In my younger, more academic years, I found that a long trip up Route 29 to the Sheetz in Madison County in the middle of the night was a great way to clear your head and relax for a while. Sunday’s midnight drive from Raleigh to Richmond to Hampton Roads was the complete opposite. While I was hoping to reflect on the weekends accomplishments and adventures, it was more a time to prepare myself for this weekend’s opportunities.
As this was my first NCAA Regional, I did not know what to expect. So I went all in, getting there Thursday Night and leaving after the last buzzer sounded on Sunday. And thanks to the TV media, that meant an 12am start for a 4 hour drive. But now that I have caught up on (some) sleep, I wish to impart a few things for fans wanting to go up to New York this weekend or to future Regional sites.
1. Block It Out Early. It is darn near impossible to figure out where a team is going to play til about the Sunday before the field is announced. UVa was lucky this year as not only were they a Top 4 team, they were seeded high enough to get the pick of the litter. In case that is not the same in the future, make sure you block out Thursday through Sunday to dedicate to travel. Sure you could, and a few did, drive down for the Friday night UVa game, but the chances of things lining up that nicely again are slim. Next year’s regionals that are the closest to Virginia are Charlotte, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville. Not a super close list.
2. Get Tickets, But Be Flexible. Final Four tickets are one thing. Sweet 16 & Elite 8 tickets are another. But Regional Locations host 8 teams and are divided into 3 sessions. You can get the whole ticket strip for all three, or session by session. After the Thurs/Fri games, half those people will be looking to sell, so if you get all 3 and don’t want to go to all the games, there will be chances to unload if needed. Also, no matter what, there will be seats out there. PNC Arena holds 19,000+. Friday’s games had announced attendance of 17k and Sunday’s were 18k, but over 1200 tickets were still out there as late as Wednesday, most within reason and in decent locations.
3. Go to the Thursday/Friday Tilts. I understand if your team lost and you didn’t want to hang around with the people responsible for your misery, but plan on a full 12 hours of basketball in the 1st Round. People just show up to watch good basketball. Case Study #1: If I went to only Session 2 when Virginia played, I would have missed Mercer beating Duke and all the glory that unfolded. Case Study #2: Fans of teams not in that regional show up. We had a Wichita State Alum 2 rows in front of us from Cary that just wanted to go to the games. It also helped that they were a 1-seed and he wasn’t too worried about the first round matchup. One guy we met also just goes to a regional each year (he wished us well).
4. Take In The City…at Least For A Day. Win or lose, you need a day to decompress after all that basketball. Don’t just ‘rage quit’ the weekend. Get out and culture yourselves. Some of our parties toured other campuses and sites. Some people went to local food and wineries/breweries. Have 1 thing you want to do and plan around it.
5. Be a Winner, Not a Loser. This is your NCAA-approved good sportsmanship message. 6 of the 8 teams are going to lose. Some are really nice people that follow teams not even in your Region. And some just want to watch more basketball. Don’t labor on the point. Case #1: A lot of UMASS fans were very hospitable on Saturday, even after the Tennessee thrashing on Friday. So pick your battles.
6. The Mercer Way. I want EVERY school that sends teams to the tourney to heed what Mercer did. Each school only gets a certain number of tickets and the rest are up to you. Mercer gave a majority of them to their students, front row center. They were loud and into the game. I know that we have some high-dollar alums that can’t bear to watch a game from the corner, or much less, the…Upper Deck….AHHH (faint). But having the students right there cheering their pregame chant got a fairly big ovation from the crowd. Much respect to the team from Macon.
7. Do it Once. Go once in your life. It might look like 8 teams looking to advance in the tournament, but it is a celebration of NCAA basketball, and the last great Cinderella story left in pro or college sports. For those of you heading up to MSG, let me know how the Big Apple treats you, even if the roundball doesn’t.