or first timers in the modern era of college basketball-enjoy themselves at college basketball's pinnacle event. For the Red Raiders and Cavaliers, it was the first championship game with first-time participants in 40 years. Even with college sports valuing tradition, new blood isn't a bad thing.


Not every seat in U.S. Bank Stadium was amazing, but the atmosphere was incredible. What Monday's game lacked for points was more than made up for with the level of excitement that couldn't be replicated in a standard college or professional basketball arena. After seeing a few games in person, it's easy to see why these games are played in football stadiums.

This wasn't the highest-scoring Final Four on record, but it had some memorable plays that won't be easily forgotten. Virginia's Kyle Guy getting fouled on a 3-pointer with less than a second left in a win over Auburn is going to be one of those all-time plays in NCAA lore. Another amazing part of that play was that he was getting booed mercilessly by a lot of neutral fans, who didn't have a chance to see the replay on the videoboards in the stadium. They probably regretted that when they saw Guy get pushed off his landing spot while shooting.

There's also Texas Tech's Matt Mooney going off in a semifinal win, and the South Dakota transfer treating Michigan State like Nebraska-Omaha. He absolutely rose to the challenge.

The dynamics of the four fan bases were also particularly interesting to watch all weekend. While there were hundreds of Auburn and Michigan State fans that left town after getting knocked off on Saturday, there were plenty of stragglers still around for Monday's title games.

Those were also the two programs that still had Final Four merchandise available on Monday, because Texas Tech and Virginia fans bought almost everything by the time the championship game arrived.

In casually talking with some people who were at Saturday's games, including a couple of people who were at the events surrounding the Super Bowl 14 months ago, they preferred the Final Four. There's just a little more juice involved with four teams instead of two, and college sports over the more corporate nature of NFL's big game.

Hopefully the Final Four returns to Minneapolis in the near future, because as a spectacle, the event delivered in droves. The 2019 edition was nothing short of being a blast.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at
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