Final Four fan frenzy builds at UM

Simon Schuster
Special to The Detroit News
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Ann Arbor — At first glance, it’s just another early spring week at the University of Michigan, with bleary-eyed students trudging across campus in the chilly air.

Michigan student Caroline Feinberg shops for Final Four shirts at the M Den in Ann Arbor.

Underneath the humdrum routine, though, anticipation is building among students as they look forward to watching the Wolverine men’s basketball team compete Saturday in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four in San Antonio.

Alexis Verhil, an elementary education senior, said the game against Loyola University Chicago will be the real cap to a busy week of academics.

“I have a bunch of midterm papers and stuff due this week, so just getting through it and looking forward to Saturday – I’m just excited,” she said.

Even students who don’t pay much attention to basketball are getting caught up in the Final Four frenzy.

Miranda St. Amour, a biomedical engineering junior, plans to rush back to Ann Arbor from a Quidditch tournament in Ohio to catch the game.

“I don’t normally follow basketball, but I’ll be watching this game,” she said. “I always have to watch Michigan.”

This group of UM undergraduates wasn’t around for the team’s last Final Four appearance, when the Wolverines defeated Syracuse to advance to the title game, which they lost. But most were here for the agonizing one-point loss against Oregon in last year’s Sweet 16.

St. Amour said that defeat has made this year’s success that much more satisfying.

“We got knocked out pretty early last year, so we’re very excited that we made it this far,” she said.

The basketball team isn’t the only UM squad closing in on a championship. The Wolverine hockey team plays Notre Dame Thursday night in St. Paul in the NCAA’s Frozen Four.

The teams’ victories in tandem, St. Amour said, make it a special moment for Michigan.

“That’s a really rare opportunity for colleges, and I think we’re one of the only colleges that’s done that a bunch of times” she said.

The third-seeded Wolverines face a decided underdog – the No. 11-seeded Loyola Ramblers.

“Loyola has been having quite the Cinderella story right now,” St. Amour said. “We don’t want to be the ones to crush it, but we also kind of do, because we want to win as well.”

Sam Ozminkowski, a computer science senior, confessed to being uneasy about the momentum behind Loyola-Chicago.

“I’m always nervous about these things, especially when you’re playing a team you’re supposed to beat, there’s a lot more downside than upside,” he said.

At the popular Wolverine paraphernalia purveyor The M Den in downtown Ann Arbor, manager Dearron Haygood has been hurriedly moving boxes and answering phones. While they have a loyal customer base, he said, athletic success is always good for business.

“We actually have a lot of customers say that they’re going to the game (in San Antonio),” Haygood said. “When it comes to the Final Four and the national championship coming up, there’s been a lot of buzz.”

Haygood said the T-shirts worn by the team celebrating specific victories have been in high demand.

Local eating and drinking establishments are preparing for a deluge of fans this weekend. Gary McGinn, the manager of HopCat Ann Arbor, put the restaurant’s situation simply.

“We’re going to be busy as hell, man,” he said.

Verhil said she’ll be watching the game with friends at the popular nightlife spot Scorekeepers, and expects a big crowd.

“It’s already shoulder-to-shoulder in there, and now it’ll be even more so,” she said.

After the 2013 Final Four victory, more than 1,000 revelers gathered to celebrate on the university’s Diag. Ako Thomas, a Michigan baseball player and junior, is anticipating a similar response this time around.

“A lot of people are very excited for this,” he said. “I’m nervous for Ann Arbor once we win this game on Saturday because it’s going to be pretty crazy. I think it’s going to be really wild.”

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