Monday, February 11, 2008

Iowa at Indiana: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.

Back in November, I received an intriguing proposition from an Iowa grad friend I met in Chicago (no longer in the area): let's meet in Indiana, he said, to see Iowa vs. Indiana basketball at historic Assembly Hall.

If there was any year NOT to see Iowa play at Indiana, it is 2008. The Hoosiers feature super-freshman Eric Gordon (seriously, he can fly and see through buildings) and power forward D.J. White. Iowa features a two-game losing streak to Drake (Drake!!! Gaaa! It pains me so) and the loss of its three best players from last year's team (I'm referring to Horner, Brunner, and that Tyler Smith kid who loved Alford so much he went to Tennessee when Alford went to New Mexico. Either he really didn't love Alford that much, or he's bad at geography.)

Dark, imposing, and unfriendly, just like the state of Indiana: Assembly Hall at night.

Basketball aside, I had no good reason not to go, particularly since Indianapolis is only a three-hour drive from Chicago. Even being a weekday game, the time off from work wasn't a big deal. So I hopped in Abe and cruised on down to Indy, where I met my buddy, and we headed to Bloomington.

I'd been to Bloomington once before, in 2002, on my drive around the Midwest. That time, I had Cline as a tour guide/host, which really helped. This time around, the schedule and weather didn't allow for much (any) campus touring.

(I should say before the snark gets too deep that I enjoy this college town quite a bit. There are indie record stores, funky clothing stores, students, freaks, musicians, and everything else that makes college towns so lively. Having said that...)
My favorite part of being in Bloomington was when I stopped into a local coffee shop while my friend had some business appointments. I was wearing an open coat and an open button-down shirt, so my T-shirt was quite visible. I ordered my coffee and the girl behind the counter asked for my customer number. I realized she was referring to some kind of frequency card. I pointed to my T-shirt and gave her a look to say, "do you think I come to this coffee shop all the time?" However, she was very nice and made a tasty au lait.

MPF in the balcony: a T-shirt that bright leaves no doubt about loyalty.

Oh yeah, the game: we got killed. We knew that would happen, given Iowa's "point-a-minute" offense (note to non-basketball fans: 40 points is not good) so we tried to enjoy the atmosphere. The most striking thing for me was the similarity to Nebraska football. Every observation my friend or I made, I'd then think: "just like Nebraska."

Think about it: monochromatic red. Rural state. Statewide obsession with the sport, and the flagship university's team. History of national championships and All-Americans. Fallen on hard times and coaching changes lately. But still a sleeping giant, a force to be reckoned with. And frankly, like Notre Dame football, the college sport scene is that much better when they're good.

At any rate, it was a fun trip, and one more Big Ten arena to cross off my list. Certainly more memorable than Welsh-Ryan in Evanston.

Look hard enough, you'll see tipoff in this picture. Keep looking...

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