Friday, February 08, 2008

I don't hate Kentucky

There was a time, a long time ago, when my intense dislike for Rick Pitino certainly bled over to the Kentucky program in general, but even then I always kinda liked the UK fans. They know their basketball and a fair number of them can manage to enjoy the rivalry with Indiana without letting it destroy their perspective.

I don't hate Purdue. Never have. I always liked Gene Keady. Not only was he a good coach, but he always struck me as being a good guy who was surprisingly funny in the right circumstances. I've made friends with a handful of Purdue fans over the years, though not in the same number as UK fans... Purdue fans tend to be pretty myopic about the rest of college basketball.

I used to hate Michigan. They were the one team in the B10 that I would root against in the NCAA tournament. I can't hate them anymore. They were just so pathetic during Tommy Amaker's tenure that they didn't inspire strong feelings, and I really enjoy John Beilein's style of play. I haven't met a Michigan basketball fan that I've liked yet, but that's probably just because there are so few of them. It's like trying to meet a scuba diver that you like in Wyoming.

I hate Illinois. I am absolutely amazed at the amount of whining Bruce Weber has publicly done about Eric Gordon... and about everything else. I have rarely seen a game where the refs helped a team as much as they helped Illinois last night, and Weber whined about not getting any breaks after the game. All coaches work the refs during the game and express mock outrage at calls and non-calls, but in Weber's case he seems to not be acting. Even before I knew who Gordon was, I had a hard time stomaching the Illinois games because watching Weber on the sidelines made me nauseous. I do think he's a good game coach, though, begrudgingly giving credit where credit is due.

I hate the Illinois players. This is a new thing - I actually really liked Illinois's team the year they made it to the championship game. They were unselfish, played hard, and were fun to watch... and seemed like classy kids. There's nothing classy about this year's squad. They embarrassed their program last night. Everyone knew there were going to play with a lot of emotion last night. Everyone knew that this was going to be a tough, physical game. That's college basketball. It's part of what makes it fun -- I don't think you ever see that kind of emotion in the NBA. But last night went beyond playing hard. I honestly believe that if Eric Gordon had gotten injured during the game from one of the many elbows thrown his way, the Illinois players would have been happy.

And I really hate the Illinois fans. I don't think IU fans are universally wonderful, smart, gracious people who shrug off disappointment and don't hold grudges. If the Eric Gordon situation had been reversed, I am sure I would have been embarrassed by the behavior of a few Indiana fans. But I am morally certain that we would not have degraded ourselves as a group like Illinois has. We'd have decided that if Gordon wanted to go to Illinois more than Indiana then it was his loss (arrogant self-justification, admittedly, but that's what would have happened). When Gordon came to Bloomington, he would have caught grief, but more in the "Hey, this is a great excuse to party" kind of way. The Illinois fanbase needs to look in the mirror... they are hurting their program.

To make a long story short, last night's double overtime victory over Illinois and the officiating crew was as satisfying a victory as I've experienced from watching Indiana for years. They pulled out a win on the road in extremely difficult circumstances against a team that is far better than its record suggests. Frankly, I'm amazed Indiana won.

And happy. Very, very happy.

A sad, classless scene from Champaign

Illini fans angry at Hoosier's Gordon cross line

Illini seethe hatred at Eric Gordon (and family), but IU wins anyway

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