Commentary

A big Final Four party for New Orleans

Originally Published: January 11, 2012
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

The street cleaners are busy in New Orleans on this Tuesday morning, cleaning up the remnants of what the city does best: throw a good party.

The Big Easy is the civil version of the hostess with the mostess. And much to the delight of the decadent, it slips within its charming borders an entire section devoid of Miss Manners.

This most recent soiree came wrapped in pigskin, with the most fervent fans in the football nation -- those from the SEC -- converging for their own private party that also happened to crown a BCS champion.

[+] EnlargeKeith Smart
AP Photo/Susan RaganNew Orleans has been the site of some memorable Final Four games. Remember this shot from Indiana's Keith Smart?

Next month it will be Mardi Gras, with Fat Tuesday starting the annual bacchanal on Feb. 21.

Then before the Lenten sacrifices end, the city will swing wide its doors once again, welcoming hoop heads for the Final Four.

New Orleans is especially good at hosting basketball bashes.

Four times college basketball has taken its season ender on a bender to New Orleans, producing some of the best and most memorable moments in the game's history books:

• 1982: A freshman by the name of Michael Jordan hit the game-winner to beat Georgetown and give Dean Smith his first title at North Carolina.

• 1987: Keith Smart's unforgettable shot against Syracuse handed Indiana its fifth crown and Bob Knight his third.

• 1993: The Chris Webber Timeout Game as the Fab Five -- you might've heard of them -- narrowly lost to North Carolina but changed basketball uniforms forever.

• 2003: Hakim Warrick's fingertip block of Kansas' Michael Lee gave Jim Boeheim and Syracuse their first national championship.

What will Final Four No. 5 do for an encore?

Impossible to predict, of course. This time last year, Butler was 12-5, VCU 11-5, Kentucky ranked 15th and Connecticut ninth. Those, folks, were your 2011 Final Four participants.

And so recognizing that predicting college basketball is trickier than nailing Jell-O to a tree, we boldly stand nearly at the midpoint of this season -- North Carolina and Michigan State boarded the aircraft carrier 60 days ago and Selection Sunday is 61 days from now -- and offer a mere observation in lieu of a prediction.

The observation is simple: Like the revelry that New Orleans is so accustomed to hosting, this could be a very big Final Four.

How big? Consider the current top-10 teams in the nation have combined for 28 national titles. Stretch it to the top 15 and you can lay claim to 33 trophies. Only three of the first 15 have never won it all -- Baylor, Missouri and Murray State -- while seven own multiple pieces of hardware. Two more talented top-20 teams (Florida and UConn) have combined to win five titles in the last 13 years.

This has the potential -- and we stress the word potential here -- to be a blockbuster Final Four, a paparazzi-worthy who's who in college basketball.

There's even some nice symmetry going on here. All six of the teams that have played for a title in New Orleans -- Syracuse, North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan and Georgetown -- are ranked in the top 15 and are legit contenders to return to the Big Easy.

Which makes you wonder if some of the Crescent City's voodoo magic isn't at work.

[+] EnlargeMercedes-Benz Superdome
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesHistorically, New Orleans has been the perfect playground for college basketball revelry.

Most everyone agreed that Syracuse and UNC had a legitimate shot at the championship. But the others? No way. Indiana has gone from damaged goods to top 10 in the blink of an eye, blossoming like a teenage girl from awkward stage to prom queen overnight.

Georgetown and Kansas, each with retooled rosters, were supposed to be rebuilding.

Instead the Hoyas are the Big East's biggest surprise and the Jayhawks are proving that, once again, news of their Big 12-title-holding death is premature.

Of course a lot can and will happen between now and March 31.

There are still three unbeaten teams to stalk, unexpected upsets sure to occur, beautifully unpredictable conference tournaments to feast on, brackets to reveal, early rounds to survive and at least a few thousand coat-tossing, foot-stomping, tie-loosening coaching meltdowns to entertain us.

But we just wanted to give you a little notice, New Orleans.

Feel free to pack up the football-themed beads and party favors, but don't throw all of the confetti.

The BCS championship may be over, but the Final Four is coming. And we're expecting a good party.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com. Follow Dana on Twitter: @dgoneil1.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball