There aren’t many times in your life that you are able to witness history.
As a regular sports fan who doesn’t necessarily have a ticket plug – those opportunities become fewer. Imagine my surprise when I get a call from my wife that starts:
W: Do we have anything planned this weekend?
Me: Nah (thinking that she wants me to do something that I don’t want to do)
W: Do you want to go the game?
Me: What game? I don’t think the Hawks are in town.
W: The Elite 8
Me: Cool. (Inner voice: Hell Yeah)
Once we arrived at the arena, my first observation was that all of the people cheering for Loyola University Chicago looked like people who fell out of a Harry Potter novel. The long striped scarfs and big hats. I honestly thought their mascot was going to be something like the Wizards. FYI: It’s the Ramblers. But the mascot was a wolf.
The atmosphere was different. I think partially because neither of these teams are from close by nor have fan bases that would particularly travel from Manhattan or Chicago to see this game. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for a Kentucky/LUC matchup because well, I rocks with Cal.
Even though the matchup on paper may have seemed lackluster, the energy was far from it. You immediately saw out of the gate LUC was ready for the big time. They played fearless and let the 3’s fly.
In person I noticed that they don’t remotely have the athletes most big time D1 programs have. But what they do have are pieces that fit. In the era of 1 and done and All Star AAU teams, 5 stars doesn’t buy you a championship.
LUC’s center Cameron Krutwig may have a 2 inch vertical. I’m being generous. While he’s a big body and played within himself – I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen someone as unahtletic as he was lumbering down the court in a big game.
Ben Richardson though; the kid is big time. He’s fearless with the ball. His confidence was reminiscent of Gerry McNamara during that Big East run where the hoop was as large as the ocean. There were times where I don’t think he realized how hot he was because he passed on good looks. At the same time, that’s what makes LUC such a great team. They are a bunch of faceless players who play as one.
The problem with Kansas State was they were trying to win with the playbook that Knicks used in the 90s. Timely shooting and lockdown defense. You know what the LUC response to that was? Shooting 60% from the field for the majority of the night and 50% from 3 point range. Yet the hoop looked so small every time K-State shot the ball. Defense might win championships but if you can’t score – you will never win the big one. Sorry, UVA.
The lack of a big name team with fair-weather fans lent a different environment to the game. You didn’t have people constantly vying for attention taking selfies. You had fans of the schools and the game. There were high fives on good plays and just overwhelming joy when LUC pulled out the victory.
When K-State was making a run late in the 2nd half, you could see the fans on the edges of their seats anxiously living and dying on every play.
The NCAA tournament represents everything that is good and awful about college sports. It’s the majesty of the Cinderella team and her ugly step sisters that are the NCCA head honchos. These schools just made millions of dollars while the athletes make $0. You sit in seats that start at $150, while that same athlete that you paid money to see can’t afford on his own to eat anything at the concession stand.
While I had a great time at the game – there was that voice that nagged me saying something about this is wrong. I couldn’t fully embrace the joy – but I absolutely appreciated seeing great basketball at a great facility.
*Also there isn’t a bad seat in Phillips Arena.