EVANSTON, Ill. -- Michigan State’s Draymond Green is greeted with anger or indifference at 10 of the Big Ten’s 12 arenas.
He will hear a small amount of applause at most places on the road. Players’ family members travel to most games, and there’s usually a pocket of Spartans fans who live locally or will commute wherever Big Ten games are staged.
But the only two places where Green feels truly loved is at home in Michigan State’s Breslin Center and at Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena. It’s not that Northwestern’s fans are extremely friendly; it’s that Evanston borders Chicago, and Chicago is home to thousands of Michigan State alumni.
"It's always a mixed crowd at Northwestern,” Green said. “It's weird, but it still gets loud in there. But we always have a great crowd at Northwestern. I'm not sure how it turns out with everybody else. But every time I've been there, there have been a ton of Michigan State fans.”
The blame for this isn’t completely on Northwestern’s fans. Sure, if there were more Northwestern season-ticket holders, it would eliminate more opposing fans. But it’s also simply the downside of existing in a metropolitan area.
While other Big Ten teams possess the advantage of a home crowd being more completely on their side -- which some experts believe can be quantified by as many as 10 points for the home team -- Northwestern often doesn’t have that luxury.
For example, in Northwestern’s recent home game against the Michigan Wolverines, the Wildcats faithful were roaring when Northwestern was playing well. But Michigan’s fans also made themselves known when the Wolverines made their push. Michigan’s fans could even be heard chanting “air-ball” after Northwestern star John Shurna missed the rim on a 3-point attempt.
Northwestern junior guard Alex Marcotullio admitted he and his teammates notice the good and bad when they’re at home.
“You can tell especially when the opposing team goes on a run in Big Ten play,” Marcotullio said. “You can hear when it’s Michigan State, the ‘go green, go white,’ and ‘go blue’ [against Michigan]. It’s something you have to block out. I think it helps the other team a little bit when they can look up and see their colors in the crowd.
“I think it’s something we have to deal with, but then again our fans are behind us 100 percent, as well, and it’s good to see all the purple.”
ESPN college basketball analyst Stephen Bardo said he thought Northwestern’s fans could actually amp themselves up. He believed today’s Northwestern fans paled in comparison to the Northwestern fans he had to deal with as an Illinois player from 1986-1990.
“We never went up there and beat them by a ton,” Bardo said. “We would have a lot of Illinois fans, but it still felt like a road game. Their fans were really into it. Their fans were feisty. They’re like a wine and cheese crowd now. They’re trying to get into the NCAA, and I think it’s quieter than it was before.
“I think the fans take Northwestern for granted. If you think about it, it’s the best conference in the country this season. They’re right on the cusp of the NCAA tournament. They’re on the cusp of making history, and they’re not selling out.”
Northwestern has made strides in its home attendance. The Wildcats' average home attendance will rise to 6,200 after Wednesday's game with the Ohio State Buckeyes, according to a Northwestern spokesperson. Last year, Northwestern's attendance was 5,291 per game.
Northwestern fans are expected to be out in full force Wednesday when the Wildcats host the Buckeyes in what is being deemed one of the biggest games in the program’s history.
Yet, the Buckeyes will likely be well represented, too. On Ohio State’s Chicago alumni association website, an invitation to Wednesday’s game is posted.
A season ago, it was Ohio State’s fans who left Welsh-Ryan Arena happy with a one-point win over Northwestern. Perhaps the outcome will be different this time around.