The Final Four starts Saturday night at 5:07 p.m. when Butler takes on Michigan State live from Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The nightcap, which kicks off at 7:47 p.m. is Duke vs. West Virginia.
Here are some reasons for Chicago fans to root for each of the two schools that will face off in the first national semifinal. Then you can make your own, educated, decision about which team to root for.
If you're a Northwestern fan this one is easy. The Bulldogs beat the Wildcats back in November. At the time Butler was just a plucky team from the Horizon League that was trying to improve its RPI before conference play. Now the Bulldogs are two wins away from the national title and that 67-54 loss in Welsh-Ryan Arena still stings, but it doesn't look nearly as bad.
As far as UIC and Loyola, two teams from Butler's conference, root for a simple fact - the conference gets more money. The increased income from Butler's tournament share is going to make a big impact on the Horizon League in the future. If the Bulldogs keep winning there is more money to be split.
For Chicago State a win for Butler is a win for the little guy and that should be good enough for the Cougars. As one of the littlest teams - in terms of budget and exposure - in Division I it must be heartening that if a team like Butler can make a run eventually a team from the Great West (or whatever derivative exists in the future) can as well.
And then there is DePaul. Root for Butler because it'll make the decision to wait to hire a head coach look even smarter if Brad Stevens all of a sudden becomes available. Or root for the Bulldogs so that the national media - mostly - pays attention to a much happier storyline.
All of the Chicago schools should root for the Spartans because they share a sort of Midwestern identity. (As does Butler, sort of.) Northwestern's interests are much more direct. The Wildcats want to see Tom Izzo's team succeed for much of the same reason the Horizon League teams want to see Butler succeed - money and pride. There is something to be said for playing with the best and though Northwestern got run out of the gym against the Spartans to start the new year at Welsh-Ryan Arena at least they played.
Chicago State and Michigan State share similar colors. And the Spartans under Izzo's leadership are a good example for DePaul that you don't always need great players if you have a great coach. Just look at what Izzo has done leading the Spartans to the tournament and beyond season after season.
My guess is the reason Loyola and UIC fans will be rooting for the Spartans is that they want to see Butler lose. There is animosity brewing in some camps - at least where it hasn't been replaced by apathy - and the Bulldogs are receiving a large amount of it.
This game is part of two very important things. For one, it is one of just three college basketball games remaining in the 2009-10 season. For another, the tournament may never look the same after this season. So no matter who you're rooting for, enjoy how we got here from November.
And as for the other game... go Duke, I guess. (My bracket needs the Blue Demons.)