Originally Published: April 1, 2013

Regional Road Trip: Postcard from Indianapolis

By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com


INDIANAPOLIS -- Of the four destinations this Regional Road Trip odyssey comprised, Indianapolis was by far the least exotic -- or the most familiar, let's say -- to your humble travel correspondent. I've been to Indianapolis for lots of basketball games, first as a fan and then as a writer; I know my way from the airport to the hotel to the arena and back; I know where to eat and where to find fans and the best place to park; I didn't have to unleash my trusty co-pilot (Google Maps) once.

Even so, this one was special -- in ways both good and bad.

The atmosphere in downtown Indy took a little longer than usual to ramp up -- it was Easter Sunday, after all -- but once it did, it was even better than usual. Louisville is just two hours down I-65, and so Cardinals fans (and their car flags) dominated the scene. They moved in packs on the sidewalks, crowded into (and spilled out of) bars and hosted impromptu, stripped-down tailgates wherever a gate could legally be tailed.

And that was before I walked into the arena.

It was, to use an drastically overused word, electric. Lucas Oil Stadium is similar in scope to JerryWorld, but instead of closing off the top sections with curtains, the hosts took a more traditional tact, halving the stadium and placing the court and entire crowd on one side. It didn't hurt the atmosphere at all; instead, the whole thing felt like a Final Four game. I'll use it again: electric.

So it was for the first 13 minutes and 30 seconds, right up until Louisville guard Kevin Ware plunged Lucas Oil underwater. Ware's freak compound fracture, too gruesome to describe in detail, was so horrific -- and the reactions of Louisville players so anguished -- that the entire building went numb. It took a second-half Cardinals surge for the building to reach full throat once more.

Save Ware's injury and the resulting emotion, it was a rousingly successful day of basketball in a city that revolves around it, which is exactly what I expected. When it comes to hoops, Indy always delivers.

Regional Road Trip: Washington, D.C. postcard


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Outside Dallas, the sky is big and the Earth is flat, and you don't even have to be that close to Cowboys Stadium to make it out on the horizon -- a pure-white alien orb that looks like it dropped from the sky and took up residence where it felt it had enough space to not be bothered.

It inspires the kind of awe that makes you write sentences like this: For better or worse, as silly as it is, you start wondering what the pharaohs would have thought. Whatever it makes you feel, "I am about to watch a basketball game" is the least of them.

Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center does not conjure these kinds of cultural questions. It is a much simpler, and more straight-forward, experience: Show up, watch a basketball game, walk out, go home.

I mean this entirely as a compliment.

For all the wonders and riches JerryWorld offers, it isn't a basketball venue. The Verizon Center is a basketball venue, and while I like to be wowed as much as the next person, when it comes to the NCAA tournament, I'd always prefer a straight-forward basketball site over a total circus. And I'll always take a quick train ride or walk over a two-mile parking-lot weave.

In other words, my experience at the Verizon Center wasn't mindblowing in any particular way. There were no FGCU fans, no massive panaromas, no feeling of scope in the worst seat in the house. But it was still awfully fun -- exactly what the NCAA tournament in late March should be.

Regional Road Trip: Postcard from Arlington


ARLINGTON, Texas -- That dateline just to the left says "Arlington," because that is an actual place on the map. Those are the rules. But if we wanted total truth in nomenclature here, we'd use those all-caps more accurately. Today, your humble correspondent reported live from JerryWorld -- every nook and cranny of it.

After a day in L.A., where a flashy basketball arena was surrounded by fan-fest activities and tourist-friendly restaurants, the JerryWorld experience brought something totally different: the feeling of entering a self-sustaining city, the modern equivalent of Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu, a gleaming monolith that shows up in plain sight even when Google Maps tells you you're 15 minutes away. It's the kind of building future civilizations will credit to ancient aliens, because that will be the most plausible explanation.

I spent time in the stadium's highest reaches and lowest depths, walked its perimeter and sat smack in its middle, saw Michigan high-five Florida Gulf Coast in the tunnel between games, hung with coaches and players and staffers and security guards and binocular salesmen (yes, you read that right) and seemingly every type of fan one can find. And all on less than an hour of landing-pattern airplane sleep. Not too shabby, if I may say so myself.

At 8:30 a.m. CT tomorrow, it's off to the third stop on my tour, Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center, a medium-sized arena nestled into a dense urban area that outlaws skyscrapers; it actively restricts its own outward largesse. It is the anti-JerryWorld. I bet you can't even see it from space.

Regional Road Trip: Postcard from L.A.

LOS ANGELES -- I'd been to Los Angeles before. I'd never been to L.A. Live. From afar -- read: on television -- it seemed like the perfect place to host an event like the NCAA tournament: a big plaza across the street from Staples Center, restaurants and bars and tourist attractions galore, hotels everywhere, the works. Full spread.

On Wednesday night, with the exception of the Arizona band, Wilbur the Wildcat and some dude with a cane who kept telling me to move out of his way so he could take seemingly aimless photos, the whole scene was 100 percent dead. Even the Staples Center marquee, which I assumed was L.A.'s version of a 24/7 Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree, was dark.

Come on, L.A.! It's the NCAA tournament! I realize the Lakers aren't playing, and the beach is just around the way, but still. Work with me here.

Some thoughts from Thursday's L.A. excursion:

Game notes: La Salle's fans had reason to keep up said joie de vivre after the game; they were thrashed by a Wichita State team fully in charge from start to finish. But Ohio State-Arizona was a really good game, and not just because it was close: It was the best I'd seen Arizona play all season -- all sharp angles and crisp dribble moves and NBA athleticism -- and they had just as much of a right to the victory as the Buckeyes did.

Food notes: If you say "Where should I eat in L.A.?" by far the two most recommended places are In-N-Out Burger and Pink's Famous Hot Dogs. Are they both tourist traps? Yes! Are they both completely delicious? Also yes! I enjoyed both, even if I thought In-N-Out was just a tad -- a tad! -- overrated. I mean, great, great burger. Don't get me wrong. Life-changing experience? Eh.

Traffic notes: Los Angeles has traffic, and that traffic makes it difficult to get around quickly. Have you seen this? Have you heard about this?

"Check the map first" of the day: When I was scouting out a route from my LAX hotel to Pink's, I noticed that Santa Monica Boulevard ran smack dab through Hollywood. "Why, that's not in Santa Monica," I thought. "Heh!" So, naturally, wrote a tweet: "Santa Monica Blvd. is nowhere remotely close to Santa Monica. Discuss." Turns out, the street runs literally through the heart of Santa Monica; no street is more in Santa Monica than Santa Monica Boulevard. Twitter straightened me out on that one pretty quickly.

What's next: A 6 a.m. PT flight to Dallas; some merciful sleep on the plane; frightening children with my haggard appearance; adjusting to another rapid-fire time-zone change; scouring Dallas for the best eats and the best fans; and two fantastic South Region games -- Kansas-Michigan and Florida-FGCU.

Thursday was a long, exhausting, and totally awesome day, and I'm going to do it all again Friday. Bring it.

Regional Road Trip Blog