Since the construction and opening of U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016, the site has hosted several high-profile championship events, including the X Games and Super Bowl LII.
This weekend, the venue had begun hosting a major NCAA championship for the first time with Michigan State, Texas Tech, Virginia and Auburn coming to Minneapolis vying for the men’s basketball title. Though the semifinal games concluded on Saturday, the buzz around the city was electric. However, what's struck some players most isn’t the magnitude of the event, but the massive size of the venue.
“We walked into the stadium and I really didn’t know it was a football stadium we were playing in,” said Auburn senior Horace Spencer on Friday. “We are just now getting adjusted and focusing so we are ready when game day gets here.”
This marks the first time in 18 years that Minneapolis has hosted the Final Four. The old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which sat on the same site as U.S. Bank Stadium, held the event in 1992 and 2001.
Fittingly for a venue hosting the Final Four for the first time, three of the participating teams were seeking their first national title. Virginia appeared in the program’s third Final Four and its first since 1984. Texas Tech and Auburn both made their first appearance in the event. Now, Texas Tech and Virginia will battle for each school's first national title in men's basketball on Monday.
While no players from Minnesota were on any of the four teams’ rosters, there are student-athletes with connections to the upper-Midwest. One such player is Texas Tech redshirt senior Matt Mooney.
Mooney is a native of Wauconda, Illinois. He played one season at the Air Force Academy before transferring to South Dakota and later to Texas Tech after a coaching change. He’s averaged 11 points in nearly 31 minutes per game at Texas Tech this season. For Mooney, playing in the Final Four in Minnesota is a special end to his college career.
“It’s great to be back over here in the Midwest,” Mooney said on Friday. “I’m from Chicago, played at South Dakota, I know a lot of family and friends are going to try and come out to the game, a lot of people from my old school are coming down to this area and some former teammates are from Minnesota, so it’s pretty cool.”
It wasn't just the players who were excited for the event. Mooney’s head coach at Texas Tech, Chris Beard, who was named the Associated Press Coach of the Year on Thursday, praised the NCAA and the Twin Cities for their work putting the Final Four together.
“Everything is first class,” Beard said. “The NCAA has nailed this for the student-athlete experience, just what a great city too. We’re enjoying everything about our time here.”