|Seats at the extreme top of the Superdome cost $180, and try not to squint.(Photo by Dennis Dodd)|
NEW ORLEANS -- This is what $180 will buy you. Well, besides a nose bleed.
Look closely at the photo accompanying this column and try not to squint. That's the view from the top row of the Superdome for the Final Four. Actually, it's a bit higher. That shot is from the auxiliary press box. Oxygen tanks are optional.
Someone -- actually a lot of you -- are going to pay the $180 for those last row seats. That's why the Final Four has moved into its biggest building ever to play in front of what is expected to be the event's largest crowd (capacity: 75,000). Mocking what the NCAA has called the "modular" configuration for the Final Four has been easy. Yeah, it's a money grab but as long as you, the hoop head, keeps buying tickets where's the argument?
"Set the stage as big as you can," Kansas' Thomas Robinson said, "That's how I feel."
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This is the fourth consecutive year the Final Four has been played in the round -- basketball in the center of the stadium, instead of cutting it in half. Detroit, Indianapolis, Houston, now here. In a way, these last four years have been a huge endorsement for HD. A basketball never looked so small.
"I just kept asking," Robinson said, "Are they really going to fill it up?'"
That can be taken two ways. Yes, for the seats. That's kind of the point for charging $180 for a view from the next county. But that doesn't mean it's good for basketball. Combined shooting for the last three Final Fours in football stadiums has been 38.6 percent (34 percent from the arc). Since 1995, cumulative regular-season shooting has ranged from 43.5 percent to 44.4.
Yeah, tournament shooting is always tougher. But in a couple of years they're going to be playing this thing in Cowboys Stadium which has an expanded capacity of 100,000 for big events. Is it possible to jump the shark before making a jump shot?
"I remember getting emails from families who were in the concourses," said Greg Shaheen said. "They were scared."
Shaheen is the brains behind this configuration. As the executive vice president for NCAA championships, he had the idea to expand the Final Four like a super nova. It came to him after the '05 Final Four in St. Louis. The Edward Jones Dome was cut in half in the typical configuration.
"It was just a bottleneck [for fans]," Shaheen said. "I remember telling [a co-worker], we cannot do this anymore. So we started looking at a homemade seating system. We literally built one section of scaffolding and built it to where the court would be."
Regionals at Detroit and Houston were played in the football configuration before Detroit's Ford Field debuted in the modular look for the 2009 Final Four. If you want a basketball definition of what it means, keep your eye -- if you can from such lofty heights -- on senior Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor. In his career, KU's best three-point shooter is 3 for 37 from the arc in the tournament. He has yet to make a postseason 3-pointer in a dome in his career (0 for 17). A bigger deal to Kansas fans: Taylor is 0 for 17 overall from the arc in this postseason.
"I think I have a lot of experience shooting in domes," Taylor said. "Not much experience making them."
"I don't know if it's as big a deal as it seems to be," Taylor said. "I've been playing in domes in this tournament and haven't been making any threes but I'm still here. I don't really have to make my 3s, make my shots to be an effective player."
Ask Kentucky's Doron Lamb, a 48 percent shooter in his career but 61 percent from the arc in his postseason career.
"I like playing in football arenas," he said. "They're real big."
Embrace the moment, or don't, like Louisville's Rick Pitino, whose team shoots 31.7 percent from the arc.
"We haven't made a jump shot all year," he said.
The question we all have to ask ourselves is, was basketball meant to be played in such a monstrosity? The NCAA started scouting the Superdome back in 2006 when it, and the city, were still recovering from Katrina.
When will the Final Four recover from basketball in the round?
"Saturday I'll go up to the top row," Shaheen said. "I do that in every building."
Bring an oxygen tank -- and binoculars.