As many of you in the Twitter-sphere may have known, our new broadcast partner, Fox Sports 1, kicked off its inaugural year with a contest to join announcers Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson on a two-city New Year's Eve roadtrip to watch both St. John's-Xavier and Villanova-Butler. The contest involved answering a series of daily poll questions, with each entry using the hashtag #bigeastnye as an entry. A sample question is below.
I was one of the frequent responders to these daily questions and even had a few responses retweeted by the Twitter account. However, rarely do I know anyone who wins these types of contests, so I figured the most I'd win was a gift card to Sonic and some Fox gear. Well, on December 12, everything changed. I received a direct message from Fox saying I was selected as the sweepstakes winner. After a few back-and-forth e-mails, I knew it was real when an airline confirmation showed up in my e-mail.
Not only was this trip an opportunity to meet a great announcing team (and spend an entire day with them) as well as four coaches (well, three actually...I had already met Jay Wright), it was a chance to be introduced to two of the three new members of the Big East and to tour their facilities. I had the privilege of having my brother (a fellow Nova grad) join me on this trip as well. I hope you enjoy this recap.
December 31 - 10:00 AM
After a flight from Philly to Cincinnati on Monday afternoon and a private car ride from the airport in Kentucky to downtown, I met up with my brother (who already lives in Cincinnati) and we met our two guides, one from a sports marketing firm and one from Fox Sports. The former of the two happened to be a Villanova grad only a few years older than I. We spent the evening at dinner and then we parted ways for the night.
Traveling in style #bigeastnye— Nick C (@vuwildcat07) December 31, 2013
After a few quick photos outside the bus (with some good looking ladies from the local Fox Sports channel), we were off to the Cintas Center for game #1.
Game 1 - St. John's @ Xavier
Campus: Xavier's campus is much more open and much hillier than Villanova's. However, the architecture and building exteriors would remind you of some of our more recent buildings.
Arena: The Cintas Center was built around the beginning of the century (I believe 2000). It hosts both men's and women's basketball as well as volleyball. Two-level seating is provided on all sides except for one (which fronts a loading dock). The building also houses a practice gym, weight facilities, and training room.
The building cost about $60 million, and additions are pending. I'll let this tweet from yesterday summarize my thoughts on the seating capacity (hope Nova Athletics was watching this one as they did some of my other tweets).
Cintas Center seats 10,250. Nova could likely eliminate the wait list with that many seats— Nick C (@vuwildcat07) December 31, 2013
The locker room did not appear huge, but I did get a nice panorama
There were also some nice touches, including this LED wall near the entrance used by athletes and recruits.
Meetings: Our first introductions on the court were to Bill and Gus. After a few moments, we walked to the St. John's locker room and met Steve Lavin. Coach Lavin was very soft spoken (which surprised me) and we spent several minutes talking about where my brother and I lived and what we did. We then had a photo opp with Coach Lavin, Bill, and Gus.
We also met Chris Mack from Xavier. Again, he was very gracious in talking to us and answered the one question that was bugging us: were they providing fruit snacks or "gummy" vitamins in little Powerade cups on a cart? The answer: fruit snacks (for sugar-fueled energy).
Seats: We were treated to courtside seats across from the St. John's bench. The seats included programs, halftime stats, and food/drink service. I was surprised to see that not only was beer served, but it was half the price of what I would have paid in Philly.
Students: The student section, like Nova's, is in the bleachers at one end of the court (lower level), but also expands to one or two corner sections. Students are allowed to bring cut-outs. Several included a minion from "Despicable Me", Pope Francis (helps he's Jesuit), and this sighting (yes, Jay Wright's "twin" was sighted). By the way, don't ask what the blue blob was. He is clearly not the regular Musketeer mascot, who was also there with him.
The students were given white "stick" balloons for the second half to wave around during opponent free throws.
Free Throw Behavior: When the home team shoots, students cross their forearms in front of them to make the X. Ironically, they then make a V with their fingers. When a basket is made, they use the same "Whoosh! Go!" we do.
