Tuesday, February 16, 2021

SIUE Cougars 60 at Jacksonville State Gamecocks 80 (NCAA Basketball, Ohio Valley) - February 13, 2021

The final stop on this whirlwind weekend trip was Jacksonville. Not Florida, as I had originally thought when I heard of Jacksonville State, but Alabama. This town of 12,600 people lies about 95 miles east of Atlanta and is two hours southwest of Chattanooga, where I had seen the Mocs earlier. As I approached the town along SR 19, I was sent on a ten-minute detour by a bridge having gone out, but still arrived nearly an hour before the 4:00 tip (Alabama is in the Central Time Zone). 

The Gamecocks play out of Pete Mathews Coliseum, an unassuming rectangular building on the west side of campus. A large, free parking lot on the north side is more then enough for the crowd.

Nicknamed The Pete, the venue honours Alabama state legislator Pete Mathews who was also a member of the university's board of trustees. It opened in 1974 and has undergone some renovations in the meantime, most recently in 2015 when an entirely new seating area was installed, reducing capacity to 3,500. The box office is to the left of the main entrance (above) and there are two choices: $15 reserved seats along the side, or $10 GA seats behind the baskets. I usually buy the cheapest and sit anywhere, but that is not an option during the pandemic, so I splurged. Given that the band, known as the Southerners, is in one end, and the spirit squad in the other, the extra $5 provides good value.

Inside the main entrance is a lobby with several detailed displays that are well worth your time. Like the other two schools I saw on this trip (Kennesaw State and Chattanooga), Jacksonville State can brag about a Division II national championship, this one from 1985 (above). In addition, the Gamecocks have had several famous athletes pass through, including 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett. The lobby is also where you will find the only concession stand, which sells the best hot dogs I have tasted in a long while, though I had to find some space to eat in private.

The sidelines are divided into north and south and there is a hallway down each side that has more history on display, including coaches and others who have made it onto the national stage, such as reliever Todd Jones, along with less familiar names such as Todd Cunningham and Donovan Hand, who combined for 99 MLB games.

The mascot is Cocky (all mascots are cocky I suppose) and the related hashtag is #StayCocky, so they make good use of their nickname. Of course, there is another, more famous, school in South Carolina with the same appellation and the same mascot moniker as well. 

Inside, the red and grey seats go well with the court, on which the logo and the area between the key and the 3-point line are highlighted in dark brown. There are no sections, as the seats go from 1 to about 60 depending on the row. The picture below is taken from the south side and obviously shows the north side seating area, with seat numbers starting on the right. My seat number was 40 and I had an aisle seat in the leftmost section, facing the free throw line.

The band sets up in the east end zone and if you enjoy losing your hearing, you will want to sit here.

The cheerleaders are at the opposite end of the court and there are fans sitting above them as you can see below. On a couple of occasions, the cheerleaders came into the crowd to toss promotional items to the fans.

Above the end seats are banners celebrating past stars such as Bill Jones who played here before coaching the team to that Division II title, along with accomplishments such as the 2017 Ohio Valley championship that sent the Gamecocks to their first Big Dance, where they lost to Louisville. Note the donation request in the bottom left below; JSU is moving to the Atlantic Sun in July of this year. So although this was my first OVC venue, that will change next season and I will be back to zero. As mentioned in a previous post, all of these conference moves make tracking college basketball visits very difficult.

The video boards in two corners are a unique aspect of this venue  - they are curved to match the structure of the building (below). The other corners have more traditional scoreboards that also appear to be concave at first glance, but in fact are separated into smaller portions to fit the columns on which they rest.

Each corner also has a standing area with a great view of the court (below), but those are off limits during the game, whether for safety protocols or other reasons I could not discern. I should mention that adherence to such protocols here and in Alabama in general was the worst I have seen in the past year. Few fans here bothered to wear a mask and I saw people smirking at those who did; even those working in service stations couldn't be bothered. I wasn't particularly surprised by this; living in NYC, we saw firsthand the damage done by the virus, but in smaller towns, there is still a disconnect between what they have experienced and what is happening elsewhere. 

Other than that, I found Pete Mathews Coliseum to be a pleasant surprise for a venue belonging to a smaller school. I doubt many readers will find themselves in Eastern Alabama in the winter, but if you do, see if the Gamecocks are at The Pete and enjoy some college hoops while you are here.

The Game

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) were in town sporting a 6-6 conference record, while JSU was 9-5. The game got off to a slow start with the Cougars not scoring their first points until 2:30 on a Courtney Carter trey, which gave them a brief 3-2 lead, their only one of the game. A Kayne Henry (#11 below) layup made it 4-3 JSU and that 4:3 ratio of points remained throughout the rest of the match. Of course, there were times that SIUE got a bit closer or JSU had a larger lead, but overall, for every 3 points the Cougars scored, JSU had around 4, with the first half ending 40-30.

