Not only did the Austin NCAA tournament lack a regional anchor or two, but the second-round games at the Erwin Center were nearly devoid of all drama.
Only Illinois-Colorado was played within 10 points (57-49). The other contests were decided by 20, 29 and 32 points — not exactly the way to get people on their feet cheering.
All other seven host sites had at least one game decided by six or fewer points.
“It’s still fun to be a part of March Madness, but there just hasn’t been a lot of buzz here,” said visiting fan John Jacobs of Houston, proudly wearing his Gonzaga colors (his Zags are in Salt Lake City).
“All the favorites won. I sure hope Illinois or Minnesota can give us a surprise Sunday night — or at least keep things interesting.”
Mack’s pep talk
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith asked Texas football coach Mack Brown to stop by practice and say a few words to the team. The Gophers were impressed.
“The main thing I took away from coach Brown was to seize the moment, take care of business and kick some butt,” guard Andre Hollins said.
Said guard Austin Hollins, who’s no relation to Andre: “He talked about all the teams sitting at home wishing they were in our shoes right now, so that we know we’ve got to make the most of this opportunity.”
Smith said he received help from his friend, Texas hoops coach Rick Barnes, in approaching Brown.
“I thought his visit was very inspirational,” said Smith, who’s won 511 games and a national title.
The crowds have been decent — 13,784 for session 1 and 13,825 for session 2 — but some visiting fans and national media have knocked the environment in Austin. Too many music-types, hipsters and folks oblivious to our slice of March Madness. Or maybe it’s just a general malaise over Longhorn hoops.
The fanfest at Centennial Park is a good attempt at creating atmosphere, although attendance was lukewarm for most of Friday. They’ll give it another go Sunday, although the cold front that moved in could curtail the audience.
Illini fans pleased …
Illinois certainly is well-represented here, with clearly the most fans. And victories Friday by both Big Ten teams — the Illini and Minnesota — will help the gate for the third round. The Big Ten travels well, and the fans are enjoying themselves.
“Austin is great. I can see why people who get a job here stay here,” said Illini fan Mark Lambert of Peoria, Ill. “I like the vibe of the city. The people are friendly, upbeat. Other than the traffic, you’ve got a good thing going here.”
… but not scalpers
Ticket brokers continue to be unhappy, and they blame the NCAA selection committee. Upper-level seats with a face value of $60 were being sold for as little as $25 Friday.
“Why didn’t we get Oklahoma State or any Big 12 school?” said scalper Nick Jones, only sporadically finding a customer. “These Florida schools and UCLA, they stay at home, on the beach, whatever.”
The UCLA cheerleaders/dance team probably created the biggest buzz, at least among male fans. A whole row of teenage boys lined up to try to get a picture taken with them. A few even succeeded. And, shamelessly, a number of people on media row also took pictures of the UCLA girls with their smart phones.
“If only their players performed like their dance squad,” Miami fan Tom Gutierrez said.
Get it right
One nit to pick: When the scores are given in the arena, often the losing team is announced first. That’s backwards. Always should be the winning team first, guys.