ATLANTA -- Are you ready for some basketball?!
Allow me to explain. If you were to fly to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, take a cab into the heart of The A, walk up Decatur as it winds into Marietta, politely push through the thousands of (likewise polite) fans assembled outside, and make your way into the cavernous steel-and-concrete bowels of the Georgia Dome, well, that's when it's official: You are as close the 2013 Final Four as is humanly possible. Look! Jim Boeheim's on that podium just over there, answering reporters' questions and looking like he'd rather be anywhere else. Final Four! Yes!
Yet, if you did that Friday, you would have been struck by one thing: Of all the stories at the Final Four, a school that hasn't been here since 1976 -- and hasn't even been to the NCAA tournament since 1991 -- was unquestionably the biggest.
Yes, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and their ball-chucking, slur-spitting abusive former coach Mike Rice remained not only a story, but the story Friday, as athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned -- but not without insisting he wanted to fire Rice when he first saw said player-pelting, only to be overruled by his superiors. A questionably handled press conference held by Rutgers president Robert L. Barchi dominated the backstage televisions all day, and each of the four head coaches spent at least part of their Thursday and Friday media time answering questions about Rice and Rutgers and What It All Means.
Combine the boundless reach of the Rice story with the Ed Rush Pac-12 officiating scandal, a wave of coaching moves and NBA draft decisions, and even the heartwarming story of injured Louisville guard and Atlanta native Kevin Ware (who made a fantastic cameo on "The Late Show with David Letterman" on Wednesday night), and it's hard to recall a pre-Final Four quiet period quite as boisterous as this one.
It was almost easy forget what this weekend is really about: crowning an NCAA tournament champion.
So, yeah, you guessed it. We are ready for some basketball.
For Eamonn Brennan's full column, click here.