The United Center was full with Orange on Saturday.
Thanks to @Hailtotheorange for the pic.
This match-up seems strikingly like last Saturday's when Illinois played Gonzaga. Of course "neutral court" then meant thousands of screaming Illini fans. It didn't matter though as the Bulldogs pulled out a 85-83 overtime victory.
What's striking about all of these match-ups is that none involved a team from inside of Chicago. While Duke, Iowa State, Illinois and Gonzaga play at the United Center, DePaul toils away in Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
Could any of the Chicago-area team have packed like the United Center like the Illinois fans did on Saturday? Honestly, I think it would depend on the opponent. Northwestern could probably get the city to come out next season when it will have a team that might start the season in the Top 25 if it found the right opponent. Maybe UIC could use the United Center to draw a major conference opponent to the Windy City. (Though if it can get teams like Oregon State to come to the Pavilion, then what's the point of playing on a "neutral court"?)
The point is that playing in the premiere sports arena in Chicago makes a team seem like the premiere sports team in Chicago. Appearance means a lot in the entertainment business and that's exactly what each of these schools is selling. The Chicago Blackhawks don't play at Allstate Arena, the Wolves do. If you want to be the premiere team in a city, you should play in the premiere venue in the city a few times a season.
It was obvious that the court was far from neutral when Illinois played against Gonzaga. (See the pic above.) The energy in the building in the second half seemed to pick up a slumping Illini team and attempt to propel them to a comeback from a huge halftime hole. It eventually fell short, but every time a big basket was made there was a roar from the crowd.
That type of atmosphere might be there again tonight on ESPN2, but it won't be for any of the city's teams. It'll be for two squads from far away. (Even Iowa State is a 5 hour drive from the United Center.) Still, the gym will probably be packed.
Wish we could get a true Chicago team in there sometime.
Update: Today Forbes named the United Center the 5th most lucrative venue in North American sports.