Halftime Entertainment: The halftime show was a "drummer" who has supposedly performed nationally with Kanye West. While he focused on using a handful of Home Depot orange buckets, he also took his drumsticks to the court, to the basket support, and even to an endline table.
Giveaways: Xavier utilized a "parachute drop" from the rafters (containing gift cards), a handheld t-shirt gun, and a large barrel contraption that shot a handful of foam balls into the air.
And, yes, the game itself: Fox could not have asked for a better game to start. While the home team started very cold (they were down 9-0 at one point), they slowly roared to life and then took control. It was a very fun atmosphere as the team got going. Naturally, we cheered for the home team (there is also a relative who attended Xavier).
In the end, the home team won 70-60.
Players to Watch: Semaj Christon was on the floor nearly the entire game and has incredible poise (like some of our players, he was involved in nearly every aspect of the game). For us, the big man, Matt Stainbrook, could pose some major matchup problems. While he did not take a lot of shots, he could be used more for scoring against a smaller team.
Parting Shot: Let's see Nova try this with player intros (maybe in South Philly, where they have done this for the Sixers)
On the Road
After the game, we were ushered back to the bus. Bill, Gus, and much of the Fox production team joined us shortly thereafter. With a police escort to the Interstate, we were on our way to stop #2.
Bill and Gus initially spent time with their production team discussing the second game of the day. In the meantime, my brother and I joined our guides and Gus' 10-year-old son in the front enjoying lunch and watching the second game on satellite TV. We eventually joined Bill and Gus in the back.
We spent a lot of time talking to Bill about both basketball and non-basketball topics. He is extremely easy to talk with and he had some great stories to tell.
Eventually, though, both Bill and Gus got down to business again. Their work included taking a cell phone video (that was eventually aired on Fox Sports 1) and reviewing the pronunciation of players' names such as Ochefu and Archidiacono (they did not make any mistakes). They agreed with many of our observations regarding our shot selection.
We finally arrived in Indianapolis. Bill and Gus stayed in a different hotel, so while they were preparing for the second game, we checked into ours, which also happened to the Nova team hotel. Of course, the team was not planning on spending the night after the game (they already had), but we pulled in right behind their bus and were able to cheer them on as they left the hotel (along with a bunch of other alumni gathered there). My brother and I ran into both Vince Nicastro (in the lobby) and Father Rob Hagan (in the elevator).
Game 2 - Nova vs. Butler
Campus: Butler's campus is several miles northeast of the center of Indianapolis. Unlike Xavier, we did not see much of Butler's campus other than Hinkle Fieldhouse. If you thought Nova was right up against a residential area, Butler is worse. In fact, right across the street from the fieldhouse is a neighborhood, and fans have no issue parking on both sides of the residential street.
Arena: Hinkle needs little introduction. It is the antithesis of Cintas Center. Walking in, you are greeted with concrete floors and concession "booths". However, once you walk through the two passageways to the main arena, the history hits you.
The vintage of the building is apparent everywhere, from the unpainted brick at the top of the seating areas to the simple section numbering. Our tour guide from Butler's sports marketing team noted the court is the original from 1928. A cool tidbit is that events have been held both on the court and the dirt/concrete below it (although they eventually stopped holding events that require court removal). The court itself was turned 90 degrees to prevent the sun coming through the windows and blinding the players. The windows themselves are single pane, and there is no climate control, so until the building filled in, it was somewhat chilly.
The visitor's locker room requires going down a staircase (with a very low clearance) and turning through a few hallways. It is comprised of a few disjointed rooms. We met Jay in a tiny locker room that appears to be for women's soccer and also housed video equipment.
I'll let the panorama speak for itself
Renovations: Butler is undertaking $25 million of renovations (some of which, including re-mortaring every exterior brick, has already been completed). Next, an old condemned pool will be turned into new weight facilities and offices and the old weight room will be remodeled into football team offices. In the arena, seatback chairs will be added and a video scoreboard installed.
Meetings: For me, the first meeting wasn't much of an introduction, as I have spoken to Jay on occasion before. However, my brother had not met Jay. While the Athletic Department knew of my win, Jay did not realize that I was the winner. He seemed amazed at how I had won the contest. During our talk, Bill Raftery stuck his head in the door. Those two appear to have a great relationship and much banter was exchanged. Jay also admitted to Bill that he knew the team needed to improve its shot selection after the Syracuse game.
