INDIANAPOLIS — Matt Howard looked around Hinkle Fieldhouse in disbelief Wednesday afternoon.
Hundreds of fans lined the front hallway of Butler's home arena, and dozens more waited outside in snow flurries. One fan brought her pet bulldog.
To the senior forward, it was a strange to see all those people in the daylight. Butler usually holds its impromptu pep rallies early in the morning.
"It means a lot," Howard said before boarding the team bus and heading to the airport to fly to Houston for the Final Four. "I've never been part of a sendoff quite like this. It's a little bit different."
It's certainly different from last year's NCAA Tournament run. With the Final Four in Indianapolis, the Bulldogs bused 6 miles to the team hotel. Fans didn't show up, figuring they'd see the players all weekend.
This season the Bulldogs turned over the title of tournament darling to Virginia Commonwealth, their foe Saturday. Butler is favored to win and reach another title game.
People from toddlers to grandparents snapped pictures, asked for autographs and high-fived players. The loudest cheers were for coach Brad Stevens.
"The biggest difference this year is that it's 1,000 miles (away) instead of six, so it's a lot further away," he said. "It's special, really special."
kentucky: Though Enes Kanter could not play this season, the freshman from Turkey can take a bow for helping Kentucky reach the Final Four.
Josh Harrellson, whose blossoming this postseason has made him one of the big stories in the tournament, credited Kanter for helping sharpen his skills in practice.
"That helps a lot going against him every day," Harrellson said. "He's making me a better player."
Harrellson said practice competition against Kanter, who was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for receiving impermissible benefits, enhanced his self-confidence.
"Being able to stop him in practice, playing against him every day, playing against the best of the best, just makes me know going into the game I'm not going to go against anyone as good as Enes," Harrellson said.
vcu: Point guard Joey Rodriguez didn't back down when challenged about his assertion that VCU can win the title. "There's only four teams (left), and from what we've done in the tournament, we think we've been the most dominant team, so there's no doubt in our minds we could win this whole thing," he said. "It's crazy, but if you look back on all of our games and how we've performed, you could say if you compare us with the other teams, we're the most dominant one."
Women: Texas A&M isn't content yet
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M is a second seed in its first Final Four, but in a field with Connecticut, Notre Dame and Stanford, the Aggies are considered the underdog.
They beat Baylor on Monday to become the only team remaining that hasn't already been to a Final Four. Sunday, Texas A&M plays Stanford, which has won two titles and is in its fourth straight Final Four.
"It's a blessing to get there, but we're not satisfied," leading scorer Danielle Adams said. "We won't be satisfied until we play that last game and bring home the trophy."