The week started out so promising. The then-14th ranked Indiana Hoosiers descended on the Maui Jim Invitational after a 86-65 victory over Creighton, cheap and most of us who made the trip were eyeing a potential championship match-up with Kansas on the last day of the tournament. Hoosier Nation came out to Hawaii in full force evidenced by the overwhelming amount of cream and crimson everywhere at the team hotel. In fact, if you weren’t wearing cream and crimson, you stood out.
By the end of the week, however, after the Hoosiers had dropped two out of three games and finished with a 69-72 loss to UNLV, many fans on social media and reporters in the mainstream media were, well, disgruntled to say the least. After all, the fans had paid thousands of dollars and traveled extraordinary miles to watch the Hoosiers play, and Hoosier Nation expected nothing less than victory (or least a close defeat) from their players and coaches. So was the trip worth it?
As we consider that question, let’s remember where this tournament was played: Maui. Yes, Maui. So after the heart-breaking loss to Wake Forest on the first day of the tournament, although everyone was miserable, it could not be lost on you that you were in Hawaii. What better place to be to nurse your team’s loss! The beach, pool, spa, pool bar, or any one of several activities and excursions available on a moment’s notice were there to distract you and remind you how lucky you were to be on a tropical island while the rest of the Midwest dealt with the first real winter storm. In fact, I would strongly recommend to the NCAA tournament committee that they consider having every Final Four in Hawaii for the fans’ sakes!
As for whether or not going to the basketball games were worth it, I will say this: Not since college, have I had the opportunity to be able to sit so close to the court and observe the team. The Lahina Civic Center is smaller than some high school gyms in Indiana. You really had the opportunity to see the team up-close, hear the coaches barking out instructions, and watch the team from a view point that only a few get to see on a regular basis. Even though it’s early in the season and line-ups and schemes will evolve, being able to see your team play three days in a row courtside is amazing for a college basketball fan. In fact, I feel like I had a three day crash course in Indiana basketball that I wouldn’t have gotten from just watching the games at home (we need to fix our defense, and…ahem…turnovers!)
I had also forgotten how physically intense the game of basketball is – something that you just cannot appreciate on TV. The speed at which the players move, and sometimes collide with each other – and the hardcourt – is extreme. Anyone who says basketball is not a contact sport has not watched a game courtside. And watching plays develop and defensive schemes turn on a dime as the players see it, is remarkably different from the bird’s eye view that we have on our couches.
So was the trip worth it? For me, the answer is a resounding, Yes. And that includes the basketball. As I settle back into my routine, fighting off jet lag and getting ready for the holiday season, the one thing I know for sure – It’s going to be awfully hard to go back to my seats in the balcony after these last three games.