Last year, after Illinois beat Indiana on a moment that will be engraved on Tyler Griffey's tombstone, I ran into some Michigan State fans at the bar. They were middle aged fellas that celebrated with us because, understandably, they didn't like Indiana either. "We'll root for them come tournament time though, just like we'll root for you guys."
"I won't," I said.
"You won't? You have to. You have to cheer Big Ten."
"I won't. It's Indiana."
Did you root for Big Ten teams this weekend? Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin played in the Elite 8 against Kentucky, UConn and Arizona, respectively. Who were you pulling for in each matchup? Was it Big Ten across the board, or did you pick and choose?
And did the opponent play any role in your decision? Did you look at Michigan, then look at Kentucky, then back at Michigan before bowing your head and sadly picking the Wolverines?
I think most people did, but of course with different motivations. Let's talk about two Illini fans and what they thought.
Illini fan #1: A Lion Eye. The following are snippets of a piece he wrote last night after Wisconsin advanced to the Final Four.
You're telling me I'm supposed to root for Bo Schembechler's team? I'm supposed to pump my fist when MICHIGAN scores? No way no how.
I can't laugh when IU loses to Penn State at home and then gleefully cheer when they win a tournament game. It's one or the other, and I've always chosen the other.
There are levels to this, of course - if Penn State is going for a Sweet 16 berth, I think that's cute and so I can golf clap, whereas Iowa must lose every game ever - but overall, I almost always pulling for the opponent. Actually, that's not completely true. I'm almost always trying to ignore the game and kick pebbles.
Robert's got that necessary hate in him, and I'm all in favor. I greatly enjoyed the piece. And of course, he makes plenty of good points. The pro-Big Ten people say rep your conference, own your conference, kiss your conference, marry it, love it, love it madly. Don't cheer for some shleppin' SEC team, they say. Where's your loyalty at?
Objectively, yeah, I guess. I like to the see the conference succeed, which is why I wrote yesterday how excited I was that three Big Ten teams could potentially make the Final Four. That'd be neat. It'd be historic and healthy for the conference I spend my winters with. Unfortunately, though, I root for the conference but not the members. It's completely illogical. I want the Big Ten to win every game, except I want every Big Ten team to lose. It's a headache I have to live with.
That's the take of the second Illinois fan: Me. I won't speak for any other Illini brethren because how you place yourself in relation to conference competition is a personal decision. You determine your life on this one, guy.
I will never, ever, under any circumstance bring myself to root for Indiana basketball. Never. Ever. The opponent could be a team of 35-year-old goateed bullies who kick puppies and children during dead ball timeouts, and I'd still berate Tom Crean for being so obnoxious. Boo Indiana. Boooooooooooo.
I absolutely never root for Iowa or Ohio State basketball either because I just can't stand them. Iowa hate is based in their fans. Ohio State hate is based in Evan Turner. My kids won't know who Evan Turner is, but I guarantee they'll know not to like the Buckeyes.
The three teams playing this weekend--Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State--don't make my spit list for whatever reason, mostly because I respect their coaches. I admire how those guys work and thus, their squads don't repulse me. Not like those damn Buckeyes.
Purdue, Penn State, Nebraska and Minnesota are whatever. I hope Northwestern loses every game. I haven't had the chance to genuinely consider Maryland and Rutgers yet.
I rooted for Michigan today, admittedly. I cheered during their frenzied possession that tied the game with 30 seconds remaining and groaned when the Harrison twin drowned them with a game winning three. Then, the game ended, Kentucky celebrated and I said, "Okay," without the slightest bit of interest. I won't cry for Michigan.
I think that's the answer. Once Illinois is out, it's all just a play to enjoy. It's more enjoyable if we can plant some interest in each game's top soil, so we do. But it doesn't go much deeper than that. I don't have roots in this tournament. The Wolverine contingency wouldn't invite me to their celebration, so they shouldn't look my way when finding people for their pity party either.
I want the best for the Big Ten. I want all its teams to lose. It doesn't make sense. When does basketball season start?