We also met Brandon Miller during the shootaround. Again, he was extremely gracious and interested in us. Like his predecessor, his youthful appearance is deceiving, because he has his team running on all cylinders (as we would soon find out).
We also got to meet the Massimino clan (sorry, not Rolle, but his son and grandson, the recent VU grad and team manager) and the son of the late Dave Gavitt over the course of the evening.
Seats: We were initially reserved seats behind Butler's bench, but once they found out we were Nova fans, they quickly assembled seats on the endline by Nova's bench. In fact, Father Rob came up to us during the game and noted they could hear us cheering the team on.
Bonus: Because Butler does not serve alcohol in the general seating area (they were surprised to find out they weren't the only ones), we were given access to the hospitality area normally reserved for big athletics donors, including open bar. In other words, this happened:
Crashing Butler's party— Nick C (@vuwildcat07) December 31, 2013
I should also say the Assistant Coach came in to thank the donors and give a brief scouting report on us. Thankfully, only one person noticed the Nova gear we were wearing (either that, or nobody cared).
When I mentioned our former Business School dean and now Butler President, Jim Danko, the Assistant AD took us to another private reception where we briefly said hello.
We also got to meet Butler Blue III, the famous live mascot. At the end of Butler's player intros, the handler brings the dog to center court, where his leash is released and he goes to retrieve a large bone held by one of the students. With all the noise in that arena, he was extremely calm and stood there without moving while we were petting him.
Students: Given the small size of Butler (4,000 students), they are given small sets of bleachers behind each basket. However, the whole fanbase does something we wish would happen: participate in cheering. Every time Butler clawed back, the noise level reached a deafening roar.
Butler's band plays many of the same songs ours does (including the "Go! Beat 'em Up!" cheer). They also sing (they sang an a capella line of "Welcome to the Black Parade").
Free Throw Behavior: The students do some combination of cheer and clap before shots, and then hold their arms out until the shot is made. Successful shots are met with cheers.
Entertainment: There was a half-court shot contest, along with a TV theme trivia contest at halftime. However, the best contest was one where two contestants had to race remote control cars around "cones" (Pepsi cups). Let's just say there were a lot of donuts on that waxed court.
And, yes, the game itself: Most of you watched it, so there is little to say. I recognized one of our "favorite" refs was out there and there were indeed some frustrating calls. Ironically, he was on my plane home but I did not realize it until I talked to him at the airport and he said he was officiating (he had a Fox Sports 1 hat, which attracted my attention). In the end, the Cardiac Cats squeaked out an amazing overtime win. We'll take it, given that atmosphere and the banner night Kellen Dunham had from behind the arc.
This was truly the trip of a lifetime and exceeded all expectations. It was a letdown to have to head home today but I brought back tons of memories and enough Xavier and Butler gear to really pack my carry-on bags (no Villanova gear...yet).
I do want to thank both Fox Sports and the staff of both Xavier and Butler for their amazing hospitality. In general, I was impressed with both Cincy and Indy (both as far as the cities and the friendliness of the people) and encourage Nova fans to make the trip when they can.
Although some fans may scoff at this, I would also ask you to extend a warm Villanova welcome to fans of these schools when they make their first trips out here. Let's set an example of not only the "community" Villanova strives to provide but also our appreciation for our common love of college hoops. I definitely look forward to "Round 2" with Butler and to both games against Xavier.
If there's anything you want to know that I didn't mention, ask away. I might have the answer somewhere.
With that, I will leave you with a couple of random "comic relief" tweets from yesterday.
"Can you repeat the question?" pic.twitter.com/ggymQ2FYZo— Nick C (@vuwildcat07) December 31, 2013
Tell me something I don't know pic.twitter.com/4sFQLhSTj8— Nick C (@vuwildcat07) December 31, 2013
Geez throw me a bone here pic.twitter.com/mPgdUcqE5w— Nick C (@vuwildcat07) January 1, 2014