It’s no secret to anyone that visits this site or has ever spoken to me that I am a huge fan of college basketball. So for me, the perfect holiday trip involves visiting four different college basketball venues in the span of five days.
The hotels have been booked and tickets for 3 out of the 4 games have been purchased, which means this trip is actually taking shape.
My team of choice is the University of Illinois Fighting Illini, but on the whole I’m obsessed with everything that relates to college basketball.
When I told some girlfriends about my upcoming trip while hopping up and down in excitement, what I got in return was a couple of blank stares.
Them: “Oh, so you’re going to see a bunch of Illini games?”
Me: “Actually, none of them are Illini games.”
Them: “You’re just going to random basketball games for no reason?”
Me: “Oh, there is a reason!”
At that point the aforementioned friends lost interest and began discussing something along the lines of buying a new outfit or a new nailpolish color for their own holiday extravaganzas. At which point I tuned out. It’s not that I don’t like shopping, I do! But, if I had a choice I’d rather be watching college basketball.
Let me back up and tell you a little about the plan. Starting out in my hometown of Chicago, the first stop on the list is a trip to Cincinnati to see the Bearcats face New Mexico. Up next, me and my partner in crime (we’ll call him my husband) will travel to Louisville, just because it’s on the way.
Next up, a trip to see Vanderbilt play Butler in Nashville, then Memphis vs. Loyola Maryland in Memphis, and last on the list is SLU welcoming New Mexico, again. Lucky us, we get to see former Iowa coach Steve Alford and the Lobos twice in a row!
Let’s face it, the fact that I knew Alford was the coach of a team that doesn’t get a lot of attention, in addition to his former position (hey, it’s the B1G!) should give you an idea of where I’m coming from. I love the sport, and I love seeing it in person- regardless of who is playing.
In fact, sometimes it’s better to see a game that doesn’t involve Illinois, because I don’t have to hold my breath in fear the entire time. I can actually relax, watch the game and enjoy what’s happening. March is my favorite month for a reason.
While this trip is very much about basketball, it is also about visiting places I’ve never seen before. I’ve never hung out in Cincinnati, and I’ve never been anywhere near Memphis. I’ve been to St. Louis a million times, but I’ve never seen the Billikens play. It’s too bad Rick Majerus had to step down as the coach in August, but I just learned that interim coach Jim Crews was on the 1976 NCAA Championship-winning Indiana Hoosiers. The point is, I would watch any one of these games on TV at any given time, so why not see them all in person?
The one down side of this trip is that I will not be able to see Illinois play Auburn at the United Center this year. Usually this game is in early December, but for some reason this year it was scheduled over the break, and so I’m going to have to watch it in a dusty bar in one of the cities along the route. Again, this may not be a bad thing, since the Illini have lost the United Center game the last three times I was in attendance.
I will be chronicling my visit to each stadium here on the Neutral Zone, and I’m excited to share what I learn at each stop. And, in case you’re wondering, I will be wearing an Illini shirt at every game. I’ll let you know what kind of reaction that elicits, if any.
So stay tuned as we embark on our voyage on Dec. 27!