Indiana beat No. 3 Wisconsin 75-72 in Bloomington, Ind., on Tuesday night. You’ve seen this? You’ve heard about this?
It was a huge victory for the Hoosiers, who got their first quality résumé victory of a season marked by frustrating offense and teeth-grinding losses — before Tuesday, when the Hoosiers’ best win was Washington (gulp), there was no reason to say Indiana belonged in anything but the NIT. It was a major moment for point guard Yogi Ferrell, who was benched and challenged to tighten things up, and responded by making every big shot down the stretch. And it was a hard-earned win for Indiana coach Tom Crean, whose program had lost its last 12 games to the Badgers — a streak Crean very much wanted to end.
And as soon as all of those things happened, people stopped talking about any of it. Instead, they turned their attentions to Indiana students, to a thousand giddy kids who streamed onto the court to celebrate and jump around and shout.
Minor outrage ensued. I got emails and text messages from friends and readers; I saw more tweets on the topic than I could keep up with. ESPN’s own Seth Greenberg — who later engaged in a fun, lighthearted little debate on "SportsCenter" with Jay Williams (which is the tone all of this should take, because it is not a serious topic) — succinctly summarized the feelings of many:
Ok Indiana University should not storm the court. Rare that schools with their tradition storms.
— Seth Greenberg (@SethOnHoops) January 15, 2014
Last week, John Calipari popped a related, not-so-subliminal shot at Indiana fans on his radio show. “If we won a game against the No. 1 team in the country in Rupp Arena, would people charge the court?” Calipari said. “No. You're supposed to [win]. You're Kentucky. We don't do that here.”
That’s the general gist of the argument against the Hoosiers’ court-storming kids: To storm the court is to concede inferiority. Indiana, one of the sport’s elite, blue-blood programs, should be above self-imposed underdog status.
This argument has come up a lot in Bloomington these past few years. In 2009, in the darkest days of its post-Kelvin Sampson nightmare, Indiana won just one conference game. In 2010, when it beat a bad Minnesota team at home, the students rushed the floor, happy just to be happy. In 2011, when IU beat a decent Illinois team 52-49 at Assembly Hall — en route to a 12-win season, by the way — Crean and IU fans held an extended love-in in the arena lobby. For many longtime Indiana fans, this stuff was embarrassing, accompanied by groans and sad reality checks. I remember my Chicago buddy’s text message: “Since when is Indiana this happy to beat a program that hangs its Final Four banners?” My response involved Kyle Taber, I think.
The scene that accompanied the 2012 victory over eventual national champion Kentucky was totally different, with changing connotations: spontaneous, gleeful, cathartic, but also a sign that the bad, sad days of being happy to beat Minnesota were officially over. Indiana basketball was back.
I figured Indiana students would probably lay off the court-storms going forward. The argument that students born in the early 1990s hadn’t seen an IU team succeed was always kind of suspect — IU’s student body knows exactly how good its basketball program was — but in 2012-13, IU spent much of the season ranked No. 1 and sent Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo to the top five of the NBA draft. Expectations had changed, and so would the approach to taking the floor.
And then Tuesday night happened. Yes, Wisconsin was unbeaten and ranked No. 3, and had beaten IU 12 straight times since January 2007; yes, a struggling young Hoosiers team gave its best and most thrilling performance of the season. But surely students wouldn’t rush the court, because IU should usua- — ha, yep! There they go!
There’s a classic old episode of the timeless ABC reality program “Wife Swap” (stay with me) in which a young, headstrong boy named Curtis (or “King Curtis,” as his family calls him) refuses to listen to a health-obsessed swapee named Joy.
Curtis, you see, loves chicken nuggets. With the blessing of his parents, chicken nuggets comprise nearly 100 percent of Curtis’ daily nutritional intake. When Joy attempts to introduce the family to vegetables and the merits of exercise, Curtis reacts poorly. Among his many classic protests is a placard that reads: “I’m not lisning [sic] to your rules.”
It didn’t matter how calmly Joy presented the case (which, her being a crazy person on a reality TV show, wasn’t very calmly at all). It didn’t matter what deal she offered. Curtis didn’t want to eat vegetables. So he packed a bag, left for his grandmother’s house, and ate chicken nuggets there instead.
The fable of King Curtis is a good way to look at Tuesday night in Bloomington, Ind. There are always rules to court-storming, and everyone has their own: Whether your opponent is good enough, whether you’re bad enough, whether “programs” with traditions are allowed, whether the game is close or a blowout, and on and on and on. A lot of these fuzzy “rules” make sense only in so far as any such rules make sense, but if you acknowledge them, there is a certain order to the whole idea.
Tuesday night, the AP wrote that “the postgame celebration exemplified how critical the win was to a team that had been mostly inconsistent.” I mean, maybe? Or maybe a thousand collegiate bros and ladybros just wanted to get out there on the court and take a few rad Snapchats. Selfie anarchy! We did it, brah!! Sick!
As the aforelinked selfie clearly demonstrates, Indiana students love storming the court the same way Curtis loved chicken nuggets. Tell them why they shouldn’t; read them your rules for court-storming; bargain as much as you like. It’s not going to matter. They aren’t lisning to your rules. They’re too busy having fun.