A similar start to the second stanza saw JSU go up 44-33 on a dunk by Henry. The Gamecocks then pulled away and at one point were up 67-43 but an 11-5 run for SIUE got them back on track, down 72-54 (again 4:3). My hope at this time was that the game would finish with this ratio, but when Mike Adewunmi drained a three for the visitors to make it 77-60 with 1:35 left, it looked unlikely. But a few misses were followed by a JSU trey from lumbering Czech Martin Roub that made it 80-60 with 38 seconds left. Fortunately, the Cougars could not convert on their final possession as Roub blocked a layup and the game finished with identical 40-30 halves, making mathematical me very happy.

Although not competitive, this was an entertaining game that had more of a playground atmosphere with some monster dunks and poor shot selection. It was also very well officiated; look at the scoreboard below, neither team was in the bonus in the second half, something I don't think I have seen before. In the first half there were only 12 fouls as well, a welcome change from the typical college contest and a good way to end the trip.

Notes

The KSU game started at 6:00 EST the night before and this one ended at 5:45 CST, so I saw 3 games in 3 states and 3 conferences in just over 24 hours.

This was my first college hoops game in Alabama, leaving 18 states to go. It was also my 99th Division I men's home gym, but 6 of those are no longer in use, so I have 275 left on the list plus 19 women's venues. Safe to say that I be watching college basketball until the day I die. 

Next Up

The second wave of the pandemic has peaked and the worst is behind us, so I am optimistic that my sports travels will return to normal this year. I hope to get to Indianapolis next month for some March Madness and then it is baseball season, with the Blue Jays visiting Globe Life Field in early April. After that, there are eight new minor league parks to see, plus the Jays in Seattle and Washington, and even a trip to Canada if they can sort things out there. As always, check back for updates when you can.

Best,

Sean


Monday, February 15, 2021

The Citadel Bulldogs 66 at Chattanoga Mocs 70 (NCAA Basketball, Southern Conference) - February 13, 2021

Saturday was to be my first true driving doubleheader since December 2019, when I saw Louisville and Kentucky on the same day. I had rented a car, getting upgraded to a brand new BMW SUV (26 miles on the odometer) and left Kennesaw in style around 9:30. Just over 90 minutes later, I arrived in Chattanooga, where I would see the first game of the day. I lucked into a free parking spot just a block from McKenzie Arena, where the Chattanooga Mocs had a noon start against The Citadel.

Known as the Roundhouse for obvious reasons, McKenzie Arena was opened in 1982 and usually has a capacity of 10,995. Originally dubbed UTC Arena (The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is the full name of the school), the venue was renamed for a couple who donated $2 million to help pay off its debt. It is located just east of downtown on the Chattanooga campus, and if you can't find parking nearby, there is a visitor's garage next door. The box office is to the left of the main entrance in the photo above, with GA tickets a bargain at $10.

Inside, the single concourse is narrow and it would be tough to navigate them if there were 10,000 fans here. But with COVID restrictions, less than 1,000 were on hand and there was no problem getting around.

There are a few displays along the corridors, such as photos of conference championship teams (above) and a timeline of the program's highlights (below), including a Division II national championship in 1977. Two concession stands were open and doing relatively well, even selling beer. 

In order to fit so many seats into such a small footprint, steep sections are necessary, as you can see below. The upper deck was completely closed off, however, so I could not get up there to take a picture.

Seats here are not tied down, but those that are not to be used are designated with a yellow sign on the bottom. This means that you have to walk down and look back up to see where you are able to sit, which is a problem once most fans have taken their spot. During the early part of the game, those who had arrived late could be seen looking around in confusion, as there were so many seats but few were actually ones they could use. 

As you can see above, the first six rows are blocked off, making things that much more difficult for fans. Below is a shot taken near the end of the game that shows just how few seats were actually available. It would help if they opened the upper deck, but I understand that is a big area to clean afterwards. If you are attending a game that has limited capacity and unreserved seats during the pandemic, get there early!

With such a tight seating area, there are no bad seats in the place, at least in the lower bowl. The benches at the south end are for the cheerleaders while the yellow seats above that are where the band stands. However, there are seats at the north end (barely visible above) if you prefer the view from the end zone.

