Aside from some lettering beyond each end line, all of the courts in the NCAA tournament are exactly the same. It is an effort to promote neutrality, to spread the idea that every site is just like all the others. On that score, two words come to mind for the East Regional on Friday night: fat chance.
There is no way to make Madison Square Garden feel like just another gym. Nor should there be, according to the four teams that practiced there Thursday. The Sweet 16 would be special if it were held in the middle of a prairie, but there is something extra about this venue, this time.
“You know, the Garden is like a building version of our guy Magic,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said, referring to his school’s most famous basketball alumnus, Magic Johnson. “Everybody knows who he is, what he’s all about, no matter when you were born. And I think Madison Square Garden is something like that.”
Izzo’s current players have had games on an aircraft carrier and in Germany. He has coached in numerous NCAA tournament arenas, having won the title in 2000. This one is just different. He said, “We’re excited to be part of something that hasn’t been here in 50-some years.”
These will be more than typically intense March Madness games Friday night, when Connecticut plays Iowa State and Michigan State meets Virginia. These will be historic — the first NCAA tournament games at the Garden since 1961, and the first ones, period, in the current building. Everybody involved appreciates that fact.
“As a basketball fan, growing up, Madison Square Garden has always been the arena where you see big-time players come in, they go off for huge games,” Virginia star guard Joe Harris said. “It’s the world’s most famous arena.”
Millers make history
Sean (Arizona) and Archie (Dayton) Miller became the first brothers to coach different teams in the Sweet 16 in NCAA tournament history.
“It’s very special,” Sean said after the Gonzaga game last weekend. “We’re both the product of a great family, but in particular our dad being who he is, not only a great high school coach — maybe one of the best ever, at least in our opinion — but also a great dad.”
John Miller was a legendary high school coach in western Pennsylvania who won four state titles and over 600 games.