COLUMN: A DePauw student's experience at the Final Four

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There is no question, March is the best month of the year. The weather warms up, spring break arrives and my family celebrates three birthdays in a two day span. But all those events take a backseat to the true meaning of March—the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament. The best event in all of sports comes back year after year in late March.

Last year, my friend Nathan Rice and I went to the Elite 8 in Indianapolis to watch the University of Kentucky vs. University of Michigan matchup. It was an impromptu trip that we threw together last second because we had a little wager on Kentucky and it ended up being one of the greatest experiences of our lives. After originally buying tickets we were convinced we got screwed. We wound up making a deal with a gentlemen who seemed to really like us because when we entered Lucas Oil Stadium we realized that this guy gave us a bargain. It ended up being an incredible game in which our Kentucky Wildcats hit a game winning three at the buzzer to head to the Final Four. 

This year Rice and I placed a similar wager on the Duke University Blue Devils. (Yes, I realize we pick the most hated teams in the world, but they’re hated for a reason—they usually win basketball games). As Duke’s journey in the tournament continued, we realized there was a good chance they could play in the Final Four which conveniently was in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, we were unable to make the Final Four games, but my friend and I agreed, if they advanced to the National Championship, we would be there. 

In the Final Four, Duke cruised to victory over Michigan State to set up their meeting with Wisconsin in Monday’s National Championship. Nathan and I were ready to get to Indy and rolled out of Greencastle in the early evening with three things on our mind: find tickets, maybe have a few drinks and watch a Dukies victory.

By the grace of God, on our way to Indianapolis we were offered two free tickets. The tickets, however, were in the upper 600 level of the stadium—the highest point of the entire building. The seats were absolute nosebleeds and we were not satisfied. We decided our best move would be to sell the nosebleeds and use that cash, along with what we already had to really upgrade our seats. 

We arrived in Indianapolis to an absolutely fantastic atmosphere. This was my first National Championship game. The setting Indianapolis brings for the Final Four and National Championship could not be better. This is hard for me to admit as a Chicago kid, but Indy really is the perfect place to host the Final Four. Indianapolis is a big enough city that it can hold the massive crowds, yet small enough that nothing is out of walking distance and the locals are great for the most part. Indiana also happens to be one of the most basketball-obsessed states in the world, which added even more to the experience.

Rice and I set out on our mission to sell the nosebleeds seats and we happened to wander into the perfect pair of dudes who were desperate for tickets. The two were cousins one who had just recently graduated Arizona State and the other still a student at Arizona State. The two clearly did not have much experience scalping tickets, but Rice and I happily made their night by handing our tickets away for a measly $400. (During that process, Rice and I ran into SportsCenter anchor Lindsey Czarniak who was more than thrilled to take a quick picture with us). 

We started sniffing around for offers to see if we could land a pair of good seats. Our goal was to buy a pair of 300 level tickets for $500. We quickly realized that deal was never going to come—scalpers were stingy and buyers far out numbered the sellers. Rice and I walked around the downtown checking out all the cool things the NCAA had set up, we ran into some cool people and had a couple drinks, all the while looking for the best opportunity to snatch up the first good deal we heard. 

As we got closer and closer to game time, Rice and I decided to buy a pair of 400 level tickets for $475—not the deal we wanted, but the tickets got us in the gates. Rice and I climbed up to our seats just in time for tip. Our seats ended up being fine, we could see the court well with no real obstacles in our line of vision. We sat in the middle of a massive Wisconsin section and our blue definitely stood out in the sea of red. We took our fair share of digs, but we handed out a few of our own as well. It turned out being a great spot for us and we had a lot of fun with the people around us.

The game. The game was absolute insanity. From tip to the final buzzer, Rice and I morphed into active members of Duke nation and the biggest Blue Devils fans you could find. The first half was hotly contested and was tied at intermission. Rice and I had reason to be considering Duke’s best player all season, Jahlil Okafor, was in foul trouble and couldn’t guard Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. Justice Winslow, who had been terrific in the NCAA Tournament thus far, couldn’t get anything to go and was in a bit of foul trouble of his own. Wisconsin was flat out good, capable of beating anyone. So heading into the second half, Rice and I were sweating. 

I thought I might have a heart attack throughout most of the second half. Wisconsin came out of the gates red hot, but Duke’s freshmen guards Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones kept them alive. At one point in the second half Wisconsin led by nine and Rice and I were freaking out. But Jones, Allen and Okafor quickly turned that deficit into an 8-point lead with about a minute left on the clock. Duke clawed its way back and ended up victorious. It was a crazy moment to watch the mammoth players on Duke celebrate like they were 8 years old and to watch the legendary Coach K accept yet another championship trophy. It was a great moment, which was made more special when Rice and I realized we would be winning our wager for the second straight year. 

On the way out, Rice and I purchased some Duke National Championship t-shirts just so we could really show off to our friends that they just let us win back-to-back years. It was an incredible experience in a city that is perfect for that environment and Rice and I came out with a little bit heavier pockets. Thank you March Madness, thank you Coach K, thank you Tyus Jones, thank you random Arizona State fans and thank you Indianapolis.