One of the biggest perks of a sports broadcasting job is the travel, especially at the high Division I level. I've been very blessed in that regard. I thought little of Omaha being our destination when the announcement was made Sunday, but after realizing I had never done a game there, I was looking forward to it.
I've been very impressed. The CenturyLink Center is a very nice venue, a 17,000 seat arena where Creighton plays. What has blown me away is how efficiently they have designed the behind-the-scenes layout into what appears to be almost a perfect arrangement for people covering the games. The other thing that has blown me away is how clean the facility is. I honestly can't remember being in a nicer tournament setting. Really when you walked into the place it gave you a "wow" feeling.
Omaha is a bigger city than I expected, and with a Whole Foods Store right across from the hotel, I'll say it receives high marks.
I've done a lot of interviews leading up to this game asking for my opinion, but trying to figure out what will happen is probably highly overrated. The players all seem focused, excited to be here and ready to go, but I don't know how much that equates to playing well.
I've seen St. Mary's, and they are a good team. To me it's like playing Iona, Temple, Xavier, Sienna, Butler, Northern Iowa - very good teams we've seen in the past few seasons which you know you will have to play well to beat and advance.
The days of overlooking teams in this tournament are past, and let's remember St. Mary's is the higher-seeded team and the game's favorite.
West Coast Conference against the Big Ten. St. Mary's, favorite or not, will use the respect card. Purdue will try to carry the banner of their conference who many felt was the best during the regular season. The bottom line: its player on player, coach on coach.
If I was a guessing man, I would expect a close game to be decided late. There won't be much of a crowd, so staying focused is important. I should correct that previous statement, there will be a crowd - mostly Kansans. I don't have a clue whom they would prefer to play, although I'm guessing Bill Self and his team will be concentrating on Detroit.
Purdue will try to extend its NCAA winning streak to 14 in first games. I'm looking forward to see what happens.