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College-style hoops craziness heats up despite cold temps


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Walking through one of the lower extremities of Assembly Hall on Saturday — I prefer that to bowels — I had to wonder if the arena had a coat room.

These four male students walked past, with their chests painted cream and crimson. I know that because they weren’t wearing any shirts, or coats. They weren’t carrying anything, either. No backpacks.

They had just opened the doors to the arena and I knew the teens were outside. The students, and the temperature.

Geez, guys, it’s flu season.

A long line of students snaked up to Assembly Hall as if they were waiting for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Now if you’ve ever wondered why they don’t put Disneyland or Disney World in Indiana, it’s because people value their fingers and toes, and the winter weather Saturday tends to make those valuable assets fall off if exposed too long.

Even so, nobody seemed to mind this Saturday. They were all waiting for No. 3-ranked Indiana to face No. 1 Michigan in a game for all ages. Literally.

As opposed to Sunday’s spectacle in New Orleans, the Wolverines and Hoosiers met in an event that showcases pure emotion. By “pure emotion,” I mean that the fans, ages 9 to 90, have some connection to the programs.

They might have attended one of the schools or they might have grown up in one of those communities, or even states. They care.

It’s not that some of the fans who attended Sunday’s Super Bowl didn’t care about the Ravens or the 49ers. However, from covering that event in the past, I guarantee you that a third of that place was filled with people who wanted to be seen at a big event, or they came for the halftime show, or they have more money than God, and the Super Bowl was the place to be.

Over the years, I have learned the NFL gives people a reason to drink on Sunday.

I’m not saying that college students don’t drink adult beverages before a big game. They do. I spent years doing the research on that one.

But we’re talking mountain spring emotion as opposed to the kind that is purified and delivered in a plastic bottle. Baltimore residents love to watch the Ravens. Hoosiers just love their Hoosiers.

If that is splitting hairs, so be it. Think of it this way when we consider the college connection. I attended the University of Arizona in Tucson. Considering that Tucson has no professional sports teams, the Wildcats are the No. 1 source of entertainment. When you fill McKale Center with almost 15,000 people, it gets crazy.

But there are levels of bonkers. Tucson is known as a “retirement” destination so many of the fans are wealthy transplants from other areas of the country. Compare that arena’s bedlam to what you find at Assembly Hall, where the fans mostly have grown up on local corn. If the Arizona fan’s emotional investment is a 9.95, Indiana is a 9.99.

It is, indeed, an investment, not a bandwagon.

Sure, you have exceptions in the pros, such as Green Bay where fans go shirtless in December in an attempt to show their team colors and become a part of the 1000 Ways to Die television series. But, overall, it’s just not the same.

And that love, by the way, is right back at you at Indiana. Tom Crean, and his administration, made sure the students weren’t allowed to line up before 3 p.m. on Saturday for the 9 p.m. game.

Crean said it was a big day, considering ESPN’s “Gameday” had come to town and many of the students attended that special in the morning at Assembly Hall. He wanted the students to go home and get some rest. I would imagine Crean and company really were concerned about the kids spending all day in 17-degree weather.

You know those kids. Some might even show up without a coat.

Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at jheater@therepublic.com or 379-5632.

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