Five More Additions to ESPN’s College Basketball Bucket ListPosted by BHayes on August 26th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.
Last week ESPN released a “college bucket list”: a compilation of must-see stops in the world of college athletics. Naturally, the bulk of the list consisted of requisite college football and basketball experiences. The hoops portion contains visits to a number of storied hardwoods — Cameron Indoor, Allen Fieldhouse, and Rupp Arena, among others. We certainly can’t find any issue with any of ESPN’s 10 listed selections, but to round out the list, we can think of a few more pilgrimages that college basketball fans simply have to make in their lifetimes. Consider these five the appetizers to go along with the entrees that ESPN already listed.
Spend the First Weekend Of NCAA Tournament At a Vegas Sports Book (Las Vegas, NV) – It’s a marriage made in heaven: the most exciting, frenzied weekend of American sport paired with a manic city loaded with the most prime of sports viewing stations – a Las Vegas sports book. It may sound strange, but gambling is entirely optional for this Vegas trip. No place better captures the emotional pendulum of the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend than a packed sports book, and every college hoops fan – even those not inclined to wagering money on the games – should take in March’s first dose of Madness from Sin City at least once.
Attend a Game at the Kennel (Spokane, WA) – The Cinderella phenomenon has long been a crucial piece of college basketball lore, and no program is more synonymous with the role than the Gonzaga Bulldogs. As “mid-major” schools like Butler, Creighton, and VCU continue to cultivate programs that look built to last, it’s important to remember that it was the Zags who first drafted the blueprint. They are “America’s Team” to some but Spokane’s team to all, and the rabid support of their school and city has quickly made the Kennel one of the most feared home courts in all the land. Don’t be fooled — if you make the trip out to Eastern Washington you will not find the tradition of a Kentucky or a Kansas waiting there for you. But what you will find is a city, a program, and a team that, in the most populist of senses, embodies what college basketball is all about.
Take in Duke vs. UNC… preferably when both are ranked in the Top Five (Durham/Chapel Hill, NC) – Now ESPN included “live among the Cameron Crazies” on its list, which is a worthy idea indeed, but let’s take it a couple steps further. Any Duke-Carolina match-up is bound to deliver, but we want to make sure you catch the rivalry at its hell-raising peak, so the goal is to find a tussle between a top-five Duke team and a top-five UNC team. Doesn’t happen that often (13 times in series history), but with the perennial prowess of these two combatants, you should have your fair share of chances to score one. If and when it does, all you will bear witness to is the greatest rivalry in the game juiced with both ACC and national title implications – as if Tobacco Road could care even more about a Duke-UNC tilt, right? College basketball is just better than when Duke and Carolina are both among the nation’s elite.
Sing Country Roads on Senior Night at West Virginia (Morgantown, WV) – As you make your way through the West Virginia mountains to Morgantown, the Coliseum — home court of the Mountaineers – is often the first thing to catch the eye. It’s the church on the hilltop in this town, and about 20 or so times each winter, 14,000 of the rowdiest church-goers you will ever meet fill the building to the brim. Somehow this building full of raucous energy feels like the only place you would ever want to be on a sleepy, snowy West Virginia evening. Emotional, memorable Senior Nights crop up all across the nation come late February, but the WVU tradition of capping the evening with a sing-along to the quintessential Mountaineer anthem “Country Roads” makes for three unforgettable minutes. Nowhere else would it make sense for 40 minutes of boisterous, envelope-pushing “cheering” to descend into an entire arena swaying as one to a sing-along ballad, but here in Morgantown? It just does. See for yourself.
Rush The Court (anywhere!) – Judging by the number of questionable court rushes afflicting the game in recent years, this one clearly is already on the bucket list for a large number of hoops fans. So why don’t we make an important distinction: RTC after a win or moment that justifies the rush. No need to think too hard about the criteria, however; the best rushes are the ones that happen without thought or evaluation, where the specter of the moment all but drags you onto the floor.