Indianapolis — As I walk around Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Wednesday, one day before teams take the court to start the NCAA Tournament, I get the feeling that everyone here is about to be a part of something special. It’s an incredible atmosphere. Players are riding around town on scooters while their coaches have late-night film sessions. The fun is about to begin.
After the Indiana Pacers’ game ended on Tuesday night, the crew went straight to work on setting up the arena for the NCAA Regional. The process to transform the arena is long and tedious, but they didn’t have a long time to get it done. Late-night crane action on the street meant different streetlight banners, while an overhaul of the court and different signage inside the arena signaled one thing: there’s a new game in town. At least for Thursday and Saturday.
Like the arena workers putting a fresh look on the building, the teams in town are looking to build upon the new opportunities of this tournament. How does a team like Longwood take advantage of its time in Indianapolis and avoid heading home after only two days in the city? Well, they have to beat the No. 3 seed Tennessee Volunteers. Crazier things have happened before, and that’s what makes the Tournament special.
You come to this Tournament for an opportunity to play one more game with your teammates, but you also come to this Tournament for a shot to hold up the trophy and hear “One Shining Moment” played in your honor.
Santiago Vescovi couldn’t help himself today pic.twitter.com/KTs1R7Cxev
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) March 16, 2022
The overall experience of the first day inside the arena starts with meeting with the media, followed by taking the court for practice, which is usually just going through layup lines while the coach claps constantly. But it’s the ‘Big Dance,’ so the emotions will be high for the next 24 hours and beyond.
These players aren’t just happy to be playing in the Indiana Pacers’ arena. They want to leave here for the next round. So if you’re Kentucky, Longwood, Tennessee or any other team, you want to be heading out of Indianapolis on Saturday evening, hopefully home for only a short period of time.
The players from Longwood seemed relaxed while they practiced on the court, as a young looking intern mixes up the music on his phone to help the players along. The Longwood players appreciated his work and danced on the court, seeming to have themselves a good time putting up shots and taking in every moment.
The ticket scalpers outside the arena were already asking for any extras while we walked past. They know that tomorrow will be a very big day with Tennessee and Kentucky fans headed to town.
I expect nothing less than another Blue Mist takeover in Indianapolis on Thursday, with a nice splash of Orange. The fun part about these games is watching the fan base of lower-seeded teams go crazy behind the bench, living on every shot, hoping for that upset.
Thursday is a new day, a new season, and the start of something we all love. It’s March Madness, which means anything is possible.
Only two teams are leaving this arena and headed to the next round, so we’ll see if those are both from the SEC.