GO. THINK. REMEMBER.
- One last season - let's put some raisins in this toast. Thanks for a great decade, everyone! - Thomas Feely
- Thank you to every contributor & reader for encouraging honest, creative storytelling from Sullivan Arena in Anchorage to the Palestra to the Road that connects us all! - Steven Langston
- Let's grab some Casey's pizza, a guaco, and a tall glass of horchata (not BLAPP) and settle in for one last great season. Thanks to Kyle and the TMM community for changing the way I watch college basketball (and having a lot of fun in the process). - Mike Pettinato
When word got out last season that Butler would be playing a home-and-home series with Vanderbilt starting in 2012, I knew that it would be a must go road trip if I could make it. Having seen Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium on television, I knew it was one of the most unique venues in college basketball. Add in the fact it would be a chance to visit one of my best friends in college, it was definitely worth the five-hour drive for the game.
Game #9-272: Butler Bulldogs at Vanderbilt CommodoresDecember 29, 2012 8:00 pm
At least, it should have taken five hours. The travel window was already pretty tight with a winter storm heading toward Ohio that would dump at least four inches of snow between Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Getting out of Cincinnati Friday afternoon and making it to Nashville before the heart of the storm got there (even in rain form) would be the best and safest bet for travel.
Traffic jam number one occurred a few miles North of the Brent Spence Bridge. I've already made my displeasure known with "The Bridge of Death" that carries Interstates 71 and 75 over the Ohio River. I figured 1 p.m. on a Friday between Christmas and New Year's Day wouldn't be that bad. I was wrong. A broken-down car on the shoulder slowed traffic to a crawl, and the three miles of interstate leading up to the bridge took nearly half an hour to navigate.
The second slowdown occurred on Interstate 265 outside Louisville. A semi had caught fire, and while the fire was out by the time I reached it, the tow trucks were still trying to move it an traffic was confined to one lane. What a fire it must have been, since most of the cab above the bottom of the windows had been melted away. Tack on another 45-minute delay to the journey.
Unfortunately, the extra 75 minutes in delays caught up to me when the downpour started just South of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Had I been on schedule, I would have been in Nashville by then. Instead, I got the privilege of driving the last 65 miles in a monsoon in the dark, which slowed my travel down to 60 mph or so instead of the posted 70. After seven hours, I was finally at my friend's house on the South side of Nashville.
Game day led to an unexpected surprise. Butler has started a campaign with their lovable mascots Blue II and Blue III (aka Trip) called the Big Dawgs Tour. The tour is an opportunity to give out-of-town alums and fans a chance to meet the dogs and drum up some fun publicity along the way. On their trip to Nashville, Blue and Trip stopped at the Louisville Slugger Museum, Churchill Downs, The Grand Old Opry House, Ryman Auditorium, Antique Archaeology from American Pickers, Jack White's Third Man Records, even I-65 tourist trap Dinosaur World.
But the feature of each trip is that one lucky Butler fan will have their home invaded by Blue and Trip. To enter, all you have to do is donate to Butler and register for the contest. My friend John won the Nashville trip visit, so the Blue Mobile. Blue and Trip pulled into the driveway around 2 p.m. and Blue II and Trip hopped out of the back and were led to the door by their handlers, Michael and Tom.
John has a French Bulldog named Mojo, and it was clear from the start that Mojo and Trip weren't going to have a peaceful visit with each other. Since Blue and Trip were the guests, have about 17,000 twitter followers combined, and celebrities always get the breaks, Mojo spent the next half hour in the bedroom while Blue and Trip made themselves at home, in more ways than one. Trip really enjoyed one of Mojo's rawhide chews.
After the visit, it was time to pregame at a bar near the Vandy campus, where there were a surprising number of Kentucky fans watching the UK-Louisville game on TV. After getting some appetizers and beers, it was time to head to campus. John and his wife had tickets to a Butler pregame event across the street from Memorial Gymnasium. I elected to skip the event so I could wander around campus a bit and explore Memorial Gym as soon as the doors opened. Vanderbilt isn't beyond promoting a game through mid-major means, as this sandwich board outside the arena proved.
It was a bit colder than I expected, and it was even snowing, which isn't that unusual for Nashville; they average about six inches of snow per winter. So I ducked in the campus Barnes and Noble to have a look around. Much to my surprise, I ran into a celebrity, at least in some circles. IndyCar driver Ed Carpenter, who is a graduate of Butler, had made the trip to Nashville with his wife and newborn son.
When you get inside Memorial Gym, the lyrics of "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Everything You Know is Wrong" popped into my head.
Everything you know is wrong
Black is white, up is down and short is long
And everything you thought was just so important doesn't matter
The entrance near the ticket window feeds into a room with a bunch of jerseys and trophies, nothing too weird yet, But instead of a concourse, there is a narrow connecting hallway that leads to the concourses on either side. The hallway is not straight at all, but has several strange angles and a maze-like quality. Once in the concourses, you notice that there are staircases everywhere. The levels of Memorial Gym do not match up, so if you are in Section 3A, you have to go down the stairs to the lower concourse, then back up the stairs to 3F, for example,
Everything you know is wrong
Just forget the words and sing along
All you need to understand is everything you know is wrong
Next is the strange fact that the majority of the walls in the concourses are painted forest green. Forest green is not a school color in any way and not a natural neutral color for a basketball arena, so why the interior design team picked this color to cover the concrete block walls, who knows.
Also, not every level has a bathroom or concession stand. So you may have to go up or down a flight of stairs to get something to eat or use the facilities.
