St. Louis is a pro sports town. The Rams are dominating the conversation now, and the Cardinals are generating attention following baseball’s winter meetings.
It’s difficult for college teams to produce much of a buzz in the Gateway City.
But annually, Illinois and Missouri’s basketball teams enter the city’s consciousness briefly in late December.
Saturday’s renewal of the Braggin’ Rights series has sparked more interest than normal, with both teams ranked in the Top 15 for the first time in 10 years.
“At work, everyone’s asking each other, ‘Where are your
seats?’ ” said Chris Griffey, the father of Illinois forward Tyler Griffey, who resides just outside the city in Wildwood, Mo. “We just had a Christmas party and everyone was saying, ‘I have a ticket, I’ve got one’ and ‘Where are you sitting?’ It’s been pretty fun. I got a few texts, too, from people asking if we had any extras.”
It’s not unusual for the showcase to sell out, as it is this year. The only option at this point is through third-party vendors. Be prepared, however, to pony up some serious cash for a seat inside the Scottrade Center.
As of Thursday evening, the cheapest ticket available for the game on StubHub.com was in faraway Section 312 behind a basket. For $215.
Want to sit at midcourt on the lower level? That’ll cost about $685.
It’s attracted a great deal of attention from a media perspective, too. Megan Little, the director of marketing and communications at Scottrade Center, said 160 credentials have been requested. “That’s slightly more than normal,” she said.
Little said local media covering both teams will be well represented, and national outlets such as Sporting News, ESPN.com and CBSSports.com will have a presence.
“I believe the buildup is even more intense this season,” said St. Louis Post-Dispatch veteran columnist Bernie Miklasz. “This rivalry is at its best when both teams are good and capable of going a long way. It just raises the stakes. And that’s what we want: for this game to be as meaningful as possible.”
Illinois signee Malcolm Hill, of nearby Belleville East, will be in attendance for the second consecutive year.
“It’s a fun atmosphere; the crowd gets pretty hype,” he said.
His mom, Machanda Hill, will join him Saturday. She skipped last year’s game.
“I’ve heard about it. It’s the talk of the town. It’s a pretty big deal around here since it’s such a traditional game, and I know it’s sold out,” Machanda Hill said.
“It’s been all over TV and the radio. I have some Mizzou alums as co-workers and they’ve been talking about it, so it’s a pretty big game. I know both teams are ranked pretty high, so it should be pretty competitive and that’s kind of added to it a little bit.”
An increase in the game’s profile can be credited to Illinois’ resurgence this season under first-year UI coach John Groce. No. 12 Missouri, which owns a three-game win streak in the series, was in the Top 10 the last two years. Illinois was No. 21 in 2010 and No. 25 last year, but not with nearly as much momentum as it carries into Saturday’s game.
The program has generated buzz locally, with a group of fans from the Rebounders booster club making the trip to St. Louis by bus.
The booster club’s record number of members hit its peak at about 550 during the Final Four run in 2005. They’re right at about 500 members this season, and board member John McDaniel said they’ve added “close to a couple hundred” more members since the season tipped off in November.
“The leadership in presidents with Sara Seed last year and Tom (Scaggs) this year helps; they’ve each had some great ideas and new promotions,” McDaniel said. “Plus, the team has been exciting. Coach Groce has been great. I don’t think, when he was at Ohio, they had an organization like ours. You’ve got your fans, but then I guess you would call us super fans.”