Well, the 2006 Tour of Indiana, as I noted, was a shocking success. Sure, my teams failed to come through for me (in resounding fashion), but this trip wasn’t all about winning and losing. Rather, it was about my travel partner Peter and I hitting the road, seeing some basketball in the nation’s most history-rich basketball state, and generally having a good time. That was accomplished. Thoughts from the entire trip (including the occasional notes about the games themselves) are below, starting with the Butler voyage:
1) Rather than stop for breakfast, Peter and I decided to power through our morning drive to Butler and grab lunch before the game. Seemed like a great idea at the time, but when we got to the Butler campus, we found absolutely nothing in terms of restaurants. It wasn’t for lack of trying, either, since we arrived just under two hours prior to tipoff, and drove in every possible direction around the campus. Not that Butler was ever on my radar when I was applying to colleges, but I’m sure glad that I didn’t go to school there. It was a nice enough campus and all, but I’m just happy that I went to a school that afforded me the opportunity to go off campus and buy a sandwich if I so desired. Call me crazy.
2) I was already excited to take in a game at Hinkle Fieldhouse, possibly the most historic venue in all of college basketball, and the walk up to the arena only made me feel better about the choice to attend the game. The staff was particularly friendly to me, as I walked toward the fieldhouse in my UWM sweatshirt. First, a parking attendant stopped me to asked about the team and how many other UWM fans I thought would show up, since I was the first that he had seen. The gentleman taking our tickets commented that he was impressed that we had made the trip from Milwaukee. It was the type of midwestern friendliness that I’d always thought was just a hollow stereotype. But the people at this classic gym were everything that you’d hope for out of a basketball museum in Indiana. Friendly, knowledgeable, and generally pleasant–I can’t say enough about the people of Butler.
3) Due to the lack of lunch spots around the Butler campus, Peter and I broke down and had lunch at the fieldhouse. Remember how I said that I was planning on having an unhealthy day? Well, I ordered an individual-sized pizza and a bottle of water. Peter walked up to the counter and ordered three hot dogs and one tray of nachos. This is where I thank Peter for ensuring early on that there would be one man who’s diet would be even more disgusting than mine that day.
4) I always thought going to a UWM game was a great deal. That’s before I went to a Butler game, though. I’ve never experienced more bang for my buck. General admission tickets were a mere $10 apiece. Not bad, but I can pull that off at a UWM game. Where Butler truly scored, though, was with the things that came free. I was overjoyed enough that I was able to park for free on a nearby street, but was taken aback even further upon seeing a program stand that openly advertised that programs were free. As if that wasn’t enough, after I ordered my pizza from the concession stand, the woman behind the counter asked me if I wanted a free bag of popcorn as well. It was as if someone knew that I was coming, knew that I was cheap, and still wanted to make me happy. This can’t possibly happen every game (perhaps this was an Alumni Day promotion?), but if it does, I’m moving near the Butler campus. (Well, maybe not–I’d still never be able to go out to eat.)
5) Oh yeah, there was a game going on. What was my first impression? Joah Tucker was far stronger than anyone that Butler could throw at him, and was generally having his way inside. I would have liked to have seen the Panthers go to him a bit more often, but I can’t complain too much, since Butler started to catch on and surround him with defenders in the second half.
6) As the Butler pep band fired up a rendition of Mr. Roboto, I was convinced that I was hearing the top pep band moment of the day. Of course, as usual, I was wrong, since Purdue would later top that selection. You’re just going to have to sit in suspense until I get to that portion of the day.
7) One thing did trouble me about Butler, and that was the mascot situation. Butler is known as the Bulldogs. Nothing wrong with that–it’s actually a pretty decent, standard issue mascot. The problem lies not with the name, but rather with the fact that they have both a guy in a big bulldog suit, and an actual bulldog which they use as mascots. Don’t you sort of have to pick one or the other? I feel like it’s sort of overkill to have a guy and a dog both trying to fill the same role for the team. And in this instance, I can easily say that I’d have kept the guy in the suit and gotten rid of the actual dog. Butler’s actual dog, aside from being pet by the players being introduced, did little more than stand around on a leash. If you’re not going to match the energy of Matilda, the bulldog made famous by the WWF’s British Bulldogs in the late-1980s, then just leave the dog at home and leave the hijinks to the guy in the suit, okay?
