(CBS Minnesota/CBS Local)- The Final Four is set to tip off this weekend at the home of the Minnesota Vikings, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The venue continues the trend that the NCAA started in 2009, when it began hosting the Final Four in football stadiums to allow more fans access to the game and, of course, to sell more tickets.
In the beginning, there was plenty of concern over how changing from an arena meant for basketball to one designed for football would affect the product on the court. Players, used to playing in smaller arenas, would suddenly be adjusting to different sight lines and depth perception than what they had become accustomed to throughout their college basketball experience. Those difficulties showed in the first couple of seasons, but veteran play-by-play man Jim Nantz says that players have seemed to figure it out in the last couple of years.
"The biggest complication has just been the adjustment, to be able to play in a building that vast for these guys that are trying to get their sight lines down," said Nantz on a conference call on Tuesday. "I can still remember the low point in Houston in 2011, where the teams shot 20 percent and Butler lost the championship game shooting 18 percent. For some reason, that has gone away in recent years. I don't know what adjustment has been made, but it has been better."
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The stats from recent years confirm Nantz's personal experience, as only two teams -- 2017 UNC and 2018 Michigan -- have really struggled shooting the ball in the championship game since that Butler-UConn national final nearly a decade ago. Nantz's broadcast partner Bill Raftery said he thinks that it is now more routine for these athletes to play in these types of venues, and the days of practice prior to the games allow them to get more comfortable.
"These kids, at this point in the year, are so comfortable that I don't think it encumbers them whatsoever," said Raftery. "They get a couple of practice days, and some have probably played in this type of arrangement the past couple of years. I think these kids can acclimate themselves pretty easily."
Nantz, who will be on the call for CBS, along with Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson, also said that, in the beginning, he was curious about how the atmosphere would translate to the bigger arenas. That is one of the charms of college basketball, home arenas that bring fans so close to the court that it can put pressure on opposing teams due to the sheer noise of the place. But, with a larger arena comes a larger crowd, meaning that the environment remains if not equally raucous, at least very close.
"At the time, I was highly curious about what this would be like, because of the intimacy factor that you get with smaller stadiums," said Nantz. "But, I don't think the crowd noise is lost. For as vast as these buildings are, you are talking about 70,000 people in attendance, so I don't think you have lost that atmosphere at all."
As Nantz said, there are expected to be approximately 70,000 people in attendance at U.S. Bank Stadium this Saturday night for the semifinals and next Monday for the final. That should lend itself to plenty of noise-making for the same loud atmosphere to which college basketball fans are accustomed.
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