I took the day off work on Tuesday to watch the first round games of the Big East Tournament live at Madison Square Garden. My friend Amanda suggested that we should go since we're both college basketball fans and neither of us had been to the tournament before. I did go to the Georgetown-Pitt Big East final game in 2007, but I'd never gone for the early rounds. Instead of writing recaps of the games, which you can read elsewhere, I'd rather focus on the things I saw that you don't get to see when you watch the tournament on TV.
First of all, the Garden was mostly empty for the 12 PM opening game and the 9 PM late game. It filled up in the afternoon for St. John's vs. UConn and again in the evening for Seton Hall-Providence, but the teams from the furthest distances (South Florida, DePaul, and Cincinnati) had the least support. Rutgers played in the last game of the night vs. Cincinnati and by the end of the game only the bands and a few die-hard fans and basketball junkies were left in the arena. One thing we learned was that tickets for the tournament are only available through the 16 schools in the conference. That explains why the only tickets we could find online were on StubHub. And it explains all the empty seats and why we were able to sit in the 200 level for the evening games instead of our proper seats one level higher up. There were several thousand no-shows for both the day and evening sessions so we were free to take whatever seats we wanted. But the fans that did show up for the games got into the spirit. St. John's fans turned out to see their team trounce UConn. And the Garden really came to life late in the Seton Hall-Providence game when the Friars went on a 29-4 run to turn a blowout into a nail-biter.
Between the first and second games of each session, we saw a little "battle of the bands" action. The bands from UConn and St. John's and later Cincinnati and Rutgers took turns playing songs while the other band listened. Sometimes one band played the same song that the opposite band just played, so we heard dueling versions of "Gimme Some Lovin'" or "Hey Baby." Cincinnati's band played a rousing "Seven Nation Army," and Rutgers threw some dance moves into their version of "Thriller." As a former band groupie, I was in musical geek heaven. It was almost a shame we had to watch some basketball.
During halftime of the first three games, the dance teams from each school would come on the floor for a quick dance-off. That amounted to the entire halftime show. But for Cincinnati-Rutgers, there were no dance teams. Instead, the Cincinnati Bearcat clowned around on the court, shooting free throws until a Garden employee asked him to stop. I should have shouted "let him play!" or at least gotten a few photos, but by the time I noticed his act, the Bearcat had put his ball away. Then he disappeared for most of the 2nd half and I wondered what had become of him. Just as I was about to implore my Twitter followers to send out a search party, he reappeared on the court. Maybe he was just napping. It was late in the evening.
Speaking of Twitter, we spent the whole day tweeting constantly about the games and as such we had concerns about whether we'd have enough battery power to get through the evening. Between sessions we left the Garden in search of a bar or restaurant where we could recharge both physically and electronically. We eschewed the crowds at Stout and the dark, dank Stitch and found ourselves at Houndstooth NYC on 8th Avenue at 37th Street. The hostess showed us to a table by the window where we found a four-plug wall outlet behind my chair. We were saved! And the beer and food weren't bad either. The next time I'm near the Garden and looking for a restaurant for a pre-game or -concert meal, Houndstooth will be my first stop.