...when the football team takes the field for the Showdown in Stillwater, we will officially be two weeks (and one day) away from the start of the UT Basketball season. Rather than wait until Friday to put up something else about the team, I wanted to provide some links, notes, and articles from the last few weeks and then repost an item that might have flown under the radar a few weeks ago.
If you still aren't feeling the hoops team, I'll cut you some slack, but only for one more week...
Since several of you have asked, I still dont know exactly when the Stampede passes are going on sale. I'd heard it was going to be last Wednesday, but that was scuttled. I'd heard it was going to be over the weekend, but that also didnt happen. With my luck, the e-mail will go out as soon as I hit "post," but I dont have any concrete information for the students who--like myself--will sprint over to Belmont as soon as the e-mail goes out. As some of you might know, they went on sale October 7th last year, so they are already several weeks behind schedule.
Also, for those of you who asked why we dont have a Midnight Madness event, I'll refer you to something I wrote last year about probably the last Midnight Madness-type event we'll see at UT for the rest of the Rick Barnes era.
As always, we start off with a quick set of collection of links and articles uncovered by DimeCoverage over the last few weeks:
1) Who's Next in CBB: Many of you have probably already read this, but Andy Katz put together a pretty good list of players in the really silly "Who's Next?" format. Avery Bradley gets some love in this article, and KU/UT is pegged as the "NEXT" rivalry. Have I mentioned they are coming to Austin this year? Ok, just checking...
2) Fox Sports Final Top 25 Rankings: KU first, UT third, and MSU/UNC round out the top five. Have I mentioned that we are playing MSU in Austin and UNC in Arlington? Ok, just checking. Oklahoma is the only other Big XII team in the Top 25.
3) RTC Top Games in NOV/DEC: Not surprisingly, the aforementioned matchups against UNC and MSU make the list.
4) FWST J'Covan Brown article: Nothing too earth-shattering here, but I did want to highlight a few key quotes from the article:
Touted guard Avery Bradley and equally hyped forward Jordan Hamilton? Brown could eventually be as good as both of them, according to UT coach Rick Barnes.
"He can do some things those guys can’t do," Barnes said. "I told him when he finally figures it out, he could be our best point guard."
It doesnt sound like Rick is planning on giving J'Covan a super-long leash, but I dont think anyone here should be surprised by that. I cant wait to see him play, and how Rick brings him along is the lynchpin to the concept of having a fully "Hyperized" Roster.
The following is a repost from a few weeks ago...hope it helps get you to Friday:
In my time here at BON, I've been careful to avoid overextending or overstating my knowledge as a writer. We have an incredible and constantly growing writing staff, and the previous writing on this site from the authors has created high expectations for a story. More importantly, the BON community pushes us to put forth informative, accurate, and interesting stories. If a story is boring or contains substandard or recycled analysis, the commenters will quickly note their corrections or disagreements to the article. In each of my thirty-plus stories to this site, I've tried to make sure that I was providing a fresh or interesting take to a topic.
In writing for this site, sometimes knowing what you do know isnt as important as knowing what you DONT know. And I'm constantly self-aware of what I dont know about UT Football, Basketball, and Baseball. However, in some scenarios, I truly believe that my experiences over the last seven years as a student and a rabid basketball fan make me qualified to provide comments and analysis over certain topics.
Today, as much as any other time on this site, I feel like I am exceptionally qualified for the topic at-hand. I made a promise to Kafka in my "Hyperizers" post to write about improving the atmosphere at the Erwin Center. Today, I attempt to fulfill that promise. After the jump, I invite each of of you to join an open and frank discussion over how UT can improve the atmosphere at the Drum.
I'm a sucker for atmosphere. In my opinion, the nature of a victory can be diminished or elevated by the accompanying atmosphere of the victory. A win is a win is a win, but, when you factor in atmosphere, not all wins are created equal. It's a reason why so many of my posts focus on the nature of being at a game. In my post over the anguish of missing the 25-inning game with BC, I explained it this way:
In the hundreds of times I've been able to joyfully express "I was there" in regards to the 2006 Rose Bowl, I've reciprocally seen hundreds of wistful expressions on the faces of people who watched it from somewhere outside the stadium. Even from the students who rioted on Guadelupe, dove in the fountain, or saw the game with the closest friends, I still always seem to perceive traces of regret for not being able to say those three words--"I was there."
Until last night, and again tonight, I wasn't exactly sure how to process their feelings. One would think that a private memory of celebrating a memorable victory with multiple friends and/or family from an exterior location would serve as some type of consolation for the missed opportunity to celebrate with mostly strangers. But it didn't last night, it didnt tonight, and I'm not sure any watching party under any circumstances can ultimately make up for the missed opportunity of seeing a "regret game" in person. I could have been at the games this weekend, and, whenever they get brought up in a discussion over UT Sports or UT Baseball, the entire memory of the experience will be forever tainted by the thought that I should have been there. And I'm not exactly sure how that ever goes away.
