- If, Rudyard Kipling
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Because you get oblivious to such things in March, I was totally unaware New York City was having its St. Patrick's Day parade on Saturday instead of Sunday this year (it's always on a Saturday, but my brain apparently didn't process the fact that St. Patrick's Day and the parade would be on different days).
And so my day was already off to a rough start, as the train from New Haven to New York was overflowing with people wearing green, but fortunately I was able to grab one of the last seats and it was still early enough that the clientele wasn't terribly inebriated yet. That would not be the case on the way home, although we did get to see a couple of interesting scraps that couldn't have been more stereotypical if they were on some alternate Jersey Shore-like reality show that was based somewhere in Boston.
Luckily, the worst wound suffered was only a bloody lip, nothing that a few hours of sleep couldn't fix.
When I arrived at Grand Central Station and hopped on the Brooklyn-bound subway, though, I was stunned to see that it was quickly empty as we got away from midtown Manhattan and closer to the Barclays Center. More than a million people attending a parade a couple of miles away, and if I didn't know it was happening, nothing on this train would have told me.
We have a tendency to magnify our importance in this world, whether we know it or not, part of us believes the world centers on us and our problems. But there's nothing like a trip around New York City to humble you, and most of us need to be humbled from time to time. Hell, even the President could probably find a way to lose himself in the City if he wanted to, at least for a little while.
Our Game is no different. We get frustrated when people don't give it mention along with everyone else, and then we get annoyed when they do too much.
But just as we have to remember humility as one of our tenets
, we also have to know that what we do is important, even if few people may notice.
I dodged all the screaming people in green to arrive at the Barclays Center Saturday afternoon, which sounded like a library compared to the train ride I had just completed, despite the fact that two of the best teams in the Mid-majority (cue Andy Katz's ears ringing and screaming, "They're not mid-majors!") were about to play in the Atlantic-10 semifinals.
Both teams had a decent set of loyal fans, but it was still early in the day, and on a Saturday afternoon, there were many other options for entertainment in New York, like one of the biggest parades in the world a couple of subway stops away, for instance.
Again, people will ask, "What was the size of the crowd?" or say "Compare it to the Big East," but that's when we start getting ourselves into trouble. It was decent, why does it matter what a number is? The people that were there were vocal and into the contest.
Ironically for someone who lives in Connecticut, it was the second time I'd seen these two teams play this season, with Saint Louis handling Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse three weeks ago
after blowing out the Bulldogs earlier in the season
. It wasn't so ironic that they were meeting in the Atlantic-10 semifinals, they are two solid teams and programs, even if conference realignment make take Saint Louis from us eventually, just as it did Butler.
Of course, we know how hard it is to beat a team three times in a season. Fifty percent harder than doing it twice. Duh.
Saint Louis hasn't cared much for any kind of percentages of late, running roughshod through one of the toughest conferences in the country, but Butler is no slouch, and Rotnie Clarke hit back-to-back superhoops to give the Bulldogs an early 11-6 lead. Brad Stevens showed a lot of 2-3 zone early in the contest (perhaps he's been watching Big East games in his spare time to prepare for the move and liked what he saw), and it seemed to confound the Billikens, and when big man Andrew Smith stepped out to hit a superhoop of his own, Butler had a 22-16 lead with 7:30 to go in the opening half.
But the Billikens eventually found the range, our favorite blue-haired sharpshooter Cody Ellis tied the game, and the underrated Kwamain Mitchell found Rob Loe for a layup as time expired to give Saint Louis a 27-25 halftime lead.
Clarke put Butler back in front with four points early in the second half, but - must to the consternation of the increasingly animated Stevens - it was pretty much all downhill from there for the Bulldogs.
Sure, VCU has its Havoc, but the way Saint Louis defends and executes might be better termed Torture. They rarely make mistakes, especially on the defensive end, where every switch, every assignment is made correctly, making it so difficult for opponents to get good looks at the basket. Saint Louis forced 20 turnovers in this game, and held Butler to just 39 percent shooting. It took only 45 shots from the field, but went to the free throw line 31 torturous times.
Just as he did Friday, Dwayne Evans - and you can probably count the number of times Evans has been mentioned by the national media on one hand - again dominated the paint.
There were no thunderous dunks or blitzkrieg runs, but suddenly you looked up at the scoreboard with 3:30 left and the Billikens were up 60-47.
How the hell did that happen?
I guess I could ask any of Saint Louis' other opponents; SLU has lost only once in regulation since November.
Stevens was frustrated enough to keep fouling late into the final minute, but eventually raised the white flag and Saint Louis was headed to the Atlantic-10 finals for the first time. Meanwhile, Butler's only appearance in the A-10 Tournament came to an end (they'll still play in New York next March, but at Madison Square Garden).
You get the feeling that Jim Crews understands his place in the world, that some of the same people who are heaping such lavish (and deserved) praise on him in the last month probably never had even heard of him before Rick Majerus got sick. Or worse, probably wrote and told the world how awful he was when he was fired from Army a few years ago.
Crews has the experience and life-lesson badges earned enough to know to treat the imposters of triumph and disaster just the same.
He knows he could jump on a random subway in New York and no one would give a shit that he's the hottest college basketball coach in the nation.
And that's probably what makes he and his team so dangerous right now.