Not very often does No. 10 Indiana men’s basketball get a ranked matchup in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall as high-profile as Wednesday’s game against the No. 18 University of North Carolina.
For the current group of Indiana students, it’s happened even less. So Wednesday morning, ahead of one of the most hyped Indiana games in years, more than 100 students arrived over 12 hours before tip, hoping to grab the best seating in Assembly Hall.
The first in line came at 7 p.m. Tuesday, pitching lawn chairs, inflatable mattresses and tarps, bearing the rain and frigid temperatures. They took turns walking to Briscoe to warm up and use the bathroom. They camped out with Starbucks, ordered Chick-Fil-A on DoorDash and made Meals Ready-To-Eat, hoping to see a return of Indiana’s basketball culture.
“If we could come out with a win from this game, I really think it could bring life back to campus and to the student body,” IU junior Brent Peterson said.
Peterson and his friends arrived at 8 p.m. Tuesday, well aware of how important Wednesday’s game would be. They were told they weren’t allowed to pitch a tent, so they stuck it out in less than desirable weather. IU senior Daniel Larson said they only got around 20 minutes of sleep — plenty to carry them through the 9:15 p.m. tipoff.
Students skipped classes to arrive on time and avoid nosebleed seats. One student missed a group project and was editing an Excel spreadsheet in line while waiting. IU senior Monica Fronzcek studied for a biochemistry exam to pass time.
“I couldn’t sit here and not do anything,” Fronzcek said. “I need to be doing something.”
On Ticketmaster, 24 hours before tipoff, the cheapest tickets ran for $300. General Admission student tickets, for sale on IU Classifieds, dropped slightly closer to $100. The stadium is nearly guaranteed to be sold out, and Indiana Athletics has campaigned for fans to create a white-out environment.
“IU and UNC are historical basketball schools,” IU senior Blake Bilger said. “IU hasn’t played anyone that big since Kentucky and the Watford shot (in 2011). It’s going back to the roots of IU in the ‘80s where all the big teams wanted to play at IU because we’re back.”
This senior class watched its team go unranked for 1,372 days until the AP Preseason Poll was released this year. Dating back to the first AP Poll, that streak is tied for the longest drought in program history, since Indiana went unranked between 2008 and 2011.
Wednesday night could be special. Sure, Indiana has knocked off its share of ranked opponents in recent years — No. 17 Florida State University in 2019, No. 9 Penn State in 2020 and No. 4 Iowa in 2021.
But this? This could be different. This would be Indiana beating a very talented team, a team ranked No. 1 in the country just last week, but a team Indiana is now ranked higher than and expected to beat. It wouldn’t be an upset, just Indiana taking care of business on its home court against the reigning national runners-up.
It would also be the emergence of head coach Mike Woodson’s Hoosiers on the national stage, an announcement that this team can compete and make a deep run.
“It’s another shift in the program,” IU senior Ariana Zdobylak said. “Everyone knows UNC is a good program, so with Woody, it would help him a lot. It’s only his second season, so he’s starting his own thing.”
This year, things are different. Indiana is good, climbing back into the top 10 of the rankings ahead of Wednesday’s game. They’re 6-0, averaging 89 points per game and beating their opponents by an average of 30. They’ve cruised through their nonconference schedule so far — making Wednesday’s matchup all the more intriguing.
With the recent slip in rankings for North Carolina, who lost two games as the No. 1 team in the country last week, the hype within the student fanbase may have faded a bit, but it isn’t turning students away from showing up, and it won’t soften the atmosphere.
“(The plan is to) get rowdy,” IU senior Devon Neth said. “We always like to find someone on the other team and then everyone picks that kid and yells at him for the whole game. We haven’t picked one yet.”