As someone that's spent half my adult life in Indiana after going the University of Wisocnsin, I figured I'd give a little rundown for those of you unfamiliar with life and hoops in America's Dairyland. We drink a lot, we follow the Packers, watch other sports, play lots of euchre, create and read "the Onion", and for the three months we have good weather, do a lot of things associated with drinking outside with friends (inlcuding drinking numerous pitchers of local brews at our student Union). Since the Packers screwed the pooch and subjected the rest of the country to obnoxius Easterner talk for the Super Bowl, looks like we're down to drinking and watching other sports in the land of the Tundra. The temperature has dropped from 40 to -5 and -30 wind chills today, but it'll be up to a balmy 20 by the time the Hoosiers arrive. Which is great, as you can probably find Greg Stiemsma, Erin Andrews, Brent Musberger and Steve Lavin working on hooking up another muskie as they sit on a metal bucket for 2 hours with a line in the water. I prefer warming up with Capital Amber and Spotted Cow myself, but whatever finds you peace of mind.
My pregame recommendations include finding one of about 20 bars around the Kohl Center and warm yourself up before you make the hike over. Here is a quick Bloomington-to-Madison bar converter:
Bloomington - Madison
Nick's - State Street Brats
The Upstairs Pub- The Plaza
Kilroy's - The Kollege Klub
Kilroy's Sports- Brothers
Yogi's- The Nitty Gritty
Scotty's Brewhouse- The Great Dane
I'd have some comparison for UW's Paul's Club, but I can't think of an IU place with couches and trees in it.
And other than having a few more panhandling bums, no courthouse, and no car traffic, State Street may as well be Kirkwood. About the only difference is that we don't have the sweet candy-stripe warm-ups to sell at the local university gear shop, as we settle for striped overalls instead (why this isn't switched as a kind of exchange program is beyond me).
Of course, a major difference between IU and UW is the blindling paleness of the hair and skin of some of the Wisconsin players. UW features a Norse army of Brian Butch, Joe Krabbenhoft, Greg Stiemsma, Jason Bohannon, Kevin Gullikson, and possibly Thor as a walk-on. Combine the pallid complexion of many of the players and the tough team play Bo Ryan's teams are known for, it may get IU fans a bit nostalgic for the good old days (well, the old days preceding the Richard MAndeville era, anyway). While Butch has begun to take on the "Polar Bear" persona that Lavin takes care to remind us of approximately 29 times each UW game, he also can maneuver his face to look like one of the special kids from 4th grade when he gets fired up. Marcus Landry had a brother play down at Purdue last year, but he's come on to be a solid player worthy of Carl's name, and deserves props for the smooth James Worthy-style goggles he puts on. Landry's Worthy goggles and the UW student section's tie-dyed Grateful Red shirts also give UW a slight retro edge over DJ White's noble efforts to bring back the Ewing t-shirt.
But the key point is that this is a big one for both teams. UW is so hard to beat when Bo Ryan gets the crazed badger look going in the KC, so if IU can take it and go 7-0, they get the inside track for their first outright Big Ten title since Kurt Cobain and Bill Clinton were live, positive contributors to society. But if Bucky rides it home, the Big Ten goes up for grabs and it makes for a Big Ten February that should prove much more entertaining than the Eastern jag-bag fest that the Super Bowl is becoming. With MSU, OSU, UW, IU, and even Purdue at 6-2 or better, it could go back to an old-school "watch Martha the cleaning lady on Channel 4" -style of Big Ten year, culminating in a raucous Field House in March.
The Mellencamp albums are blaring (well, up till 1993), my words are getting about a half-second longer, and the angry arms-folded intense glare's coming on my face. Must be IU week. And I'll be there at the KC on Thursday night.