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Thoughts from Houston and Reliant Stadium

Last night was better than I ever could have imagined. Walking into the Reliant Center, it seemed obvious to me that we were in for a battle. Brook and Robin Lopez looked like giants in pre-game warm-ups, the set-up felt very odd for a basketball game, and this was a Sweet 16 game between two of the top ten teams in the country. If you had given me ten guesses as to the outcome, I still probably wouldn’t have predicted a 20 point victory.

I will leave the game analysis to PB but quickly, the only game that the Longhorns played as well as a team as they did last night was in late November against Tennessee. There was no single star last night. Every starter played fantastic basketball and even Dexter Pittman, Gary Johnson, and Clint Chapman all gave the ‘Horns huge contributions from the bench.

A few observations from Houston:
Crowd I just finished reading the open thread, and many of you commented that you couldn’t hear the crowd on television. I also got a text mid-way through the first half that on tv it sounded like an ‘Erwin Center crowd.’ First off the crowd was at least 95% burnt orange. There were two tiny strips of Michigan State and Stanford fans but neither team brought enough people to make any noise. Memphis does have a strong contingent, but they will be nothing compared to the 30k Texas fans on Sunday. Why so quiet? I think it is the set-up. As I sat in my seat behind the basket, the set-up reminded me of the way Memorial Stadium use to feel before they removed the track. There were tons of fans in attendance but none of them were anywhere near the court. The crowd did get more involved in the second half as Stanford cut the lead to just one point, but the home court advantage we were hoping for was largely muted by the stadium set-up. I was in San Antonio in 2003 with the ‘Horns and also attended the regional games last year in San Antonio when A&M was a participant. The Alamodome was easily 10x louder than Reliant was on Friday night.

Court The court is nearly as odd as the stadium. As noted plenty of times, the court is raised about four feet off the stadium floor. Players must use stairs to reach the playing surface for warm-ups or to check in off the bench. All head coaches were provided low stools so that they could sit at the same level as the action. Coach Barnes and Trent Johnson immediately got rid of the stools and coached while standing or squatting for the entire game. In the second game, Coach Izzo stood for most of the game too, while Coach Calipari actually did sit some but was mostly stood during the action. Some also wondered if players would be flying off the court to chase down loose balls. The baselines have buffers of adequate width as well as cameramen and cheerleaders that a player would have to avoid before running off the edge. However, the sidelines are much thinner and both Joey Dorsey and Drew Neitzel did run off the edges as they chased down loose balls. Both ran straight into their own benches, though, and neither was injured.

Note to the NCAA I know that the NCAA has rearranged these football stadiums to allow for the sale of more tickets but after experiencing two games, I don’t think the set-up is in the best interests of the fans, the players, or the coaches. The fans are too far from the action, the players are shooting against a tough backdrop, and the coaches are being asked to coach away from their assistants and from their players. The NCAA says that this type of set-up will be implemented for all upcoming games in football stadiums. I hope they take time to reconsider.

Scalping Tickets I rode the train back from Reliant toward my hotel after the conclusion of the second game. A gentleman dressed in Michigan State green sat down next to me looking pretty tired. A few seconds later a Texas fan came up to him and asked if he could buy his Sunday tickets. The Michigan State fan said, "After a day like today, sure." I laughed a little next to him. The Texas fan, who had obviously already spoken with the MSU fan, mentioned that the man wasn’t upset about the game but about his experience and that he had a story to tell me. The Michigan State man had traveled down from Michigan for the weekend. His son didn’t come with him because he was too sick, so he had a few extra tickets. He was walking around the stadium before the Texas game and was approached by some guys wearing team shirts and hats. They asked him if he had any tickets for sale. After he said yes, they revealed their badges, hauled him to some holding facility, and gave him a ticket for selling items without a permit! The ticket is apparently a misdemeanor and carries at $200 fine. The disgruntled State fan told me that they were bringing in guys by the dozens. He also said that the cops told him that it didn’t matter that there was no transaction. Just communicating that you had extra tickets for sale was enough. One of the guys that got picked up didn’t even say anything to the undercover officers. He was simply walking around with a sign that said, "I have extras." If any of you BONers have extra tickets for Sunday, I strongly recommend you get rid of them today or before you get down to the stadium.

Houston Connection. I think I pointed this in the Rice preview but multiple Longhorns have Houston connections: Dexter Pittman (Rosenburg), Harrison Smith (Houston Jones), Connor Atchley (Clear Lake), Gary Johnson (Houston Aldine) and even DJ Augustin, (Sugar Land via Louisiana). I’m sure it was especially gratifying for these five guys to play well in front of lots of family and friends.

Memphis in the first half I hope you guys didn’t turn off the television at the conclusion of our game. If you did, you missed an incredible and scary first half of basketball by the Memphis Tigers. Memphis could do no wrong on either end of the floor over the first 20 minutes. It was as solid a performance as I’ve seen all year in college basketball. They scored in the post, in transition, off offensive rebounds, and from three. For the half they shot 20-of-30 (67%) from the floor. Considering their offensive rebounds, I bet they didn’t have more than five empty trips all half. Their defense was equally impressive. Michigan State couldn’t get an open look, couldn’t spring Drew Neitzel at all, grabbed just six rebounds all half, and had trouble holding onto the basketball.  The Tigers came back to earth some in the second half, but the first half was an unbelievable display of focus, talent, and athleticism. Memphis vs. Texas is going to be unreal.