MISSOULA — Montana has never ventured out of the western U.S. to play in the NCAA Tournament. Until now.

The Grizzlies face off against the Michigan Wolverines in Wichita, Kansas, on Thursday.


Wichita — not Witchita, as it is commonly misspelled — is the largest city in Kansas with a population of just under 400,000. The entire metro area has a population of around 650,000.

(And in case you're wondering, Kansas City, population 481,000, is in Missouri. Kansas City, Kansas, only has 151,000 people.)

Kansas, the state, is the butt of a fair share of jokes, like overly outdated Wizard of Oz jokes, agriculture-related jokes or jokes about the lack of things to do there besides eating corn. 

But while the state may be statistically flatter than a pancake, don't believe that Wichita has nothing to offer visitors.

Here's a list of things for Griz fans to do while visiting the city for the big dance:

Open Practice

Every team in the field has an open practice on Wednesday. Montana will take the floor at 5:40 p.m. CT at Intrust Bank Arena to practice. Montana is the last team to practice.

The first 1,500 fans in attendance receive a free rally towel. Fans can come and go as they please during the day and watch any team they'd like. No. 1 seed Kansas practices at 12:30 p.m.;  Houston, coached by former Montana Tech coach Kelvin Sampson, at 3:25 p.m.; and Michigan, Montana's opening game foe, suits up at 4:10 p.m.

Fan Fest & Tailgate Party

Fan Fest starts 11 a.m. on Thursday, which is two hours before Kansas and Penn tip off, near Naftzger Park. That's northeast of the Intrust Bank Arena. 

There will be beer gardens, food trucks and games. 

The Tailgate Party lasts all weekend long from the 14th to the 17th, unlike the Fan Fest which is just the 15th. The Tailgate Party will be on the west side of the arena. 

Grab some grub

Everyone has to eat. 

Wichita is home to Kansas's 2018 Beer Bar of the Year in The Anchor, a gastropub a half mile away from the tournament venue. 

If you're missing the Montana brewery scene, Wichita has 11 local breweries, including Central Standard Brewing, Bricktown Brewery, Hopping Gnome Brewing Company and Aero Plains Brewing. 

Up for something a little more homey? Doo-Dah Diner, a half mile from the arena in the other direction, serves breakfast and lunch. 

There's plenty of chain restaurants there, too. Unlike Missoula, Wichita has not one, but multiple Chick-fil-As in its metro area. 

There are more than 1,000 restaurants in Wichita, so certainly there's something for everyone. VisitWichita.com has a near-comprehensive list of all the options. 

Go outside

The weather this weekend in Wichita is supposed to be gorgeous with highs in the low 70s on Thursday and Friday and the low 60s on Saturday. 

There's a lot to do outside too. There are trails along the Arkansas River and plenty of parks. Take a walk around Old Town Wichita or on the Urban Art Tour. Vibrant murals are located all over downtown Wichita, as are multiple bronze sculptures. 

But most importantly...

Don't forget about the game, obviously. Montana and Michigan tip off at approximately 8:50 P.M. CT at Intrust Bank Arena. For folks watching at home, that tip off time is around 7:50 P.M. MT on TBS.  

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Amie Just covers Griz football and Missoula-area preps. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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