DES MOINES, Iowa — March Madness in Des Moines officially kicked off as teams arrived at Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday to begin practicing ahead of the tournament.
While Wednesday's exhibitions didn't have any stakes, the excitement from fans is strong, whether they call Iowa home or made a bit more of a trip.
More than 20,000 people are expected to be coming through Des Moines to watch the tournament. Some made their plans more recently than others.
"They had something on the radio a couple of days ago about practice. And I thought, well, let's go," said Ev Cherrington, an Illinois fan. "So I hopped in my Chevy Spark, and I came down today."
Eight teams from across the country are making an appearance in the Des Moines games, and their fans have been more than happy to make the trip, as well.
"I was born in Moline, Illinois and graduated from Western Illinois, but I've always been an Illini fan," Cherrington said. "So I came down from Ames to watch practice and I have tickets for tomorrow."
The first matchup in Des Moines has Howard taking on Kansas. With the Sunflower State being relatively close to Des Moines, there was lots of crimson and blue outside of Wells Fargo Arena.
"We talked about coming to like, even a game, even if they weren't gonna play here, but when they played here, it was kind of like, 'Yeah, I'm going to the game tomorrow,'" said Noah King, a Kansas fan. "And it was like, 'Yeah, I definitely want to come see what they're gonna be, right here in an arena I have been in all the time.'"
While not everyone gets to enjoy that sort of hometown pride on top of March Madness, that couldn't have been less of a concern among the fans I talked to. For many, just getting to see the games is a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"I've just never been to a March Madness game before and that'll be cool to have the environment for different teams," King said. "You know, watch some close games between teams playing for the end of their season."
Tipoff for Thursday's opening matchup is at 1 p.m., and doors to Wells Fargo Arena open at 11:30.