“Butler always travels well,” said Mary Marsh, who was attending Thursday’s opening game at PNC Arena with a small coterie of fellow Bulldogs. Included were two former Butler basketball players – her husband, John Marsh, Butler class of ’71, and Jim Petty, Butler ’66.
Marsh and Petty played for legendary coach Tony Hinkle at Butler; Marsh was a member of Hinkle’s last Butler team. If you don’t know who Hinkle is, you’ve probably never watched the movie “Hoosiers.” Hinkle Fieldhouse was the setting for the movie, and for many years it was the home of the Indiana high school basketball tournament. When it was built in 1928, Hinkle was the largest basketball arena in the country at 15,000 capacity (since reduced to 11,043), a distinction it retained until 1950.
Mary Marsh, a former Butler cheerleader, said Butler had a ticket allotment of 350 and quickly sold them out. Not surprising – the Bulldogs have earned their reputation as giant killers in the NCAA Tournament, including back-to-back championship game appearances in 2010 and 2011.
John Marsh traces the renaissance of Butler basketball back to 1989 and the hiring of former coach Barry Collier, now the school’s athletic director. Collier left Butler for the Big 12 and Nebraska in 2000, having brought the Bulldogs their first NCAA Tournament berth in 35 years (1997), but returned to his alma mater 10 years ago to run the athletic department. As a mid-major program in the Horizon League (nee Midwestern Collegiate Conference), Butler was looked upon as a stepping stone for coaches on the rise. Now a member of the Big East, the Bulldogs are finally on a power conference footing.
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“Collier’s the one who got it started,” said Marsh, detailing the rise of the Bulldogs through five successors to Collier, including Thad Matta, now of Ohio State, and Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “We’ve been through presidents and head coaches, but Barry has been the constant. He put the plan together, and it’s been working. And we’ve been winning for a while now.”
Mistaken identity: Apparently the courtside dizzy spell suffered by Virginia coach Tony Bennett caused some confusion in celebrity circles today. Or maybe the death Wednesday of Frank Sinatra Jr. led people to believe another entertainer might be ailing. Sinatra was touring in Daytona Beach, Fla., when he died of cardiac arrest at age 72.
Either way, the singer Tony Bennett, who is 89 years old, felt compelled to tweet out, “I wanted to let all my fans know that Im ok. Glad to hear UVA coach Tony Bennett is fine after his fall. Congrats @UVAMensHoops on the win!”
Chance meeting: Following UVa’s 81-45 victory over Hampton, UNC coach Roy Williams encountered Virginia coach Tony Bennett outside the arena prior to Thursday’s evening session of games and expressed his concern about Bennett’s dizzy spell.
Bennett went to the locker room with 34 seconds left in the half after momentarily blacking out when he stood up too fast. Bennett said later he had been under the weather recently and was dehydrated. He returned to the court for the second half but rarely left his seat and could be observed repeatedly sipping Powerade to stay hydrated.
Williams has had frequent bouts with vertigo and missed the second half of a 68-65 victory at Boston College on Feb. 9 because of an occurrence in that game when he turned his head suddenly on the sideline.
“I just went over to check on Tony,” Williams recounted. “He said he was fine. He told me he was going to take one of my chapters. I said let’s both stay away from that.”
Dog gone: It’s a dog’s life at the NCAA Tournament, as Butler Blue III, the bulldog mascot of Butler University, found out when he and his handler tried to enter PNC Arena on Thursday.
They were turned away because the NCAA doesn’t allow live animal mascots in basketball arenas other than at the Final Four.
No matter – Trip, as he is also known, tweeted that he will be back for photo ops outside the arena for Saturday’s second-round game against either Virginia.
“Git yore guns up!”: John Magner of Oakton, Va., isn’t a Texas Tech alum. He went to Texas, but he and his 15-year-old son Jack were showing off the Red Raiders’ black-and-red colors on the PNC Arena concourse. With Jack on spring break from Flint Hill Prep, John, 59, figured it would be a good time to catch some tournament basketball and root for a fellow Texas team.
“My niece went to Tech, and my nephew is a huge Tech fan,” Magner said. “So I’m being loyal to the state.”
This is the third NCAA Tournament the Magners have attended in as many years.
“We just like to see good basketball,” Magner said. “We went to St. Louis two years ago and saw Kansas. Last year we went to Jacksonville (Fla.) for UNC-Harvard. So we got to see that upset by Georgia State (over third-seeded Baylor).”
Although Magner also has a rooting interest in the Tar Heels because of family ties, he said he will have to add another team this weekend.
“My daughter has been accepted to UVa,” he said. “So we’ll become Cavalier fans.”
Orange is the new fan: No, Susie Martin and Mary Anne Layo weren’t lost as they compared notes with fellow fans while walking the PNC concourse. But their Syracuse T-shirts certainly could have created that impression, with the 10th-seeded Orange off in St. Louis to play seventh-seeded Dayton on Friday.
“It’s called a free room,” Martin laughed.
Layo, 68, hails from Massena, N.Y., about 180 miles from Syracuse, and is staying at Martin’s home in Holly Springs this week. They are college basketball junkies and just like going to games.
“We were cheerleaders in high school,” Layo said. “That’s all the girls had.”
Martin and Layo grew up in upstate New York and attended Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. They’re Syracuse fans by default.
“It’s the only Division I football team in New York,” Layo pointed out.
ACC country: By far the biggest fan bases in evidence Thursday afternoon were from UVa and UNC. The Cavaliers had the advantage of the early game, and Virginia and UNC paraphernalia were the hottest sellers at the various NCAA kiosks on the PNC concourse.
“The UNC stuff is selling the best,” one staffer in the kiosk noted. “But we have plenty. We won’t run out.”
Fans from both schools should feel comfortable in PNC Arena, as both have enjoyed success here. Virginia is 6-0 at PNC in coach Tony Bennett’s tenure, including two NCAA Tournament victories in 2014. UNC is 13-2 here under coach Roy Williams.