Perhaps this is a selfish way of viewing one of the most incredible weekends of UT Baseball in its storied history. Perhaps it's just a feeling of regret for missing one of the best pitching performances in the history of baseball. Perhaps it remains merely a fleeting feeling over wanting to experience what could become the keystone weekend over a storybook and championship season. But maybe it isn't. Maybe it's just the reminder that we spend countless of hours watching and attending sporting events in the hopes of experiencing games and moments like the ones the UT fans and players experienced this weekend. For those of you who did, may the memories last the rest of your life. For those of you who didnt, I hope your excuse was better than mine.
In the realm of basketball, I've always tended to remember key victories by the atmosphere as much as anything else. Because, as you should know, when the Erwin Center gets rocking, it's almost a magical experience. It doesnt happen much, but, when it does, it can literally help will the team to a higher level. I've written about this several times, including last season. More specifically, I mentioned it when ranking last year's home games, when encouraging students to go to the UCLA game, and during my interview with Ryan Clark. When 16,755 Longhorns fans come together in the Erwin Center in a united effort to make noise, it can get really, really, really, really loud.
That last sentence spotlights the two problems as to why these magical games rarely occur....
1) We rarely get 16,755 people to attend basketball games
2) Regardless of the attendance numbers, it can be hard to get the crowd to act together in a concerted effort to make noise.
In my opinion, people spend far too much time dwelling over the first issue and never even talk about the second issue. While some of our games are sparsely attended, people tend to overemphasize the low attendance games and underemphasize the good attendance games. However, the overall attendance numbers dont necessarily directly correlate to the overall crowd and atmosphere. There have been great attendances which have produced mediocre atmospheres and vice versa.
For the purpose of this post, we wont focus on how to improve attendance, since that would essentially equate to preaching to the BON Choir. However, I do want to address one issue about attendance. While many UT Fans love to trash the low attendance, I want to point out that UT doesnt make it easy to attend basketball games, especially for students. I'll give you one example over the tonedeaf nature of the system. Until very recently, students were unable to bring backpacks into the Erwin Center. I complained and complained and complained about this for YEARS, and finally something happened about it, but this change hasnt been very well advertised. The only thing that needed to happen was a simple bag check system that would involve 1-2 staff members and one empty room to store the bags. Before the change, it was nearly impossible to attend games without bending over backwards. After my afternoon classes, I would have to head home to West Campus, drop off my bag, get into my car, drive over to the LBJ parking lot, search for a parking spot, then walk 15-20 minutes to the Erwin Center. And I had to do all this by 6:00 for a 7:00 game. This caused at least 45 minutes of headaches for every single game, when I could have just walked over from the PCL or Law School Library and checked my bag. For the people who live on Riverside or somewhere like that, the backpack rule was often a dealbreaker over attending games. This is only one issue, and I could write an entire post over the various issues that hinder overall attendance at basketball games.
The second issue is what I want to address in this post. Because while we might never get great attendance for non-con matchups against cupcakes, it's almost certain that this team will get sellout crowds for the marquee matchups this season. And, when that happens, there needs to be a system in place to maximize its effect. I think the overall problems with the Erwin Center atmosphere were accurately encapsulated by Ryan Clark:
You are correct in that our fans can get loud, but, on the whole, they aren't very intelligent basketball fans. First and foremost, our fans won't cheer unless the team gives them a specific reason. They are very reactive fans. An opposing coach who calls a timeout during a UT run will effectively kill our crowd noise. Even at Iowa State, the crowd will cheer the team even when they are struggling or will go berserk when the team backs out the ball when trying to kill clock with a big lead.
I want to break this down into several components...
1) I think the characterization of "reactive fans" is extremely accurate, but this perceived weakness could also be easily turned into a strength. Not to overemphasize the effect of a silly little dance, but this is what happens when reactionary fans get reaction-ized during a big game.
Texas fan dances on court during OK State game (via jdel982)
When the fans get reaction-ized, they go berserk. And while it remains true that the fans can be neutralized by a timeout, a lot of that can be traced to the nature of what happens during a timeout at the Erwin Center. If you dont know what happens, then I'll tell you. The UT Band plays an 80's rock song and the Pom Squad dances. Or the UT Cheerleaders lead a bland "TEXAS FIGHT" cheer. Oh, and there are lots and lots and lots of advertisements and promotional contests. While the advertisements and promos are unavoidable and everyone likes cheerleaders and dancers, none of these things will help carry over crowd noise during a three-minute timeout. How, you might ask, should this problem be addressed?
I dont have all the answers, but I can share one particular idea from my trip to Norman last year. Here's how the OU Crowd got whipped into a frenzy after some of the timeouts.
