Thursday, December 25, 2008

Super Arenas of the Atlantic 10

So when the conferences realigned in 2004 and 2005, the Atlantic 10 conference decided to do what all the cool kids were doing: Screw someone over. Due to the ACC stealing Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East in 2004 and following suit with BC in 2005, the Big East suddenly needed three new football programs to get their membership back up to eight (really the smallest a power conference can logically be for football). How did the Big East do this? By stealing Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati from Conference USA. That should have been where it ended, but it wasn't. For some reason, they brought in two other schools for non-football sports (even though the Big East is already massive for, say, basketball). They grabbed Marquette and DePaul, two very storied programs, away from C-USA just to rub some salt on the wound.
The A-10 apparently thought this seemed like a lot of fun, and invited Charlotte and Saint Louis from C-USA, increasing the number of teams playing hoops in the A-10 to 14, and leaving Memphis without any real conference competition (no offense to Houston and UAB).
One thing that St. Louis and Charlotte have brought to the A-10 are a couple of first-class facilities that bring the total number of high-end arenas in the A10 to eight. Six schools: George Washington, St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph's, La Salle, Duquesne and Fordham basically play in glorified high school gymnasiums (though St. Joe's is renovating Alumni Fieldhouse, so we'll see how that goes). The schools that make the cut are, in reverse order:

#N/A: Saint Joe's: Temporarily at the Palestra
This one doesn't count, it just gives me a chance to talk about the Palestra. There are some venues that are timeless, and therefore can't be measured the same way as most other places. This is the perfect example of one of those places. The official home of Penn, the temporary home of Saint Joe's and the unofficial building of the Big Five, this place is appropriately referred to as "a basketball cathedral" by many. It is an icon in college hoops.

#8: Chaifetz Arena - Saint Louis University
The Billikens moved out of the Scottrade Center this season and into their own arena. And while it's always exciting for a school to ditch their dad's Porsche for their own Cadillac, I don't love this one. After the home opener, I went through photo galleries of the arena, and it really has nothing interesting about it. It's a cookie-cutter arena that is just one consistent deck of seats around the floor, with no suites or other especially interesting aspects to it.

#7: Robins Center - University of Richmond
Very similar looking to the previous venue, but with a permanent floor and some suites around the perimeter of the stands. Doesn't it just have a better feel to it?

#6: Halton Arena - University of North Carolina, Charlotte
It seems like forever since the 49ers were major players in the NCAA picture, but they do have a nice pad, and at least judging from their home game against UMass in 2007, they can still fill it up.

#5: Ryan Center - University of Rhode Island
Very cool arena, and it's more or less brand new. However, I have a few beefs with this place. First of all, the seats are spread way out so that even though the capacity is only about 7,600, it looks as big as some of the places on this list that are about 50% bigger. This means a lot of fans are a lot further from the action than they need to be. Secondly, I don't know about the big CVS decals on the floor. Not as tacky as, say, Texas Tech, which covered their floor in ads a couple years ago. But still, it's not the CVS Center.

#4: Mullins Center - University of Massachusetts
Yeah baby. And unlike my list of football venues, I'm actually serious about this one. Great place to catch a game, especially if BC or a big conference opponent is in town. The house that Marcus, Harper and Jon built.

#3: Liacouras Center - Temple University
The top three are really in a different league, meaning that this arena would suffice in the ACC. Fortunately, it's all ours. A lot of people probably saw it for the first time a couple weeks ago when Temple smacked Tennessee, providing pretty good evidence of what kind of home-court advantage the Owls have there.

#2: Cintas Center - Xavier University
The Muskies have been the most visible program in the A10 this decade, and they get some great support in this place. They actually lost at home last night to Butler... not good timing for my selfish purposes.

#1: UD Arena - University of Dayton
One of the top dozen or so facilities in college hoops. This place hosts the NCAA tournament play-in-game every year and often two rounds of the tournament itself. It's bigger and nicer than any other arenas in the league despite also being one of the oldest.

Probably no more entries for a while just due to the holidays. Hope everyone has a great Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or whatever else you may celebrate.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

UMass spearheads a great day for the A10

ESPN billed their college hoops doubleheader today as "two games between Atlantic 10 schools and national powers". What it turned into was "Temple and UMass show the country not to sleep on the A10", capped off by an evening match up between Xavier and Cincinnati which the Musketeers won on the road. Per usual, North Carolina rolled again.
The two early showcases for the Atlantic 10 were Temple hosting #8 Tennessee, and UMass playing #23 Kansas in Kansas City. The Temple game was impressive for a number of reasons. First of all, it showed that the better teams in the A10 should still be getting home-and-homes against the country's elite, based on talent and the fact that there are some excellent facilities including the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. Temple, behind 30 second half points from Dionte Christmas, won by 16. Christmas is an absolute freak.
UMass's game was awesome. Here's my rundown of how the two decided on a venue for this game:
UMass AD John McCutcheon: We've had a great couple of years and feel that in order to take our program to the next level, a home-and-home with a school like Kansas could really help.
Kansas AD: John I'd love to help you, but I don't think we can schedule a home-and-home right now. We may be able to play one game though, neutral site.
McCutcheon: Oh that's fantastic. Somewhere like the Meadowlands?
Kansas AD: Hmm, that might work. I say we go with Kansas City.
McCutcheon: Done! But only if it's during our finals.

