What happens when a 24-year-old lifelong Purdue fan attends part of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament for the first time?
I’m glad you asked! This is part analysis, part journal...from someone who attended Friday’s quarterfinals in Indianapolis. And no, I wasn’t sitting in press row, I was in the corner of the upper deck. No hospitality room for me...we waited in line for our M&M’s and Diet Pepsi like every other common fan. So what did I see?
Quarterfinal #1 WISCONSIN 51, MICHIGAN 34
I saw a brilliant defensive performance from Michael Flowers individually and Wisconsin as a whole. Michigan’s total scoring output (34 points) would be decent for a football team, but not so much when playing hoops. Flowers locked down stud freshman Manny Harris and held him to 1-12 shooting. Of course, 1-12 from the floor doesn’t look quite as bad when your team struggles to a 20% showing overall. Harris couldn’t even get a drink of water without Flowers draped all over him, and they both played exactly the same number of minutes (34). Coincidence? Don’t think so.
Random side note: The halftime entertainment was a game of musical chairs featuring three Badger fans and three Wolverine supporters. Each contestant had to run from midcourt to shoot a layup and hustle back to grab one of the remaining chairs. The final Michigan fan was eliminated when he and the Wisconsin guy reached the chair at the exact same second. In a linebacker-worthy collision, they met in mid-air over the chair...and the Michigan fan ended up about four feet away on his back. Best hit of the day by far. On Wisconsin!
Quarterfinal #2 MICHIGAN STATE 67, OHIO STATE 60
You’ve all heard that it’s incredibly hard to beat a team three times in the same year. How about trying to beat the same team twice in five days? The Buckeyes gave a valiant effort (to be honest, they were more competitive than I expected them to be), but ultimately saw their NCAA bubble popped by a resurgent MSU squad in this rematch of Sunday’s regular-season finale. Drew Neitzel (my vote for Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, by the way) finally played like a superstar in Indianapolis this weekend, and it was too much for OSU to handle. Neitzel finished with six triples and 28 points while playing 37 minutes.
Random side note: if Kosta Koufos sticks around Ohio State for a while, he’s going to turn into quite a player. Koufos tossed in 19 points to keep the Bucks close, and MSU didn’t have an answer for him on the block.
View from the cheap seats: Michigan State had probably three times as many fans as the Buckeyes at this session. Our seats were in the Spartan corner of the arena, and it was loud over there...although they have one really weird cheer. The band played some song where all the fans waved their two arms over their head like a touchdown signal and then back down in front of them. My wife described it as trying to wave an airplane into a parking spot near the runway. Not sure what it means, but oh well: way to represent, MSU.
Quarterfinal #3 ILLINOIS 74, PURDUE 67 (OT)
This was the first time I’d been able to attend a Boilermaker game this year (even though I’ve seen them all on TV – thank you, Big Ten Network!) Obviously the outcome was disappointing as a fan, but this was actually a great game to attend. Purdue started slow, made a double-digit run in the first half to take the lead, and really seemed to have the Illini on the ropes throughout. It was a five-point game with less than a minute to play in regulation, but every time the Boilers needed a stop, Illinois (and specifically star freshman Demetri McCamey) figured out a way to get points. McCamey was 6-6 from the three-point line, including the shot that sent this game to overtime. Purdue couldn’t buy a basket in the extra session and the 10th-seeded Illini advanced to the semis. A quick look at the box score tells the story: Purdue missed its last twelve shots, while Illinois shot a sizzling 61% from the floor against a team that prides itself on tenacious defense. The Boilermakers had no inside game to speak of and chose instead to live and die with the three. They finished a respectable 11-25 from distance, but couldn’t get them to drop in overtime...that’ll earn you a quick bus ride back to West Lafayette.
Random side note: for as many Purdue fans as there were, it was awfully quiet in Conseco. One big Boilermaker run in the second half would have put this game away, but the crowd didn’t really get involved. And no, I didn’t see Michael Jordan (but I looked...since his son Jeff plays for Illinois). If MJ did attend, I don’t think he would have been in the cheap seats.
Quarterfinal #4 MINNESOTA 59, INDIANA 58
When the Hoosiers took the floor in the final game of the day, it felt like Assembly Hall. Thousands of Indiana fans made their presence felt throughout the game, and it still wasn’t enough for IU. By now, you all know how this game ended...Blake Hoffarber’s miracle last-second shot....and millions of people will tell you they were in the arena that night. Just like Laettner in 92.
I’ll be honest. I WASN’T THERE. I went back to the hotel at halftime after basically ten straight hours of basketball to play cards with my wife, mom, and dad and watched the ending on TV. (Thank you, Big Ten Network!) Of course, as the drama was unfolding, I had second thoughts about leaving early, but hindsight is 20/20, right? I’ll admit I was cheering for Minnesota throughout (I mean, come on – Purdue fans can’t cheer for the Hoosiers!), but I was especially glad to see the Gophers win after the officials tried to hand IU the game in the last five seconds. If all you saw was the final shot on ESPN, let me summarize:
Eric Gordon gets to the line with 3.4 seconds to go and Indiana down two. He had hit eight of his first nine charity tosses, but can’t get the first one here to go down. Now it’s panic time...which means missing the second on purpose so a teammate can rebound and score the two points. And amazingly enough, it works! Gordon gets about nineteen bounces on the rim with his attempt, and DJ White battles inside for the rebound and puts it back up. Tie game. But wait, there’s a foul! Two seconds to play and Indiana has stolen victory from the jaws of defeat. All White has to do is make the free throw and IU will take the lead. And he missed it! There’s a mad scramble for the rebound...White gets his hands on it...and what? ANOTHER FOUL? Are you kidding me? DJ’s got two more chances now to give Indiana the lead. If you’re counting, that’s five free throw attempts the refs awarded in a three-second span. White actually missed the first attempt, but hit the second to put Indiana up front by one. Cue “Mr. ESPY”. Blake Hoffarber, who helped his high school team win a Minnesota state title with an amazing shot from the seat of his pants, pulls off his best Christian Laettner impersonation...and Minnesota’s season lives on.
WISCONSIN...MICHIGAN STATE...ILLINOIS...MINNESOTA...so what happened in the semifinals?
I’m glad you asked! Check back soon for “Commentary from the Cheap Seats: Big Ten Semifinals”.