Frank Mason III has the ball at the foul line. The game is winding down, his third-ranked Kansas Jayhawks are closing in on one of the most incredible comebacks of the college basketball season against ninth-ranked West Virginia. All eyes are glued on the man wearing number 0, a venue packed with people, passion, and no one is making a sound. It’s college basketball’s most exciting player in the game’s most exciting moment. Mason cradles the ball, playful, like these free throws are nothing but a game of H-O-R-S-E. He takes three calm dribbles. He has everyone’s attention. He lets it fly.
The venue is not the famed Allen Field house on the campus of the University of Kansas. It’s Tiffany’s Sports Lounge in St. Paul, Minnesota, 475 miles north of the building known as “The Phog” on I-35, but this moment transcends distance.
Nail-biters have been a common site at Tiff’s ever since it became the official Twin Cities home of the Jayhawks in 1998, making it one of many premier locations in the Twin Cities for alumni and fans of out of town universities to call home on game days. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a thick Kansas connection to start the tradition.
“We’d spent a lot of time in Lincoln Park in Chicago where there’s Notre Dame bars and all these other [out-of-town] team bars, so we always had the idea of doing it but didn’t really know how to market it,” Tiff’s Owner Blake Montpetit said. “A friend of mine went to KU and it was the same time the (University of Minnesota) was under some heavy sanctions, so it was just a stroke of really good timing.”
With the combination of Montpetit’s entrepreneurial spirit and the thirst for college basketball passion in the Twin Cities, Phog Allen North was born. A quick Uber ride up to Billy’s on Grand will take you to another bar with another genesis story to their alumni partnership.
“We were in the Missouri Valley Conference back then, we were never on national TV so we had to find a bar that carried our games,” Andrew Ives, Creighton University Twin Cities Alumni Board President said. “We had some informal gatherings at Billy’s then. When Doug McDermott’s teams took off, the Twin Cities following started to grow.”
More than 100 Creighton Bluejays crowded into Billy’s to see McDermott win a second consecutive tournament MVP award en route to a championship win over Wichita State. The bar has been home to the Twin Cities Jays ever since, providing official watch parties, halftime raffles, and a dedicated semi-private room to the group.
From a former mid-major school like Creighton (who now plays in the Big East) to a perpetual power house like Kansas, the home away from home concept can work for any school. The Twin Cities aren’t quite to the level of Chicago and New York when it comes to being a host city for these eclectic bars, but they’re on the way.
When Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky scored 20 points to shock the world and lead his Badgers to a win against Karl-Anthony Towns and the then 38-0 Kentucky Wildcats in the 2015 Final Four, few places in the world—Madison included—housed more excitement than the Badgers’ Twin Cities home of 508 Bar in Downtown Minneapolis. One and a half blocks away and three hours prior to that historic game, hundreds of green clad Michigan State fans filled The Pourhouse to watch the legendary Tom Izzo coach the Spartans in his seventh Final Four appearance—an unfortunate loss to the Duke Blue Devils.
There are no better places to experience the thrills and agonies of March Madness than these communities. These bars and more provide alumni and fans the chance to escape and feel like they’re on campus for a big game again. No matter how long it’s been since graduation day or how far away the campus is.
“When you graduate and move away, you’re still yearning for that experience,” Danny Woods, Assistant Director of Legacy Relations and Alumni Programs at Kansas said. “The first step is to check out the alumni website and find these watch parties.”
Even if you’re supporting the hometown Gophers in the tournament field, checking out an out of town bar is a must-do when the Madness starts. You’ll feel like an alum once you step in the door and feel the energy.
Mason sinks both free throws to seal an improbable overtime win for the Jayhawks and Tiff’s feels like it may explode. The fourteen-point comeback in the final minutes was crazy. It was wild. It was intense.
It wasn’t quite Madness, but it soon will be. Welcome to March.