A closer look at the cheerleaders and band, in what is usually the student section I would guess. There are three types of spirit squads standing below the band: Ladies of G.O.L.D., who are hip-hop majorettes, a form of dance that I am happy to see more and more on my trips to the south; traditional co-ed cheerleading; and Sugar Mocs, a more typical dance team in athletic gear. Obviously they did not perform on the floor, but were active throughout the game.

Far above the spirit squads are the banners celebrating key accomplishments in the history of the program, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1997, when they beat both Georgia and Illinois before losing to Providence.

The Mocs are part of the Southern Conference, but those banners are also high up so a good picture is not easy to get. This was my first SoCon matchup; I had seen Mercer at home but they were part of the Atlantic Sun at the time. All of these conference moves are hell on my tracking efforts.

The scoreboard is actually just two very large TVs facing the sidelines, and two somewhat smaller ones facing the end zones. Typical basketball scoreboards with players, points, and fouls can be found in opposite corners.

Overall, McKenzie Arena quickly became one of my favourite college hoops venues. Good location, unique design, some history, and affordable. It would be interesting to see it with more fans, so who knows, maybe I will stop in again after the pandemic ends.

The Game

The Mocs were 6-5 in conference play, two games better than the Bulldogs, who had won the reverse matchup 92-87 a month prior. Chattanooga had revenge on their minds as they stormed out to a 9-0 lead and were up 28-13 after a layup by KC Hankton (#1 below). But they seemed to relax and The Citadel ended the half on a 12-2 run to go into the break down 36-34.

In the second half, the visitors started quickly and took a brief lead at 47-42, but the Mocs replied with some very solid play, enjoying a 19-3 streak over six minutes. Having another game in Jacksonville to see two hours away, I was happy to see that overtime was unlikely, but again Chattanooga let up too early. Leading 66-55 with 6:33 to go, they stopped scoring as the Bulldogs notched the only five points over the next four ugly minutes, with teams combining to miss 11 shots and turn the ball over a further four times. The teams then traded baskets to make it 68-62 and after Stefan Kenic missed for Chattanooga, Derek Webster Jr. (shooting below while guarded by Kenic) finished with a layup to get The Citadel within 4 with 54 ticks to go. Oh-oh. On the next possession, Webster stole the ball from Kenic but Hayden Brown (#33 below) missed a three and Webster missed a layup after grabbing the offensive board, forcing the Bulldogs to foul. The Mocs were only in the bonus and Malachi Smith missed the first. Seriously? Tyler Moffe (#13 below) quickly raced down the court for an easy basket to make it 68-66 with 12 seconds to go. Unbelievable!

After a timeout, Citadel's Kaiden Rice immediately fouled Darius Banks, but Banks somehow grazed Rice with his elbow and Rice flopped. You know what that means: time for a lengthy, pointless review. Just what I needed. It took nearly five minutes to determine that there was no foul on Banks, who then had a chance to clinch the game with a one-and-one. I was grateful to have a mask on, so fans could not hear me cursing the officials. Anyway, Banks made the first shot but unsurprisingly missed the second, giving the Bulldogs a chance to tie. With no timeouts left, they scampered down the court and Brown heaved a three that thankfully clanged off the rim. Hankton grabbed the rebound with three seconds left and was fouled. He made the first to finally clinch things as Chattanooga won 70-66 in a game that was far closer than it should have been.

Statistically, things were quite even, with turnovers the difference as The Citadel committed 11 miscues leading to 11 points for the Mocs, who themselves only made eight errors resulting in just four points for the Bulldogs. Rice led all scorers with 22 while Smith paced the victors with 17. 

I ran to my car and was back on the highway within minutes of the final buzzer, and despite a detour along the way, made it to Jacksonville about 45 minutes before tip. More on that in the next post.

Notes

Moc is the shortened version of the original nickname, "Moccasins", which was retired in 1996 along with accompanying Native American imagery. It also refers to the northern mockingbird, Tennessee's state bird, and the mascot Scrappy is styled as such.

This was my first visit to Chattanooga since 2003, when I saw the Lookouts play in Bell South Park. Now renamed AT&T Field, the stadium is just a few blocks west of McKenzie Arena and easily visible as you arrive into town. Sadly, the two sports are not played at the same time, so a doubleheader is impossible.

Best,

Sean


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Stetson Hatters 74 at Kennesaw State Owls 61 (NCAA Basketball, Atlantic Sun) - February 12, 2021

With the NCAA basketball season quickly coming to a close, I wanted to get at least one trip in so I could knock off a few more venues of the 297 I still have remaining to see. With the majority of gyms not hosting fans, it took a while to find three that were close enough that I could see games over a weekend. I chose Georgia State, Kennesaw State, and Jacksonville (AL) State for the weekend of January 24-26, only to have GSU cancel their game the day before due to COVID. So I moved the trip two weeks forward and replaced Georgia State with Chattanooga. In the end, I would see three games in three conferences in three states, all within 25 hours.