So, this game is going under the "neutral" column in the official books, but in my books, we won on the road. There were over 17,000 fans at the game, and about 25 of them were in maroon and white. In fact, if I heard the commentators correctly, KU's season ticket holders got tickets to this game, which really should make it an official home game for the Jayhawks, who also had their own band and cheerleaders on site. Anyway, I was terrified the whole game that something would go wrong and in the end my fears were more or less confirmed when Chris Lowe missed three straight free throws, giving KU a shot to win in the final seconds. Fortunately, unlike C-Lowe, some of the UMass players have stepped up this year, and no one has been better than Tony Gaffney. I don't believe Gaffney is a speck bigger than 6'7, 205, but he took on Cole Aldrich all day and then got a fingertip on Sherron Collins' final shot, and UMass was able to keep the Jayhawks from getting another shot off to close out the win, 61-60.
Electrifying win for a passionate UMass alum. I was ecstatic. An hour or so after the game I checked the school's athletics website, and much like I saw earlier in the year when we took on Texas Tech in football, I found some issues that I wasn't too happy about. The front page brief on the game read as follows:
"Behind a 17-point effort by Ricky Harris and another stat-stuffing performance by Tony Gaffney, UMass upset the defending national champion #25/23 Kansas, 61-60, at the Sprint Center on Saturday afternoon. The Minutemen used a 55.6 percent shooting performance, while holding the Jayhawks to 28.6 percent shooting, to knock off the defending champ for the second year in a row. Derek Kellogg's Minutemen improve to 3-6 with the win, while Kansas falls to 7-2."
There are a couple of problems with that. Problem 1: UMass shot 45.8% from the floor. Kansas shot 33.9%. The numbers mentioned in the brief are only for the first half numbers. This doesn't require much fact-checking, and just looking at the numbers should inspire someone to double check the box score. Because if UMass was one possession from losing a game in which they were +27 in FG pct, there would need to be a federal investigation.
Problem 2: Ricky Harris had 18 points. Not really sure what led to that mistake, just a typo I suppose. The point is, the UMass website is no longer a good place to go to get information about a game. UMasshoops, on the other hand, is a great one. It's a fan-run site that hosts message boards and has articles about virtually every game from the past 15 years.
I digress, it was a great win for UMass and coach Kellogg's first big one at the helm of the Minutemen. UMass is now 5-1 all time against defending national champs, including two in the past nine months. The last one was probably the most fun I've ever had at a game:

UMass beats Florida at MSG.

Xavier's win was a little on the ugly side. Five technical fouls including two for Derrick Brown, my early pick for A10 player of the year (still slightly ahead of Christmas), who acted like a complete idiot before getting tossed. Nonetheless, a win over cross-town Cincinnati is always nice for the X-Men, who are still unbeaten heading into their showdown with Duke next weekend. So of the four games on ESPN/ESPN2 today, three were big wins in the A10, and the fourth was some school from Chapel Hill winning another game by 16.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lost and Found

Until maybe a year ago there was a YouTube video of the classic USC-Notre Dame game from 2005. The highlights were two-sided (I hate game films on YouTube that only show one team's plays) and the song was a spinoff of USC's fight song "Victory". I was disappointed when the video vanished, but thanks to Google and MySpace, I was able to track it down. Here's the full video:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Just a follow-up

As a follow-up to a comment I made about how Notre Dame's schedule seems to be getting a little on the ridiculous side, I'd like to offer the following visual aid (since Epic Fail Demotivational Posters seem to be all the rage these days):I wonder if the Sun Bowl is actually still considering inviting this disaster to El Paso. We'll see in a couple days.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Random Thoughts

The title was right, that's all this is. Bullets from here on out:

- Mike Teel threw three TDs in his first seven games. Huge disappointment, right? Fortunately, college football seasons are now twelve games, and Teel threw 20 TDs in his final five games as a college player.

- ESPN keeps joking about how tonight's Oklahoma-USC basketball matchup would be a dream game in the BCS... No it wouldn't... Remember the last time we thought these two teams were great? 2004? Heisman winner Jason White and Adrian Peterson against Heisman winner Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush? Remmeber that? Does 55-19 ring a bell? Yeah.

- Why is Boise State paying for what Hawaii did in 2007 instead of being rewarded for what they did in 2006? When the BCS announces in two days that Ohio State is getting the 10th spot instead of the Broncos, I'm going to jumpkick the next baby that I see.

- Once known for playing the hardest schedule in the nation annually, Notre Dame's 2009 slate includes Nevada, both Washington schools, and UConn, not to mention their perennial opponents who suck (Michigan, Purdue, Stanford and Navy)

- Dustin Pedroia's new deal signed this week pays him an average of 6.7 million dollars a year. Edgar Renteria's pays him 9 million. Something's wrong here.

- North Carolina is so good that Notre Dame lost to them by 15 and actually moved up one spot in the polls.

- Wayman Tisdale has gone through hell in the past couple years and no one knew about it until ESPN wrote a story this week. Please read it. It's actually pretty moving.

- 45-35.

- Plaxico Burress had a handgun in the waistband of his sweatpants in a nightclub. While walking into the VIP of said club, his gun slipped out of his waistband, into his pants. To rectify this problem, Plax grabbed the gun through his pants... what happened next is up for debate. My feeling is that Plax had the safety off because he honestly thought he might need to engage in a firefight. When the gun slipped he grabbed the trigger (obviously by accident) and thus shot his thigh. Jon Stewart had his own theory, that Plax's penis had actually undone the trigger. We may never know. Nonetheless, Mr. Burress shot himself in the thigh. Now he is being charged with numerous things in New York, including carrying a concealed weapon. To this charge, he is expected to enter a plea of 'not guilty'... What?

- Yeah. What?