Dozens of teams have focused on this day since fall, hundreds of players have prepared for years to get to this point, and millions of fans have been anticipating it for weeks.
It's the opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament, which begins this afternoon, launching an annual full-court press in area bars and sports stores and leaving die-hard fans figuring out how to watch the games at the office.
For some, the excitement of the tournament will provide a nice boost to business, even in these tough economic times.
"We should be pretty busy all weekend," said bartender April Pridgen, who works at Overtime Sports Cafe in North Myrtle Beach. "People will definitely come out to see North Carolina," she said, adding that Clemson is the other top draw in the area. The top-seeded Tar Heels kick off against No. 16 seed Radford at 2:50 p.m. today, while the seventh-seeded Tigers face No. 10 seed Michigan at 7:10 tonight.
Pridgen says the weeks surrounding the tournament are one of the best times to be a bartender. "We make really good money over a short period of time, and it's not as drawn out as football season."
In addition to packed bars, there's also the "merch" madness - the emptying shelves and filling cash registers of local sports merchandise stores.
"People always come out to buy Duke and Carolina stuff," said Kevin Starkey, general manager at Sports Fan-Attic in Coastal Grand mall. "But we really start to get a lot of interest as teams go further. Especially once the Final Four has been set."
For some businesses, however, growing interest in basketball this time of year can mean a drop in productivity. Statistics from Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. show that the NCAA tournament costs U.S. companies more than $1 billion each year in lost time.
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