8) The evening prior to the game, I was commenting to an acquaintance by the name of Nate (a guy who’s probably the most rabid UWM fan that I know) that I was of the opinion that Boo Davis hadn’t even bothered to learn UWM’s new swing offense. Nate corrected me, though, and noted that Davis had been doing more than just jacking up three-point shots of late, and had actually been working for position in the post in the last few games. Sure enough, Davis was working hard on the blocks on Saturday. I never really minded him much when just seemed like a shooter without a conscience (as he was one of those rare guys that was pretty good at that role), but it can’t possibly be a bad thing that he’s adding to his skill set.
9) UWM stayed in this game largely because of its offensive rebounding. The best thing about the offensive rebounding, though, was it wasn’t the big guys that were pulling down the boards, it was the guards. Boo Davis, Chris Hill and Joah Tucker (okay he’s a forward, but he’s a small forward) all pulled down multiple offensive boards. It was somewhat mind-boggling, but still nice to see.
10) It was Alumni Day at Butler, so halftime saw the introduction of the Butler sesquicentennial mens and women’s teams, featuring the best players in the history of Butler. Again, it was as if Butler had known that I was coming and planned to do lots of special things just for me. Because let’s face it, it’s probably not every day that one goes to Hinkle Fieldhouse and has the opportunity to see Bobby Plump, the real-life version of Jimmy Chitwood, introduced at halftime. Very cool.
11) Near the top of the list of worst superfluous sideshow competitions at a game this year would have to be Butler’s free throw contest between two of its sesquicentennial team members. To begin with, a free throw contest is boring, but adding to the worthlessness of the contest was the fact that nothing was on the line, and the PA announcer never even noted who the winner was at the end of the contest. Why even do the contest if you’re not declaring a winner?
12) My general reactions to watching a game at Hinkle? I can’t believe this place was built in the 1920s. Granted there was plenty of seating to choose from when Peter and I arrived early to the game, but I honestly don’t think there could have been a bad seat in the house. Of course, the acoustics were absolutely terrible, but the sightlines appeared phenomenal to me.
13) I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a way to mash the entire Butler student section together, rather than dividing them into three separate sections. On the other hand, I was nothing but impressed by the Butler students themselves. Particularly pleasing was their act of harshly rubbing balloons handed out to them, effectively turning what is usually a visual distraction during foul shots into one of the most obnoxious noise-makers known to man.
14) I can’t recall the last time I saw a game where UWM didn’t hit a single three point shot. I hope I never see one of those again.
15) As the end of the second half wore down, things looked pretty good for UWM. During their second-to-last possession of the game the Panthers, attempting to run down the clock, happened to break Butler’s full court press, and Jason McCoy tossed down a seemingly back-breaking dunk with about 10 seconds left. My travel companion Peter grabbed his coat, looked at me, and noted that the game was over and it was about time to go. Of course, as he was telling me this, I was intently watching Butler immediately inbound the ball, and telling him that Butler still had plenty of time to hit a three-point shot. And then A.J. Graves canned an extremely tough three-pointer with a hand in his face to send the game to overtime. So yeah, thanks for jinxing things Peter.
16) On the bright side, even though UWM lost, the freebie motif did continue as overtime brought me my favorite free thing–five minutes of free basketball. How do you beat that?
With the end of the game, and very little left to do near the Butler campus, Peter and I hopped in my car and drove to leg number two of the voyage, Purdue University. (Side note–during the drive, I called my buddy, The Franchise, for an update on the score of the Marquette-Villanova game. He told me that Marquette was up in the second half and about to pull the upset before Villanova took over at the end, leading to a hard-to-swallow loss for the Golden Eagles. With loss #2 for the state on the day, I could see that this was going nowhere good). Again, we managed to arrive at our destination a tad early, and had to look for some options for killing time. Better to be early than late, I guess. Here’s how the Purdue-Wisconsin experience went.
1) Upon arriving in West Lafayette, Peter and I decided to try to find a tavern to kill some time before the game. We ended up at Brothers, a chain tavern which I’ve been to versions of in Milwaukee, Madison, and Iowa City. I’m not a particular fan of the chain, but it was familiar, and available, so we stopped in. It was surprisingly empty for the early evening on a Saturday, and the only other people that we encountered were fellow Wisconsin fans. It was strangely entertaining to observe how every group of Wisconsin fans had at least one person note to the bartender that a) there would be far more people at the bar during pre-game in Madison, and b) Wisconsin people could completely out-drink Purdue people. I’m not denying the fact that both of these assertions are likely true, but one can’t deny that the people in my state are proud of some pretty weird things.