The first of these was Friday night at Kennesaw State, a university about 20 miles northwest of Atlanta. The Owls play out of the KSU Convocation Center, colloquially known as the Convo. It is a large building right next to I-75, with a free parking deck to the south. The shot below is from the west side...

...while the one below is of the main entrance on the north side of the building, with the box office to the left. 

Tickets are $15 for general admission, but you cannot just sit anywhere. The vast majority of seats are tied down, while those that are not have stickers encouraging you to sit there, as you can see below. With attendance at 354, there wasn't a problem finding a seat, but if you showed up late with a group of four or more, you might have had trouble finding an acceptable spot.

KSU won the 2004 Division II men's basketball title and that trophy has pride of place in the display case that you will see immediately after you enter. The year after, the Convo opened and then the school moved to Division I, and has been a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference since then. Notice the different ASUN logos on the trophies below; the conference updated their brand in 2016.

There are also a number of placards that describe the university beyond its athletic accomplishments and these are worth a read to see how the institution has evolved over the years (below). A small concession stand was also located in the lobby but was not doing much business.

Inside, the gold and black seating arrangement matches the school colours. Although the venue is 15 years old, it still looks brand new.

There are a few rows of permanent seats near the top, with the more colourful seats actually on a movable base as you can see below. This does allow them to be very close to the court, although the first couple of rows were closed due to COVID-related restrictions.

At one end is a video board, below which the band stands. I was impressed that they all had special adjustable masks that allowed them to play without having to remove it every time. Cheerleaders are not allowed on the floor and sit in the stands with the fans as part of COVID protocols. Whenever KSU hit a three pointer, a cheerleader would run over to the next section to toss a t-shirt as part of the Tees for Threes promotion.

The other end has some offices above the basket but is otherwise similar. A colourful, compact court with a capacity of 4,600 in normal times.

Of course, cutouts get the best seats, but I had no trouble finding a good spot, having arrived an hour before the game.

The school has had success in volleyball and those banners are above the west seats.

Across the way are the conference banners, which I always enjoy studying. There are nine schools in the Atlantic Sun, with NJIT having left for the America East this season. Thus this venue becomes my first active ASUN gym. 

Overall, the Convo is a wonderful little facility that makes mid-major basketball so enjoyable. I had a great time here. It was thrilling to be handed a hard ticket, my first box office purchase since nearly a year ago in Hartford, and to sit and watch some live sport from up close.

The Game

KSU came in with a 3-15 overall record but all three wins were against lower division schools, so their KenPom ranking 349 out of the 357 Division I teams seemed accurate, and was perhaps helped by travelling to Omaha to play #9 Creighton back in December, a game they lost 93-58. Stetson was 4-6 in the conference and 7-10 overall, including three losses to Miami, Florida, and USF. The original opponents for this one had been Florida Gulf Coast, but the Atlantic Sun was altering the schedule so teams had approximately the same number of games, so the Hatters made the trip from Florida instead.

Things got off to a quick start and by the time the first foul was called, over six minutes had passed and KSU was up 14-11. They increased that advantage to 18-13, but Stetson went on a 12-0 run and took a 35-31 lead into the half.

The Owls continued to keep things close, and were within a point at 46-45 after a Spencer Rodgers trey with 13:20 to go. Kasem Jennings then had a chance to give KSU the lead after being fouled, but he missed both free throws and when Rob Perry grabbed the rebound and quickly ran the length of the court to drain an uncontested three, it was the beginning of the end.

Chase Johnston (#11 above), who holds the high school record for three pointers, potted nine points for Stetson, while Mahamadou Diawara (from Mali, who only started playing basketball at age 14) added another four as the Hatters went on an extended 21-10 run down the stretch as they won 74-61.

This was a well-played game with only 18 total turnovers (just 7 for the Owls) and both teams shooting 50% or better inside the arc. KSU struggled on the defensive glass, giving up 12 of 26 rebounds that led to 12 second chance points for the visitors, if they could improve that aspect of the game, they might even win one. Stetson's Christian Jones led all scorers with 20, while Diawara finished with 12 points and 10 boards; Rodgers was the only Owl to finish in double figures as he notched 17 in the loss.

By the way, you can see me in the picture above, sitting alone in the yellow seats taking the picture above. 

Notes

Stetson was the first college hoops road team I saw during the life of this blog, and that was also in Georgia as they played Mercer over 11 years ago. Mercer has since left the Atlantic Sun, moving to the Southern Conference in 2014.

