College basketball:Final Four teams prepared for sea of green at Ford Field
By Andrew Bagnato
Associated PressAs the higher seed, Connecticut will wear its white home uniforms against Michigan State in the national semifinals Saturday.
The rest of Ford Field will probably be awash in Spartans green.
This spring, there’s nothing neutral about the Final Four.
The Huskies’ third trip to the Final Four is a virtual road game: Michigan State’s East Lansing campus is 90 miles from Detroit, and many in the expected record crowd of 70,000-plus will be Spartans fans.
“We’ll have the white uniforms on. That’s as close as we’ll get to being a home team, I think,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “I’m very aware … that there will be a little bit of noise for the guys in green. No question.”
Ford Field is expected to set the record for the largest Final Four attendance in the 71-year history of the event. Last spring, the stadium drew 114,591 to the two sessions of the Midwest Regional, another record.
The larger configuration opened up more seats to local fans, a goal of the tournament committee, and NCAA organizers say about one in seven spectators will be Michigan residents. That can only work to Michigan State’s advantage, although playing in Ford Field didn’t help the Spartans much in a hideous 98-63 loss to North Carolina on Dec. 3.
“We’ve always stated our team’s a blue-collar team ever since I came here,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “And there’s no better blue-collar city than Detroit.”
There may be an upside to the Spartans’ 35-point loss to Carolina, which was part of a rugged nonconference schedule that included games against Kansas, Oklahoma State and Maryland and trips to Texas and Wichita State.
That competition helped steel the Spartans for the rigors of the NCAA tournament ó and it may have paid off when they beat Louisville in the Midwest Regional final.
“I do think we became a little closer and a little tougher team,” Izzo said. “I’d say the way we played the last two weeks, I think it helped it some.”
Duke was the last team to play in a Final Four in its home state, losing to Arkansas in the 1994 final.
Detroit is a long way from Chapel Hill, but the Tar Heels (32-4) ought to feel comfortable returning to the site of their romp past Michigan State.
After North Carolina coach Roy Williams finished his postgame news conference that night, someone said, “See you in April.”
“I’ll be back, and I hope my team is with me,” Williams replied.
His hopes came true in a decisive victory over Oklahoma on Sunday.
UNC is seeking its fifth NCAA title. UConn and Michigan State have two apiece. Villanova’s one title came in 1985.
Villanova coach Jay Wright is making his first Final Four trip. This is Williams’ seventh Final Four, the fifth for Izzo and the third for Calhoun ó and all three have national titles on their resumes.