ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The excitement around the Michigan basketball team isn’t immediately visible in Ann Arbor, or on the university campus. But give it a few minutes. Talk to students on campus and to people in town.
There’s a consensus: the community is getting ready for the Final Four.
“You know when it’s a tournament game day, because when you go on campus, that’s when you see everyone decked out in their Michigan clothes,” Hayley Weisstuch said Tuesday, as she stood on the Diag, the heart of Michigan’s central campus.
This is the biggest stage for Michigan basketball, and the athletic department will host a send-off for the Wolverines at 5:45 p.m. ET Wednesday outside the northeast entrance of the Crisler Center. But on campus, nothing tells the average visitor that the basketball team is in the Final Four. No banners adorn the Diag announcing that Michigan will face Loyola in a national semifinal Saturday in San Antonio. None of the flyers on bulletin boards announce campus watch parties or pep rallies.
But approach any student and they’ll tell you the student body is excited. The campus is excited. Ann Arbor is excited.
Mason Dial sat at a table inside the lobby of Haven Hall to promote the Japan Culture Festival, and he chatted with classmates about the basketball team.
“I work in the dining hall and when I’m swiping people into the dining hall, or even if I’m talking to my coworkers, I’ll ask, ‘Hey, how’s your day going?’” said Dial, a senior majoring in Asian studies. “They all answer me, ‘It’s pretty good, because we’re going to the Final Four!’
“In general, Michigan prides itself more on football. But when your basketball team makes it this far, even if you’re not a true fan, you’ll still get caught up in the hype. It’s more like building a community, than just being a basketball fan, at this point.”
Darin Ozen, a senior engineering major, has also seen the buildup for the basketball team, on campus and in Ann Arbor.
“I was sitting at Frita Batidos in downtown Saturday night, eating dinner, and some guy just rushed into the restaurant and shouted, ‘Michigan is in the Final Four! Get excited!’ ” Ozen said. “Then he ran out. At first it was like, ‘What?’ But people are getting excited as the week goes on. I’m excited, too.”
Michigan football players Rashan Gary, Devin Bush and Zach Gentry recorded videos Tuesday to help root on the basketball team.
“Everyone is talking about it,” Gentry said. “There’s an electricity on campus, definitely. I know a lot of the football guys have been having watch parties and we’re getting together to have watch parties in groups. We’re getting behind it, and so is the city of Ann Arbor.”
Restaurants and bars across the city prepare for the Final Four rush.
A hand-painted bracket adorns the front window of the Pretzel Bell on Liberty Road and Main Street, and it’s about the only obvious sign of the NCAA Tournament in downtown Ann Arbor. The Pretzel Bell has drawn capacity crowds the last two weekends for Michigan basketball games but won’t accept reservations for Saturday night. The Blue Leprechaun on South University won’t take reservations, either.
Pizza House on Church Street will, and the reservation book is filling up. When asked if the restaurant will show the game, an employee laughed.
“Is the sky blue?” quipped the employee, who only gave his name as “Rick.”
Ozen, the engineering student, plans to study Saturday night, but will stream the basketball game on his computer.
“I’ll keep asking you what the score is,” his friend, Mina Al-ansari said, laughing. “I’m not a big basketball fan.”
Weisstuch, and her friends Sam Bila, Amy Rosner and Erica Wels watched the Wolverines beat Florida State for the West Regional championship last Saturday at Bila’s fraternity house. They’ll return for the national semifinal against Loyola.
“We’re going back to Chi Phi on Saturday,” Bila said. “It’s for good luck.”