Kennesaw State was victorious in the second game of the series on Saturday, 83-75, thus avoiding the ignominy of a winless conference campaign.

The Owls are coached by Amir Abdur-Rahim, brother of Sharif, who was Vancouver's first-round pick in 1996, the last year I lived there. Sharif is now president of the G League.

Best,

Sean


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Neverending Pandemic

Well, 2021 has arrived and it is already a shitshow here in the States, with a treasonous president leading a bunch of slack-jawed morons in one of the stupidest attempts at stealing power in history. That event pushed the pandemic off the front pages, despite record daily death tolls across the nation as the second wave passes through. As I write this, the country has seen over 400,000 dead from COVID-19 (about a fifth of the 2 million lost worldwide), a disease that for many was entirely avoidable. With Joe Biden now in charge, the fight against the virus is again the story of the day.

And wouldn't you know it, the first story involves more scaremongering. New variants of the virus have been discovered and travelers are carrying them around the world! Oh no! They are more contagious! Possibly more deadly! Shut everything down again! The anxiety of the ill informed has intensified as a result of these newfound mutations, but nothing has actually changed. Viruses mutate naturally, and the coronavirus will continue to do so, for the rest of our lives. Yes, like the flu, the coronavirus is here to stay. And just like the flu in 1918, it is going to run through the world's population before it settles down into a regular illness. If we react like Chicken Little every time a new variant appears, a permanent shutdown is the only solution. Is that going to happen? Despite the title of this post, of course not. 

In fact, the end is in sight, but you wouldn't know it from all the idiocy that continues. Study history a bit and you will see that pandemics operate in three or four waves and last about two years. We are a year into this one with the second wave peaking around now, which is exactly what you would expect. In fact, cases have been dropping since early January, and deaths are already starting to follow this trend. The second wave should dissipate by the end of February, and there likely will be a smaller third wave sometime this year, though with much of the vulnerable population vaccinated, it should have limited impact. I don't expect a fourth wave and by the autumn of 2021 if not earlier, we should be returning to some semblance of normality. Assuming we have competent leaders. 

Obviously, the most inept player has waddled off the stage, but other governments continue to overreact in the opposite direction. Canada now requires a negative COVID test for airline passengers AND a 14-day quarantine. They are even considering enforcing the quarantine in a hotel for international visitors arriving by air, despite little evidence that such travelers are the source of outbreaks. Perhaps allowing truckers to roam freely after crossing the border might have something to do with their inability to keep things under control. Meanwhile, other countries are now stopping flights from places where a new variant has been discovered, which will become a logistical nightmare as more and more mutations happen. It is amazing that officials have yet to realize that the virus will spread regardless of the "Whack-a-Mole" attempts to control it. That is how viruses work. Even places like Australia and New Zealand, which have used strict border controls and lockdowns to stave off the virus, likely will have some sort of outbreak eventually, though with few deaths if their population has been vaccinated.

A pandemic should not wreak this much havoc on daily life, but when health officials set policy, they only care about avoiding death, not quality of life. The statement: "sacrifice lives or sacrifice the economy" has become a cliché, but it is false. There is no trade-off; the disease can be avoided by adopting some simple (but strict) protocols without destroying so many jobs. Of course, short shutdowns to avoid overwhelming hospitals are a necessity, but these have morphed into long lockdowns that will result in a humanitarian crisis beyond the death toll, with millions unemployed and suffering food shortages. President's Biden's $1.9 trillion package is nice, but a temporary measure. This will be the first pandemic to lead to so many additional deaths from other causes because of the inability of experts to focus on the big picture, outside their area of expertise.

The best advice has not wavered from the beginning: always wear a mask, stay clear of crowds, keep your hands clean, take vitamin D supplements, and most importantly, avoid poorly-ventilated, confined places with people with whom you do not reside. That means bars, restaurants, gyms, casinos, churches, and friends' and relatives' domiciles. That is all you have to do to avoid contracting the virus and this information was available in April of last year. It is unfortunate that many chose to ignore it and paid for that choice with their lives. Of course, many of those who died had no say in the matter: nursing home residents were sitting ducks, while frontline workers, including those in grocery stores and other essential businesses, had to continue to face customers who refused to follow basic pandemic protocols before bringing the virus home to elder relatives. But for the rest, a simple mask and some minor adjustments to your daily routine were all that were needed to stay alive.

