There's no place like Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS –- There are plenty of flavorful and entertaining places to host the Final Four, but for pure basketball purposes there is no place better than Indiana.

The streets surrounding Lucas Oil Stadium and the stands inside on Friday afternoon provided proof. Indiana celebrated a hoops holiday by turning the downtown into a carnival and by filling the stadium’s entire lower bowl for Butler’s open practice . Estimated crowd by my math: 25,000.

I’ve never seen a more crowded Friday at any open practice, not even when national programs like Kentucky or Duke took the floor.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever played in front of that many people,’’ Butler’s Matt Howard said. “I’m really excited and happy that so many people came out to support us.’’

Butler, once the sweet little Cinderella, look more like the Beatles here. Fans, down to the ittiest-bittiest version toted in their parents’ arms, wore their Butler T-shirts and one girl even carried a sign: Gordon, will you go to prom with me?

“I heard,’’ Gordon Hayward laughed. “I might be busy that day.’’

The city got a boost by an absolutely gorgeous day (Detroit, for example, wasn’t quite so lucky in the weather department) and an assist too, from the fact that most schools were closed for the Easter holiday/spring break.

But what makes Indiana special is these aren’t just hometown team fans. These are basketball fans. Long after Butler stopped practicing, they stayed in their seats.

“This,'' Butler coach Brad Stevens said into the microphone from midcourt as he looked around the packed house, "is Indiana.''