Sunday, January 14, 2007

Badgers Nip Cats

This blog was on the road again yesterday, taking in the Wisconsin at Northwestern game in Evanston, IL. It was a surprisingly difficult game for the visiting Badgers, who eventually prevailed 56-50.

In the photo above, Alando Tucker is introduced. Note the "darkened" seating area above the wall on the far side of the court. This section went back about 30 rows, and was filled with 95% Badger fans. This blog sat in a comparable section on the near side of the court which had the same proportion of Badger fans. (Also note the large number of empty season-ticket-holder seats near game time, these mostly filled but it was not the best display on the NU faithful's part.)
Additional Badger introductions. This season the Badgers are undefeated wearing red. They're also undefeated at home, but wore white in a pair of neutral-site games, 1 of which they lost.
The Northwestern student section. There is another section on the other side, but it appeared as though it either wasn't filled by students or was filled very late. A proprieter at a local apparel store said that the university doesn't really have that much school spirit, as they have a hard time selling out games, especially when the opponent's fans aren't accounting for a large percentage of the attendance.
Willie the Wildcat cheers on NU. This blog had low expectations of Willie, given the lack of school spirit. He didn't do too badly though. He wasn't an acrobatic mascot, given the huge head, but this blog would prefer a giant mascot head to any acrobatics out of a mascot. Very good with kids as you might expect, and he seemed to get into the game at the right times. Strangely enough he seemed to be wearing shoulder pads, something you could probably ask him about here.

An under-reported part of the game was an ugly sequence where Wisconsin's Marcus Landry and Northwestern's Vince Scott got tangled up going for a rebound, then both hit the floor. Scott shoved Landry down to lift himself up, then stood over Landry to taunt him. No foul was called, though this blog thinks that one or both of the players should have gotten a Technical Foul. Officiating was a bit spotty and the game was too rough for most of the game, building up to that moment. After officials separated the pair without calling anything, Scott was setting fierce picks on the other end of the floor that should have earned him multiple foul calls. Wisconsin fans booed him every time he touched the ball, and he played especially poorly after Landry then blocked what would have been Scott's wide-open layup.

The stadium area around Northwestern is very bizarre. Only one "sports bar" (The Bluestone) is remotely near the Arena, and it's fairly weak as far as sports bars go. While the food is excellent, and prices pretty reasonable ($6.95 for a cheeseburger with fries), the decor is sort of an Italian movie motif, and though it had roughly 5 television screens, they were all tuned to the same game (West Virginia at Marquette). This worked out very well for this blog's purposes, as it had forgone its seat at the Marquette game in order to go to Northwestern, but a more traditional sports bar would have shown capability of more than just ESPN, and only one game at that. Plus it would have been open earlier than 11:30 on a day when a 1:30 game was planned, and would have started with more staff than 2 waitresses and a bus boy (during the course of this blog's lunch, they added a hostess and another waitress).

Beyond that, though there are 3 sports apparel stores within about a 10-block radius of the stadium, 2 of those are right around the 10-block area. The one that's right next to the Arena seems to have had a lot of the same shirts from around 1997 (supplemented with an occasional new one). This blog doesn't really blame the proprietor though, there just doesn't seem to be a huge market for Northwestern gear, and the proprietor was a pretty affable guy, keeping his well-mannered dog in the store as much for companionship as anything, since it didn't seem like he had too many visitors.

All in all, Northwestern seems pretty harmless. They don't seem to have quite figured out the whole athletics thing just yet, but theyare putting in the old college try. This blog thinks they'll have trouble reaching elite status athletically given the rigorous academic standards required for entry there, but there's a chance they could have a revival if they got lucky with a few recruits and had some major donations from alumni to improve some facilities.

This blog had initially thought Wisconsin would not lose another game until they meet Ohio State on February 25th, but that prediction is looking a little dicey given the tenseness of this game. This blog is going to stick with the projection, but hopefully the Badgers can shoot a lot better for the next few games.

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