I have continued to travel and watch sports when possible because I believe that both are safe, as long as you follow the advice above. I have taken several trips, both with and without my family, and I have never been concerned for our safety. I have attended 14 events since June and again, never feared for my welfare, with social distancing and masks mandated in every stadium. To compare, my neighbours threw a party and invited 10 people to their tiny apartment; that one act was far more dangerous than my 14 events. Still, I don't expect New York to be allowing baseball fans anytime soon, despite the clear lack of evidence against outdoor transmission.

Although I believe that traveling is safe, many don't and are not afraid to tell everyone else to stay home. These self-righteous hypocrites have been cowed into spending their lives indoors and criticize anyone who decides to do something the least bit risky. Without exception, these are the white and privileged who seem to think that everyone should adopt the same ultra-low risk tolerance they have. Easy to do when you have a big place in which to work from home. I have seen many people eating indoors and certainly would not do that myself, but I also wouldn't criticize them for making that choice. George Carlin famously quipped, "Did you ever notice how everyone that drives slower than you is an idiot and everyone who drives faster is a maniac?" The same goes here. We all have a different risk tolerance, and the information we need to remain safe is widely available. Sadly, not everyone chooses to use that information and there is little that others can do about it. 

The media makes money on page views these days, so expect more clickbait and scaremongering, especially whenever a new variant surfaces. Read these articles with the knowledge that we are not facing anything new and this virus is operating the way other viruses have in the past, mutating until it can no longer spread, whether through herd immunity or a low transmission rate. The advantage this time is the rapid availability of a number of vaccines, which should help end the pandemic sometime this year and gives us all something to look forward to. 

Best,

Sean


Monday, January 4, 2021

NFL Playoff Picture - Week 17


Here is the final playoff picture. Teams are bolded on the week they clinch a spot, and crossed out when eliminated. 
AFC

Week 13   Week 14   Week 15    Week 16   Week 17
Pit 11-1  KC  12-1  KC  13-1   KC  14-1  KC  14-2 
KC  11-1  Pit 11-2  Buf 11-3   Buf 12-3  Buf 13-3
Buf 9-3   Buf 10-3  Pit 11-3   Pit 12-3  Pit 12-4
Ten 8-4   Ten  9-4  Ten 10-4   Ten 10-5  Ten 11-5
Cle 9-3   Cle  9-4  Cle 10-4   Mia 10-5  Bal 11-5
Mia 8-4   Ind  9-4  Ind 10-4   Bal 10-5  Cle 11-5      
Ind 8-4   Mia  8-5  Mia  9-5   Cle 10-5  Ind 11-5
--------  --------  --------   -------   -------- 
LV  7-5   Bal  8-5  Bal  9-5   Ind 10-5  Mia 10-6
Bal 7-5   LV   7-6  LV   7-7   LV  7-8   
NE  6-6   NE   6-7  NE   6-8        
Week 17: Buffalo destroys the Dolphins and eliminates them after Baltimore, Cleveland, and Indy all win. Titans take the South due to a better divisional record. The Ravens swept the Browns and beat the Colts so they take 5th, Cleveland beat Indy for 6th. Wild Card: Colts at Bills, Browns at Steelers, Ravens at Titans.

Week 16: The Dolphins knock out Vegas and jump to the top wild card spot as their 7-4 conference record is better than the other three contenders at 6-5, while the Chiefs have clinched the bye. The Colts blowing a 17-point lead against Pittsburgh not only cost them the division title, but sends them out of the playoffs as they also lost to both Baltimore and Cleveland earlier this season. Indy does have an easy game in Week 17 but with Pittsburgh and Buffalo likely to rest starters, Cleveland and Miami have a better chance at victory. Playoff predictions if better teams win: Dolphins at Bills, Colts at Steelers, Ravens at Titans. Playoff predictions if Miami and Cleveland win: Browns at Bills, Ravens at Steelers, Dolphins at Titans.

Week 15: After their "miracle" win over the Jets, Vegas has lost two straight; their Week 16 game against Miami should determine the 7th and final spot. Buffalo clinches their first division title since 1995 with a rout of Denver and takes over second spot with Pittsburgh in freefall. New England misses the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and nobody sheds a tear. Playoff predictions: Ravens at Bills, Titans at Browns, Steelers at Colts.

Week 14: Buffalo beats Pittsburgh while KC upends Miami to take the top spot. The Dolphins maintain the final spot as their 5-4 conference record is better than Baltimore at 5-5. Cleveland is the fifth seed as they beat Indianapolis earlier in the year.