Since I had the time, I went and took pictures from various areas of the arena. I would be wary of any seats in the second level on the sides. As this picture proves, you can really only see the court in the middle level, the rest of the world or a scoreboard does not exist.
The benches are actually on the baseline instead of the sideline. Partially because the edge of the court is a lot closer to the baseline than the sideline. You could run wind sprints on the sideline to warm up like in soccer games, there is so much space between the seating on the sides and the actual marked court. The other reason why the benches are on the baselines is to not block the view of the fans on the sides, as the first three rows are pretty much below court level.
I took a picture from behind the Butler bench to provide prospective of the view the team would have that evening. Associate head coach Matthew Graves and Director of Basketball Operations Darnell Archey, both former Bulldog players, were getting used to the view.
In the front row behind the bench was another former Bulldog turned coach. Ronald Nored is now repping the 'Burg in a big way, as he is now the varsity boys' basketball coach at Brownsburg High School, the alma mater of Mr. Too Big, Gordon Hayward. Hayward's father, Gordon Sr., is one of Nored's assistants. I gave Nored a little grief about not being at home watching tape or scouting an opponent.
The scorer's table is not a table at all. In fact, they just throw the possession arrow, scorebooks, etc. right on the court. It was awkward in one case when the officials had to review a timing situation and had to get on their knees to get a view of the monitor. Speaking of clocks, the shot clocks at Memorial Gym are probably the only ones in Division I that are not mounted above the backboard. Instead, they are mounted on one of the backboard supports, which could be hard to see depending on the angle. Sticking a very tall player in front of the shot clock to obscure the clock might be sound defensive strategy here.
The official Butler group had tickets in 2F behind the basket and bench Butler was sitting at, and it was a pretty respectable view. The old wooden bleachers looked they they were the originals from when Memorial Gym was built in 1952. A great number of Butler fans that were not part of the official group had taken the place of the Vanderbilt students in the lower section on one side of the court.
One Butler player did have history with the quirkiness of Memorial Gym. Rotnei Clarke played there as a member of the Arkansas Razorbacks. In 2011, Clarke poured in 36 points, shooting 6-of-8 from behind the arc, as Arkansas upset Vanderbilt 89-78.
At first, Butler had some problems with the surroundings. At the second media timeout, Butler was trailing 13-10 and some wondered if having Coach Brad Stevens behind the offense instead of on the side affected the crispness of the offense. Clarke admitted in an interview after the game that he was forcing things a bit due to the excitement of playing in an SEC arena again. In the last five minutes of the half, Clarke made a couple of threes and Butler went into the locker room up 25-20.
Whether it was halftime adjustments, playing toward Stevens, or that Clarke had finally relaxed, the second half was a totally different story. Clarke hit another three to make it 32-23. Clarke's fourth superhoop of the evening made it 39-25. As an opposing fan, there is not a more beautiful sound in the world as when the home team fans gasp and groan when a hot shooter catches the ball and has an open look. The last time I remember it happening was when Hayward made seven threes in an eventual loss at Ohio State.
Clarke wasn't done tormenting the Commodore fans yet. Superhoop number five came at the 13:41 to make it 42-29. After a regular basket for variety, Clarke made number six with a whole six inches of space to make it 49-32 with 8:58 left. Clarke can get his shot up so fast, he only needs a fraction of the space most shooters need to get off a shot.
Clarke would be finished with his barrage, but freshman Kellen Dunham, who might actually be a better shooter than Clarke, picked up the fury. Dunham would make two superhoops of his own, along with some other baskets and free throws, and Butler was never challenged, rolling to a 68-49 victory for "Guest" on the center scoreboard, as the graphics person never bothered to change the default. Clarke would finish with 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting behind the arc, while Dunham chipped in 12.
Last year, Butler was severely hampered by their strange lack of shooting ability. This year, to paraphrase Happy Gilmore, Butler learned how to shoot...uh oh. The Dawgs might be busting more brackets come March. Not that you should fill out one anyway.
BUTLER 68, at VANDERBILT 49
BUTLER 10-2 (0-0) -- R. Clarke 7-15 2-2 22; K. Dunham 4-8 2-2 12; R. Jones 2-6 2-4 6; K. Marshall 4-5 1-2 9; A. Barlow 2-3 2-2 6; A. Smith 4-7 0-1 8; K. Woods 1-2 2-2 4; E. Fromm 0-0 1-2 1; C. Stigall 0-3 0-0 0; J. Aldridge 0-1 0-0 0; D. Morgan 0-1 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-51 12-17 68.
VANDERBILT 5-6 (0-0) -- R. Odom 1-9 1-2 4; K. Johnson 3-10 2-5 9; K. Bright 1-4 0-2 3; K. Fuller 4-9 1-3 10; J. Henderson 2-4 1-2 5; D. Parker 2-5 0-0 5; S. Moats 2-5 3-5 8; S. Jeter 2-3 0-0 5; J. Siakam 0-2 0-0 0; A. Astroth 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-51 8-19 49.
Three-point goals: BUTL 8-20 (R. Clarke 6-9; C. Stigall 0-3; A. Smith 0-1; A. Barlow 0-1; K. Woods 0-1; K. Dunham 2-5), VAND 7-17 (K. Fuller 1-3; R. Odom 1-3; K. Johnson 1-3; S. Moats 1-1; D. Parker 1-2; K. Bright 1-3; S. Jeter 1-2); Rebounds: BUTL 39 (K. Marshall 11), VAND 24 (R. Odom 5); Assists: BUTL 13 (R. Clarke 3), VAND 7 (K. Johnson 4); Total Fouls -- BUTL 18, VAND 16; Fouled Out: BUTL-None; VAND-None.
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