Well, despite all my talk about mid-major hoops and my true, untarnished affection for bracket busters and cinderellas, I am still very much affiliated with the BCS conferences. I’m a season ticket holder at Rutgers, so Big East basketball is always big around here (even though RU can never win) and since ESPN never really airs mid-major hoops much, I watch a lot of top 25 games.
So, you may ask why I write about cinderellas if I am so caught up with major conferences, and the reason for that is because I have always been so fascinated by a team’s ability to come in relatively unrecognized and create major havoc. And my job here is to inform you guys of these potential teams while also recognizing some players that have flown under the radar due to poor media coverage.
I’m not trying to take away from my mid-major schools in any way, but sometimes true passion for a team is never really apparent in smaller schools.
For that reason, major conference games can be more exciting. The fans go absolutely insane for their favorite team, screaming and booing opposing teams while keeping their team in the game with deafening chants.
I’m not saying that none of the mid-major students paint their faces or go crazy for their teams because trust me, many do (and most of those games are sellouts). I’m also not saying that every BCS school does that either, but for games such as UConn-Pitt yesterday, nothing can match the fan-generated hype.
Speaking of UConn-Pitt, that’s exactly where I was yesterday: Hartford, Connecticut. Since I usually go to Rutgers games (where most of the fans are apathetic, especially when their team sucks), I couldn’t believe just how far some fans went.
One guy came in in just boxers, with half his body white and the other half blue, and was literally, from head to toe in body paint. And every time the Pitt players passed, they were screaming and cursing anything they could think of in hopes of getting inside their heads.
The arena, the XL Center, was surprisingly big for a place that doesn’t hold a professional sports team, yet there were no empty seats to be found. The place exploded on every single score to the point where you couldn’t even hear yourself talk, and I have to say that despite being to several Final Fours and Big East tournaments, there was nothing like it.
The game itself was very exhilarating (I’m not going to go into details because those can be found elsewhere and I don't want to bore you guys), and the atmosphere was what made it that way.
Which brings me to my main point: the students and fans are what make a game. Sure, I love watching close games, especially between mid-major schools and bubble teams, but when there is nobody cheering, it sort of takes the excitement out of it. And even in not-so-close games, a rowdy student section keeps the home team fighting for a chance to win.
I saw this in the Indiana-Illinois game on Sunday. We all know how bad Indiana is this season after the Kelvin Sampson issue, but they still manage to sellout their games and the students are always crazy, even in a 15-point game.
The students kept the Hoosiers going, kept them playing for an outside shot at winning the game and pulling off a big time upset, and Indiana even brought it within six before slipping up.
This is why having a consistently high-caliber team such as UConn, Duke, UNC, or Pittsburgh is so beneficial to an active fan base, but that’s not to say less competitive teams don’t have one.
Ultimately, any team, good or bad, can have rowdy and die hard fans, it all depends on how devoted and passionate the students are. But the reason we primarily see it in the better teams is because they have something to play for: a national championship.
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