Week 13: Pittsburgh (8-0 in the conference) retains top spot but they have not clinched a spot as the Chiefs have. Indy is in the 7th and final spot due to their worse divisional record (2-2) than Tennessee (3-1) and worse conference record (4-4) than Miami (5-3). The Colts are the only team to win all 4 games against the NFC, though a few others can join them. Vegas (5-3) has a better conference record than Baltimore (4-5).
NFC

Week 13   Week 14   Week 15    Week 16   Week 17
NO 10-2   GB  10-3  GB  11-3   GB  12-3  GB  13-3
GB  9-3   NO  10-3  NO  10-4   NO  11-4  NO  12-4 
LAR 8-4   LAR  9-4  Sea 10-4   Sea 11-4  Sea 12-4
NYG 5-7   Was  6-7  Was  6-8   Was  6-9  Was  7-9
Sea 8-4   Sea  9-4  LAR  9-5   TB  10-5  TB  11-5  
TB  7-5   TB   8-5  TB   9-5   LAR  9-6  LAR 10-6  
Min 6-6   Ari  7-6  Ari  8-6   Chi  8-7  Chi  8-8
--------  --------  --------   -------   --------
Ari 6-6   Min  6-7  Chi  7-7   Ari  8-7  Ari  8-8
Chi 5-7   Chi  6-7  Min  6-8   Min  6-9  NYG 6-10       
Was 5-7   NYG  5-8  Dal  5-9   Dal  6-9  Dal 6-10   
                    NYG  5-9   NYG 5-10  
Week 17: The Giants eliminate Dallas, but the Eagles let WFT win to take the horrid East. The Rams knock out Arizona, which allows Chicago to take the final spot as they had a better record in common games (3-2 vs Lions, Panthers, Rams and Giants while Cardinals were 1-4). Saints grab the #2 spot as their 10-2 conference record is a game better than Seattle. Wild Card: Bears at Saints; Rams at Seahawks; Buccaneers at WFT. No change from Week 16.

Week 16: The Saints clinch the South, while the Vikings are eliminated. The Buccaneers clinch a wild-card spot by routing Detroit. Arizona needs to beat the Rams in Week 17 or they are out, as Chicago has won three straight to take over that final spot. The NFC East gets worse every week; if WFT beats Philly in the Sunday night game, they are in, but if they lose, then the winner of the Cowboys/Giants takes that spot and a likely home tilt against TB with TB. Playoff predictions: Bears at Saints; Rams at Seahawks; Buccaneers at WFT.

Week 15: The Packers look like a good bet for the top seed. The Vikings look like a good bet to miss out. Seattle takes over the West with the Rams shocking loss to the Jets. They meet next week with the winner likely to take the division title. For now, the Rams hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Tampa Bay with their win back on November 23. The Saints remain second as their 8-2 conference record is better than Seattle's 7-3. Washington need one more win to eliminate Dallas (who they swept) and have to hope that the Giants (who swept them) lose once more. Playoff predictions: Cardinals at Saints; Rams at Seahawks; Buccaneers at WFT.

Week 14: The Saints loss to the Eagles allows the Packers to take over top spot as they won the matchup in Week 3 and thus own the tiebreaker. Tampa Bay beat Minnesota to give them a two-game advantage, while Arizona knocked off the Giants to move into a playoff spot while also giving WFT a chance for the East Division lead, which they took by defeating San Francisco.

Week 13: The Rams beat Seattle but they play again, while the Giants have swept Washington but have the tougher remaining schedule. Minnesota holds the final spot by virtue of a 2-2 record against common opponents (Cowboys, Panthers, Seahawks, Lions) while Arizona is 2-3. 