2) Player "Commercials" for Cheering: When UT closed the game to 54-50, the OU Video Board unleashed a particularly effective package of movie and player clips. Prior to the player clips, a scene from "Hoosiers" was shown. Following this scene, invididual players--in pretaped commercials--encouraged the fans to make some noise, with each successive player getting louder and being more aggressive with their mannerisms. It was pretty effective, as the crowd got on its feet prior to the next possession.
I dont think I emphasized in the post how PERFECTLY this worked. The crowd was deathly silent after the run by UT, and the cheerleaders dancing didnt get them back on their feet. However, in the span of forty-five seconds, the Hoosiers scene and player commercials had the place whipped into a frenzy. That is a relatively simple example of how you can reaction-ize reactionary fans.
Another idea would involve something that is effectively used by Rudy's and Mighty Fine Burgers. The simplest way to reactionize a reactionary crowd would be to show an extended series of highlights from the history of UT Basketball and end with a monicker encouraging the crowd to get on their feet. Before football games, the loudest cheers are always reserved for Vince Young running into the endzone and when Mack Brown holds up the chrystal ball. We need to incorporate highlights from the past decade, including all the game-winners and crazy finishes. Each of these, of course, needs to be accompanied by the calls of Craig Way.
2) However, moreso than any of these ideas, I think the currently most underutilized aspect of building an incredible atmosphere involves the lack of creativity in the pre-game routines. Think of attending a game from the perspective of a student. For big games, you arrive at the arena at least 60-90 minutes earlier, and, most of the time, even earlier than that. You sit outside waiting to be let in, run to your seat, and then you wait. And wait. And wait. Then you watch a commercial on the Jumbotron and wait some more. At some points, you get to watch the team warm-up and then run back into their locker room. Then you wait some more, until the team comes back out for their two final sets of warmups. Finally, the arena plays "Thunderstruck" and things get kicked into gear. After the opposing teams introductions, a weak video package gets played, then team gets introduced, and the game begins.
I think this pre-game routine can be easily improved in order to get the students kicked into gear a lot sooner and a lot more effectively. As everyone knows, the students are the backbone of the crowd noise, and, when they get loud enough, it helps encourage the alumni to also get on their feet and make some noise. Here are some ideas for how to fix this system:
a) In my opinion, players should acknowledge the student presence before the game. How cool would it be if the players walked into the O-Zones 45 minutes before the game and spent sixty seconds high-fiving the students and asking them to get loud during the game. I know this might pose security concerns, but I think this is a harmless way to help get everyone fired up well before the opening tip. Students have to sit on their hands for at least sixty minutes before the game, and this would be one way to help break up that monotony. Seriously, it kinda sucks to just sit there for 90 minutes before the game, and I think something could be added to help make the time fly by a little quicker.
b) I also think the players should pick up a microphone about fifteen minutes before tip-off and spend thirty seconds thanking the crowd for their attendance and asking them to help make a difference during the game. Something like the following, perhaps from Damion James.
Hey everybody. Thanks for coming out to support us tonight. This is a big game, and we've got a tough opponent tonight. It would mean a lot to us if you guys could keep up the noise all night long. We love our fans, and your encouragement means a lot. Let's make this an incredible atmosphere tonight and remind Kansas that they are in our house! We're gonna do our best to make you guys proud tonight, and we want your support for all forty minutes. Get loud and keep it loud until they light up the tower after the game! Hook 'em!
If some of you think the players only need to focus on playing, then the same message could be given from any of the coaches. I think this would be an *awesome* moment and would really encourage the crowd to try to make a difference. This is reactionary fans getting reaction-ized.
Another similar idea would involve pre-taping a commercial with the same message prior to the game. It wouldn't take more than fifteen minutes and could be effectively utilized prior to the team running out of the locker room.
c) Since students are the backbone of the atmosphere, I think UT Athletics should produce a document that provides a list of "requests" for all students to follow during the game. This would involve following all the current rituals of the O-Zone and perhaps strategically adding a few more. These could be placed in every other student seat and would help educate students who are attending their first game. Even more, it could help get them excited about participating in the various O-Zone traditions.
The Big Conclusion: At Texas, not all sellout crowds are created equal. Despite being relatively similar'ish non-con matchups in front of sell-out crowds, no one would ever confuse the UCLA atmosphere last year with the Villanova atmosphere from a few years ago--similar crowds, but different atmospheres.
This is going to be a special team and a special season. The schedule contains several high-profile matchups, including some of the top teams in the country coming down to Austin for games that will involve sellout crowds and national TV audiences. Instead of continuing to bemoan the lack of attendance for the cupcakes games against directional schools, a more productive discussion should involve how to marshal the fans who do attend these marquee games in order to create a true home-court advantage. That's what we've tried to do today, and we hope you include further ideas in the comments below.