Welcome to the refreshed Mid-Major Madness! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!
I was born and raised in Terre Haute, IN, a city of roughly 60,000 people that hugs the Indiana/Illinois border along the Wabash River. Terre Haute is home to the Indiana State University Sycamores. Being a typical basketball-obsessed child of Indiana, I attended nearly every home Sycamore game at the nearly always empty Hulman Center.
To put it bluntly, ISU was bad when I was a kid. These were the Tates Locke/Sherman Dillard years, and the most exciting aspect of those teams was that Eddie Bird, Larry's younger brother, was part of them. More often than not, I was more interested in watching the stars of other Missouri Valley teams that would come to town, like Hershey Hawkins, Ashraf Amaya, Kyle Korver, Rico Hill, and Shea Seals.
However, at the turn of the century, something magical happened in Terre Haute, which cemented my love for mid-major basketball: The Sycamores actually started winning basketball games. Royce Waltman was now in charge, and ISU brought in players like Nate Green, Michael Menser (the Batesville Bomber), and Matt Renn (an undersized junkyard dog 4). They made consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament in the 1999-00 and 2000-01, even beating Kelvin Sampson's 4 seed Oklahoma Sooners in the First Round in 2001.
However, despite an NCAA Tournament win that year (the Sycamores' first since Larry Bird was in town), it was a regular season game against Indiana University that completely sealed my passion for mid-major basketball.
First, you have to understand that it was rare for IU to play ISU, despite only being roughly an hour away. Second, they were playing in Terre Haute. ISU's biggest non-conference home opponent every year to this point was probably Ball State. Bob Knight simply didn't take his Hoosiers to Indiana State. With that in mind, the Sycamores were down five with under 10 seconds to play, and Menser hit two deep, contested threes in those final seconds to beat the Hoosiers. It was, and still is, the greatest moment of basketball that I've seen live, and one that has entirely informed my basketball fandom since (despite me graduating from IU four years after that game was played).
It was the first instance where my team, the underdog team, actually won a game. And it was glorious. And it's why I still track mid-major basketball with a beyond fervent passion.
Now to be honest, there's also a streak of what one could call "hipsterism" that has evolved in my mid-major obsession. While I still very much enjoy major conference basketball (and I'm of course an obsessive IU fan), there's a part of me that sees it as "basketball wallpaper." It's all around you. Everyone has an opinion that they feel the need to share, and what exactly can you add to the conversation that isn't just white noise? In other words, major college basketball is like Pearl Jam and mid-major hoops is like the band you happened to see in a bar and you've been telling your friends about ever since.
Who doesn't want to get in on the ground floor of the next Steph Curry/Neutral Milk Hotel? Who doesn't want to be able to say "Yeah, I tracked this guy when he was at Wofford...nbd?" Additionally, it's so much easier to actually watch live mid-major games and track the Marcus Keenes of the college basketball world. Nearly every conference has its own digital streaming platform, and nearly all are free (and you can always stream SWAC games via radio if you have a problem like me). Plus, each conference stream has its own personality, in a way, from the live DJs at Big West gyms on BigWestTV to the unabashed homer announcers on NEC Front Row.
The third major reason that I watch mid-major basketball is that it's a medium of the game where coaching scheme can still entirely effect the outcome of the game. From genius zone coaches like Bill Carmody at Holy Cross to up-the-line pressure from the Mayhem of Jamion Christian at Mt. St Mary's, the style of play can completely dictate how the game is played more so than on the major conference level.
In short, watching mid-major basketball allows you to root for the underdog, become a basketball hipster, and romanticize unique defensive schemes. It has it all.
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