Since 1978 -- the last time the NCAA Men's Final Four was held in St. Louis -- five cities have hosted the event more than once: Minneapolis and San Antonio (twice), Seattle (three times), and Indianapolis and New Orleans (four times). Sacré bleu! When was the last time any of these places made anybody's list of "Best Sports Cities?" The good thing is that the NCAA finally came to its senses and brought the Final Four back to the STL. What sucks is that unless you already have tickets (or can win some), you ain't going to any games. But that's all right. There's a ton of other fun college basketball-related stuff going on to quench your Final Four fire.
From Friday through Monday (April 1 through 4) at America's Center (Broadway and Washington Avenue), fans can go through sports simulators, see memorabilia and meet college coaches at Hoop City ($3 to $5; 314-241-1888 or www.ticketmaster.com for times and tickets), one of the only NCAA-owned events going on during the weekend, save for the actual games. Hoop City also has its own mayor (pictured), and areas for baseball and softball speed pitching, soccer penalty kicks, three-point shoot-out contests, rock climbing and more.
But if you crave basketball alone, go by open practice from noon to 4 p.m. on Friday at the Edward Jones Dome (in the America's Center complex), where you can watch the final four teams get ready for their games. It will be the closest you'll get to the Final Four, unless you win tickets when you visit the Monster Fan Zone (808 North Collins Alley, on Laclede's Landing) throughout the weekend.
Finally, the music-loving b-ball fan should visit the Landing (First and Lucas streets; www.lacledeslanding.org) from 3 to 10 p.m. on Sunday, April 3, for "A Sunday Full of Blues," with the Soulard Blues Band among others. At 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Kelly Clarkson closes out the Dasani Fest at the Gateway Mall downtown (at Eighth and Market streets). And the Landing's FOX Sports Net Fan Fest stage has performances by Joe Dirt & the Dirty Boys (4 p.m. on Friday), That '80s Band (7:30 p.m. on Friday), the Wyld Stallyns (11 a.m. on Saturday, April 2) and Dr. Zhivegas (2 p.m. on Saturday). (For more on the music of the Madness, see B-Sides.)
Can all this fun be free? With Hoop City as the exception, all events are freer than a foul shot! For more information on the hoopla surrounding the Final Four, visit www.hoop-city.com and www.stlloc.org.