For the next stop on my magical tour I took in a conference game featuring a team that is very likely to be dancing come March. The Belmont Bruins came into their match-up with the East Tennessee State Buccaneers ranked #30 on kenpom.com.
I circled this game about a month ago because East Tennessee State is the second highest rated team in the Atlantic Sun conference, and I figured it would be my best chance to see a competitive game. Belmont was given 90-plus percent confidence to win the rest of their hone games on the year. ETSU was the lowest at around 91%.
It turns out I made a pretty good choice. ETSU jumped out to an early double-digit lead. Belmont spent most of the second half chipping away with free throws until they finally pulled the game even at around ten minutes left. The two teams traded punches and it was still close at the under-four media timeout. In the end, Belmont was able to pull away and win. However, the fight ETSU put up allowed me to see a more exciting atmosphere and rowdy crowd, so I am eternally grateful to them.
For this edition of "Craig's Magical College Basketball Tour" and several others I will be detailing some of my experience in the community, to include the local beer, food, and cool places to be. Click the jump for pictures and screaming head ratings.
Reppin' the best site in all of the interwebs.
This is where they put me...I'm just that important.
You can't really tell it here, but ETSU guard Adam Sollazzo (#43) has a mini-mohawk. A full one might have been enough for his squad to pull off the upset.
Belmont's Brandon Baker and his teammates come over to celebrate the win with the student section.
And on to the ratings...
Curb Event Center
Like it's counterpart two miles down the road, Belmont's arena is located right on campus. The two are very similar. Belmont has the obvious benefit of not having purple seats, and they seemed to have a few more "luxury" boxes.
My favorite part about Curb Event Center was the Atrium that serves as the entrance way. That is something that is unique and it definitely earns bonus points.
On the strength of indoor foliage, I give Curb Event Center three Screaming Craig Heads.
For this game I decided not to interview the students for a number of reasons. First, there were not many of them there when I arrived. Second, I felt it would be cool to observe them in their natural habitat. Third, they were pretty rowdy and obnoxious, so I decided it would be best if I didn't draw any extra attention to myself. A writer two seats down from me was unable to avoid the taunts of the students, who knew he was there to cover ETSU and let him have it. Here is a visual for how close to the students I was (and it is pretty obvious that guy in the background is taking a picture of me):
My seat right in front of the student section probably skewed my view a little bit on how exciting the atmosphere actually was, but the vocal fans that were near me left my ears ringing at the end. By halftime I was wishing I brought earplugs. The best thing about that is it wasn't because they were doing to typical "Ohhhhhhhh" on defense or the "Let's go Bruins" on offense. It was so much better than that.
They had chants. Like soccer. Their favorite is one that Sounders fans know well:
"I'm Belmont 'til I die. I'm Belmont 'til I die. I know I am, I swear I am, I'm Belmont 'til I die."
Instead of a WSU student favorite, "F*** the Refs," I heard, "The referee's a wanker."
When Belmont made their second half surge, the Belmont students turned to the ETSU fans seated behind their bench and chanted:
"It's all gone quiet over there. Oh it's all gone quiet over there. It's all gone quiet, it's all gone quiet, it's all gone quiet over there."
I have to say I haven't heard many chants like that at a college basketball game. So the students definitely earn some points for uniqueness.
There were quite a few empty seats in the arena, but the students were there in full force and that made the atmosphere fun. I'll give them three Screaming Craig Heads.
The Halftime Entertainment
Not bad, Belmont. You have some youth performing fancy maneuvers.
No smoking hot cheerleaders or students making fools of themselves though.
Two Screaming Heads!
Belmont was very quick to return my e-mail and approve the media credential. Parking really wasn't a concern for me because I didn't drive to the game (I'll get into that in a second).
I managed to locate the press area much easier this time, and was able to score some free pizza before it ran out.
My seat was awesome. Front row, center court with the chance to catch a few elbows in the head from excited students, can't ask for much better than that. Four Screaming Heads!
Having lived in Nashville for the last year and a half, I had scoped out pretty well where I wanted to be before this game. My girlfriend had the car for the afternoon, so I needed to bum a ride for my boss to someplace that had wi-fi (and beer) before the game started.
*Just have to point out how awesome my boss is. She left work, dropped me off at the brewery, then drove back to work.
Tennessee's biggest brewery, Yazoo, is located about 1.7 miles away from the Belmont campus. I had learned on Twitter that they were having a limited edition special beer on tap for the weekend, but the problem was I would be gone all weekend. Going to the brewery before the game was my only chance to try it.
In case you were wondering, Yazoo's spring seasonal is called Rye Saison, and it is a sessionable Belgian Ale. The special edition they made for the taproom was a "Black Saison" which was the Rye brewed with some wort from their stout. It was delicious stuff. Here you can see it posed next to the second-best site on the internet:
Not a bad pairing. To go along with my beer I enjoyed one of Yazoo's delicious cheese plates. Cheese, beer, and basketball are probably my three most favorite things in the world.
One of the cool things (and maybe more disappointing things) about Yazoo's taproom is that it is hardly ever open. They are open exactly 14 hours a week for pints and an additional two for growler fills. So obviously, it doesn't take much to be known there. I played basketball at the Y with one of the bartenders once and he recognized me before I recognized him. I've taken their tour three or four times when various friends and family have visited. I go there a few times a month and there is always the same friendly staff. In the picture below, the bearded fellow (on the right, pointing) is Brian. He is great to chat with about beer so long as the taproom isn't super busy (and it usually is). He even threw a coozie my way and made sure I got a handful of stickers when the new batch came in.
I had devised a plan to enjoy a few beers at Yazoo and catch the short nine-minute bus ride to Belmont that I was sure picked up at 5:33. There was just one problem, the bus actually came at 5:23 and the next one wasn't coming around for an hour.
So I began to walk.
Luckily, 1.7 miles really isn't that far and I have super long legs. My journey took me through Nashville's "Music Row," which is where all the major and minor recording labels in the city are located. Given the huge presence of the music industry in Nashville, one would expect to see skyscrapers and giant signs promoting artists. That is really not the case. I've really found Music Row to be one of the more endearing parts of Nashville, where so many things seem to be over-the-top. Music Row acts as a counterpart to the Vegas-style bright lights of the Honky Tonk strip downtown, where country music is literally screaming at your face for attention. On Music Row, none of the building are taller than three stories high and the signs for some very big companies (Sony Music, GAC) are very low-key. Many of the recording studios are old houses. Going by sight alone, you would never know that millions-upon-millions of dollars are made on that street.
So my 1.7 mile walk took me about half an hour and I was able to arrive in plenty of time to get set up before the game. If I were to just rate Yazoo for this, I would give it the full complement of Five Screaming Heads, but this is Belmont I am rating here. The distance I had to travel knocks it down a notch. Four Screaming Heads!
Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed my college basketball experience. I visiting the University of Indiana this past weekend, so I will have a report for that up soon. Also on the agenda this week is a press-credentialed trip to see Western Kentucky on Thursday and a 40-dollar-for-a-nosebleed-seat trip to the University of Kentucky on Saturday.
WKU is playing FIU, who has a pretty famous coach. I'm excited for that.