2) At the game itself I was seated next to a particularly pleasant Purdue alum, just slightly older than me, who had brought his nephew. Our first conversation centered around Wisconsin’s recent academic problems. A lot of fans would have taken the opportunity to lay into an opponent’s shortcomings during such a conversation. But this guy noted to me that he couldn’t believe that any school couldn’t keep its players eligible, adding "I lived in the same dorm as Glenn Robinson when he was in school, and I can tell you that there was no way that guy was passing his classes without lots and lots of help." The night continued in much the same manner, with each of us tossing out self-deprecating comments. It actually got to the point that I said to him "Man, we’re being way too nice to one another. Once of us is going to have to do some taunting or something to make this respectable." But neither of us did. I love friendly fans.
3) One other great aspect of sitting next to this guy–he noted that a buddy of his from high school had gone to school in Madison and constantly told him stories about it. He immediately told me that some of his friend’s favorite things to talk about were LaBamba’s burritos, Pat McCurdy, and "some place where you drink beer out of giant boots." Upon hearing this, I briefly wondered if I was actually the friend that he was referring to. Then I remembered that as much as I love all of those things, I actually went to high school in Wisconsin.
4) I’m not complaining, since it worked out wonderfully for me, but I feel I need to note that I ordered my tickets for the Purdue-Wisconsin game on Thursday afternoon. Our seats were in the upper deck, but definitely not at the very top of the arena, and were almost exactly at halfcourt. I know Purdue’s down this year, but I still find it ridiculous that an outsider like me can get such phenomenal seats for a Saturday night game only two days beforehand.
5) Let’s face it, Wisconsin was painful to watch this game. Shots wouldn’t fall, defensive position was lacking, and the Badgers actually made Matt Kiefer look like he was an all-Big Ten caliber player. Positives were hard to come by in this game, but I’m going to try. And the closest I can come to finding a positive is Joe Krabbenhoft. Yes, Krabbenhoft had a rough night defensively, and probably played out of position trying to act as a bigger forward, but the thing that got me excited was that he hit a couple of shots. Sure, it wasn’t a big thing in this game, but the one thing that has been egregiously lacking from Krabbnehoft’s game has been confidence shooting the ball. Maybe he can build on this. I’m sure hoping so.
6) There’s no way to get around this–over the last couple of games I’ve seen, my opinion of Brian Butch’s play had dropped a bit. I’ve been a big Butch fan for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always been honest with myself about his shortcomings (inability to finish inside, slow-footedness), but I’ve consistently hung my hat on his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers and the occasional three-pointer. Now he’s not even doing that. I want to keep defending the guy, but it’s getting harder and harder. Let’s just hope his injury from Saturday night’s game isn’t serious so that he can start making me like him again.
7) Yes, earlier in the day I thought that the Butler band’s rendition of Mr. Roboto was about as inspired a selection as a band could possibly make. Then Purdue’s band goes out and plays a pep band rendition of the theme from Shaft. I think that’s pretty much the absolute pinnacle in terms of pep band music selection. And yes, I can dig it, thank you very much.
8) Great timeout moment in the second half with Purdue’s mascot, Purdue Pete, and a handful of students. I have no idea where this concept originated, but it was awesome. Purdue Pete came out with an oversized snowboard-type thing. Then the students laid down on the court, side-by-side. Then the mascot laid the board down on top of the first few students and stood on the board. Finally, the students began passing the board, with Purdue Pete on it, down the line, as if Purdue Pete was surfing. The band played Wipeout in the background. It’s a pretty simple concept, but it was ridiculously cool to see a mascot surf 3/4 of the court length over students passing him down. And the balance that the mascot had–that had to take talent. I kept worrying that there would be some sort of horrific fall, but it never came. And I’m thankful for that, since after seeing a freak injury to the Purdue mascot at a Wisconsin football game a few years back (they took his head off and everything), I’m hoping never to see an injured mascot ever again.
And so eventually the Badgers’ awful game ended. I’d make more actual game points, but it was a long, painful game for me, and reasonable basketball points were not exactly flowing through my mind (I probably shouldn’t have yelled at Brian Butch for being soft when he went down with an injury again. Hey, I was emotional.). It had been a long day. Having endured a quick sucker punch to the gut at Butler, and the dull, throbbing pain that was the entire Wisconsin game, I left the arena with Peter to walk back to the car and noted, "Well, we lost both games, but at least we have a cold, 10 minute walk back to the car before our 4-hour drive home." I made it sound worse than it was, though. My teams had lost, but I had seen two new arenas, taken in one of the greatest slices of basketball history around, and generally had a pleasant road trip. Here’s hoping to do it again next year–except with better results.