Inside these massive, domed football stadiums, the Kansas Jayhawks are as comfortable playing basketball as any team in the country.
It’s not just that, though. They’ve started to look forward to it.
So with Michigan waiting in Friday’s South Regional semifinal at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas – the host of next year’s Final Four – the Jayhawks reacted with excited anticipation following Sunday’s win over North Carolina.
“Not so much as where it is, but what it is,” Kansas senior guard Elijah Johnson said. “If you’re playing in (one of the football stadiums) this time of the year that means you’re usually playing pretty deep in the tournament. And we also have some experience playing in those types of places.”
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Last year, Kansas played in the Superdome in New Orleans in the Final Four — in front of 73,361 in a win over Ohio State and 70,913 in a loss to Kentucky in the championship game.
Earlier this season, the Jayhawks played in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome – the site of this year’s Final Four. They were there on Nov. 13 for a 67-64 loss to another Big Ten opponent, Michigan State, in front of 22,847. It was the Jayhawks’ second game of the regular season, so not much can be gleaned from a game almost four months ago, but the experience is still clear in the minds of the players.
The Spartans, who split their two games with Michigan this season, rallied to win that game after Kansas held the lead for more than 20 minutes in the first and second halves.
“Well we lost, so I don’t know how much we want to reflect on how we played,” Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe said. “But that was a pretty big arena, like the one we’re getting ready to play in. I’m looking forward to getting back in that environment.”
The setup at Cowboys Stadium, which held a record 108,713 fans for the 2010 NBA All-Star game, will be slightly modified from the setup for next year’s Final Four for the games this weekend.
The court is set on risers, which the NCAA has been doing since 2008 in order to give fans a better view of the court. That’s opposed to the old way of seating in a football stadium, where the court was in one of the stadium’s end zones.
About 16,000 seats are on the field level and closest to the court. The stadium is set up for a maximum capacity of 42,614 for Friday and Sunday’s games — Florida takes on Florida Gulf Coast after Kansas’ game in the other regional semifinal — but if more fans show up wanting tickets, a curtain in the upper level can be removed to make room for more people.
Next year’s Final Four will be set up to hold upwards of 80,000 people. North Texas last hosted the Final Four in 1986 at Dallas’ Reunion Arena, which seated a mere 17,007.
“This will be a special weekend for these teams and their fans,” Cowboys Stadium spokesman Brett Daniels said in a statement. “We want to put on a great event and learn from it for next year to make next year’s event even bigger and better. I think it’s going to benefit everybody and that was the idea behind the stadium in the events we’ve tried to go after, to try to be an economic engine for the region here.”
With a fan base that seems to travel almost everywhere in droves — especially in the postseason — and has alumni seemingly everywhere, an NCAA regional within driving distance of Kansas could mean big numbers of fans showing up for the Jayhawks.
But enough to lift the curtain? That remains to be seen.
“Growing up, you watch the Sweet 16 and you see the big games in the football stadiums and how neat it is for everyone involved,” Kansas freshman forward Perry Ellis said. “It would be great to try to get as many fans as we can (in Cowboys Stadiums) for us. The more support we can get, the better.”