Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Night at the Museum or Afternoon at Hinkle?

Before I get into the topic for this update, I have to apologize to my readers for the lack of updating over the past two weeks. Apparently finals, papers, and the fact that I got engaged last week were a little more time consuming than I had previously expected. I promise to give everyone a warning the next time that happens.

Although I had intended to write this blog immediately following the Stanford game last Saturday, I thought it would be more enjoyable to reflect and write while enjoying the sunshine in West Palm Beach, Florida while the majority of Butler fans suffer in snow covered hoosier country. Truthfully, I simply forgot to pack and had an early flight Sunday, which made it literally impossible to update after the game.

But anyway, despite the fact that this update will become outdated in a few hours (following the Butler vs. Utah game tonight), I still believe that this topic should be addressed and discussed.

Hinkle Fieldhouse, the home of Butler Basketball, is a national monument and historical landmark that brings numerous basketball enthusiast and historians alike to campus for a glimpse of one of the most storied buildings in college basketball. The athletic department have recently taken notice and embraced the new attention with museum like displays on the East side of the building displaying memorabilia from past and present events. Museums are known for the sophisticated and the quiet guests that appreciate the art/display in front of them. Here is the problem: that same museum crowd has carried over to game days at Butler and Hinkle is packed with fans who would much rather sit back and enjoy the display than cheer on the student athletes that work so hard each and every game. Those of you who have attended a home Butler game at Hinkle Fieldhouse know exactly what I am talking about.

Over Thanksgiving Break a few weeks back, I did something that I never thought I would do - attend an Indiana University home basketball game. I was told that all of the students were gone on break - yes all 10,000 - and thought that Assembly Hall would be as quiet as ever. Wow was I wrong.

I made my way to what is usually a student section behind the basket and politely made my way between the middle age couples and families that were taking the vacationing students spots. I was prepared for a nice and quiet game filled with a few questions from the nice looking senior citizen who was seating next to me about how the game was played. Again - Wow was I wrong. As soon as the game began, everyone from the 4 year old daughter in her IU cheerleading outfit, to the 85 year old man with an IU striped cane were chanting "Air-ball" and "Defense" along with the rest of the crowd. This was not the atmosphere I was expecting and definitely not the crowd I was used to back in Indy.

A few days before the Stanford game, I had received an email from Coach Stevens urging us (the Dawg Pound) to be as energetic and rowdy as possible. He went on to say that the team fed off of the energy of the crowd and really needed us after a long non-conference season was coming to a close. On Friday night, I bought posters, paint, markers, and a white board in hopes that I could ignite the Dawg Pound. I sent out emails urging students to stay on campus until after the game. By the time I showed up at Hinkle and saw the line of students outside waiting for the gates to open, I knew that it was going to be a good day. What I did not expect was the reaction and involvement of the rest of the Hinkle crowd.

From the moment the ball went up in the air for the tipoff, Hinkle was rocking. Many times (as opposed to none regularly) there were standing ovations for a defensive stands, there were adults and kids joining in on cheers, and most importantly there were Butler players taking in the crowds energy and taking it to a good Pac-10 school.

I haven't heard Hinkle as loud as that since the last second victory against Xavier last year or since Senior Night for AJ, Mike, Pete, Julian, and Drew. Can you imagine if Hinkle was always that loud? Can you imagine how hard it would be for opposing teams to come to Indy and play well? I can promise you that the Dawg Pound will work harder to ensure that this happens, but what will the rest of Hinkle do?

The new exhibit inside of Hinkle is a great addition that helps portray the amazing history of the old Fieldhouse. The main exhibits, however, are the Men's and Women's basketball games. What if Vincent van Gogh was standing next to a "Starry Night" exhibit? Would you approach him and thank him for such a beautiful creation?

Consider a museum that always has the artists in attendance. Hinkle is the museum, and the artists are the student athletes that put their all into each and every game. Let's thank them each and every game for the entertainment they give us with our voices because unlike van Gogh, our athletes want to hear from you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Two Loses and Two Moral Victories

As the final buzzer sounded at the IZOD center in New Jersey, I could not help but think that Butler had just proven themselves on a national stage, yet did not win the game against Duke. Last year, it was forcing the Blue Devils to defend one final possession instead of the blowout everyone assumed. This year, following a dismantling loss by Louisville and an ugly home loss to Evansville, the critics predicted an even more lopsided loss, and had it not been for Shelvin Mack's cramps when Butler was trailing 45-44, I believe that Butler would have won that game.

It may not have been Duke's best game of the season, but the number one team in the nation tied at half-time with a team who lost to Evansville? What does that say about Butler? Some would say they are inconsistent, and right now that might be true, but I would argue that they are finally beginning to come together as a team and find their individual roles. With the exception of Zach Hahn still trying to dribble the ball, the first half and early second half (pre-Mack injury) of Saturday's game showed glimpses of the new Bulldogs.

Butler fans have been so lucky that we have not had to have a team building year like this for quite some time with the immediate impact from Hayward, Nored, and Mack two years ago. But it is important to realize that the majority of programs around the country have rebuilding years all the time. Take UNC for example - last year was not the greatest year on record for the Tar Heels, and they have already lost some close games this year. I will not be surprised, however, to see UNC challenge Duke for an ACC title this year. Butler, like UNC, is simply rebuilding and like UNC's win over Kentucky, Butler's statement against Duke shows that the two teams might be turning things around already. If that is the case, look out. Over the last 4 years, only one other team has been ranked in the top 25 more than Butler. This statistic shows not only how well our teams have been, but it also shows how the majority of other teams have to embrace years like Butler is having currently.

We will not have to wait long to see if the team is progressing as I think they are. Xavier and Stanford (in addition to Mississippi Valley State) are all waiting to give the Bulldogs their best shot in the next week and a half. Despite Xavier playing less-than-stellar basketball right now, going up against a Xavier squad at Cintas with a fierce rivalry brewing, will not be an easy task.

So what can we expect from the remainder of the season? Butler might not go undefeated this year, and will surely be challenged by Cleveland State and Detroit for the Horizon League title. But what we CAN be sure of is that Brad Stevens and the 14 players on this year's roster will be prepared to compete in each and every game. We can be sure that Butler will continue to develop into the team that will once again compete for a deep run into the NCAA tournament. It is not a matter of if it happens, but more of a question of when. Butler, like other programs, needed time to adjust to the significant losses from last years team. The best part though is, the adjustment has already begun.

Other Tidbits

* The Dawg Pound has already filled a bus of 50 students that will drive down to Xavier with two other fan buses in order to help bring some Butler spirit into the hostile building. We will also be taking buses to UIC and Valpo, in addition to any NCAA tournament rounds that are drivable.

* Because the Stanford game is the Saturday after finals, I am starting to become concerned that students will not be able to stay in campus housing following finals. We are currently looking into reserving a room on campus to give underclassman a place to stay until game time.

* We have appointed Myke Van De Voort to a "Cheer Coordinator" position that we will be testing for the remainder of the year. Cheer Coordinator will consist of leading cheers and keeping everyone on the same page during games and is a position that we have been thinking about for awhile. I have no doubt that Myke will do a fantastic job!