Best,

Sean

Friday, January 1, 2021

2021 Schedule

Fri, Feb 12 NCAA Basketball, Atlantic Sun KSU Convocation Center, Kennesaw, GA Stetson Hatters 74 at Kennesaw State Owls 61 354
Sat, Feb 13 NCAA Basketball, Southern Conference McKenzie Arena, Chattanooga, TN The Citadel Bulldogs 66 at Chattanooga Mocs 70 971
Sat, Feb 13 NCAA Basketball, Ohio Valley Pete Mathews Coliseum, Jacksonville, AL SIUE Cougars 60 at Jacksonville State Gamecocks 80 513
Sat, Mar 6 NHL Prudential Center, Newark, NJ New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils 13:00
Sat, Mar 13 NHL Prudential Center, Newark, NJ New York Islanders at New Jersey Devils 19:00
Sun, Mar 14 NHL Prudential Center, Newark, NJ New York Islanders at New Jersey Devils 17:00
Tue, Mar 16 NHL Prudential Center, Newark, NJ Buffalo Sabres at New Jersey Devils 19:00
Sat, Mar 20 NCAA Tournament, First Round Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN TBD vs TBD TBD
Sun, Mar 21 NCAA Tournament, Second Round Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN TBD vs TBD TBD
Tue, Apr 6 American League Globe Life Field, Arlington, TX Toronto Blue Jays at Texas Rangers 19:05
Wed, Apr 7 American League Globe Life Field, Arlington, TX Toronto Blue Jays at Texas Rangers 13:05
Tue, Apr 13 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets 19:10
Fri, Apr 23 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY Washington Nationals at New York Mets 19:10
Tue, Apr 27 MLB Interleague TD Ballpark, Dunedin, FL Washington Nationals at Toronto Blue Jays 18:37
Wed, Apr 28 MLB Interleague TD Ballpark, Dunedin, FL Washington Nationals at Toronto Blue Jays 18:37
Thu, Apr 29 American League Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL Oakland A's at Tampa Bay Rays 13:10
Tue, May 11 MLB Interleague Citi Field, Queens, NY Baltimore Orioles at New York Mets 19:10
Wed, May 12 Low-A East TBD Ballpark, Fredericksburg, VA Delmarva Shorebirds at Fredericksburg Nationals TBD
Sat, May 22 AAA East Polar Park, Worcester, MA Buffalo Bisons at Worcester Red Sox 16:05
Sun, May 23 AAA East Polar Park, Worcester, MA Buffalo Bisons at Worcester Red Sox 13:05
Mon, May 24 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY Colorado Rockies at New York Mets 19:10
Wed, May 26 AA Northeast TD Bank Ballpark, Bridgewater, NJ New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Somerset Patriots TBD
Fri, May 28 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY Atlanta Braves at New York Mets 19:10
Wed, Jun 9 Low-A East Atrium Health Ballpark, Kannapolis, NC Carolina Mudcats at Kannapolis Cannon Ballers TBD
Fri, Jun 11 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY San Diego Padres at New York Mets 19:10
Mon, Jun 14 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY Chicago Cubs at New York Mets 19:10
Tue, Jun 22 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY Atlanta Braves at New York Mets 19:10
Tue, Jul 6 AA Central Riverfront Stadium, Wichita, KS Northwest Arkansas Naturals at Wichita Wind Surge TBD
Thu, Jul 8 AAA West Constellation Field, Sugar Land, TX Tacoma Rainiers at Sugar Land Skeeters TBD
Fri, Jul 9 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY Pittsburgh at New York Mets 19:10
Fri, Jul 23 MLB Interleague Citi Field, Queens, NY Toronto Blue Jays at New York Mets 19:10
Fri, Jul 30 CFL IG Field, Winnipeg, MB BC Lions at Winnipeg Blue Bombers 19:30
Sat, Jul 31 CFL Mosaic Stadium, Regina, SK Calgary Stampeders at Saskatchewan Roughriders 20:00
Fri, Aug 13 American League T-Mobile Park, Seattle, WA Toronto Blue Jays at Seattle Mariners 19:10
Sat, Aug 14 American League T-Mobile Park, Seattle, WA Toronto Blue Jays at Seattle Mariners 19:10
Sun, Aug 15 American League T-Mobile Park, Seattle, WA Toronto Blue Jays at Seattle Mariners 13:10
Tue, Aug 17 MLB Interleague Nationals Park, Washington, DC Toronto Blue Jays at Washington Nationals 19:05
Wed, Aug 18 MLB Interleague Nationals Park, Washington, DC Toronto Blue Jays at Washington Nationals 16:05
Wed, Aug 25 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY San Francisco Giants at New York Mets 19:10
Wed, Sep 1 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY Miami Marlins at New York Mets 19:10
Tue, Sep 7 AAA West CHS Field, St. Paul, MN Omaha Storm Chasers at St. Paul Saints 19:05
Wed, Sep 8 AAA West CHS Field, St. Paul, MN Omaha Storm Chasers at St. Paul Saints 13:05
Thu, Sep 9 High-A Central TBD Ballpark, Beloit, WI South Bend Cubs at Beloit Snappers TBD
Fri, Sep 10 MLB Interleague Citi Field, Queens, NY New York Yankees at New York Mets 19:10
Tue, Sep 14 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY St. Louis Cardinals at New York Mets 19:10
Fri, Sep 17 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets 19:10
Wed, Sep 29 National League Citi Field, Queens, NY Miami Marlins at New York Mets 19:10

Thursday, December 24, 2020

New Orleans Pelicans 113 at Toronto Raptors 99 - December 23, 2020

When it was announced that the Toronto Raptors would be playing the first half of the NBA season in Tampa, I immediately began making plans to attend at least one game. Tickets went on sale last week with Raptors season-ticket members getting first dibs at a pre-sale, which required a code. I guessed the code (it wasn't very difficult) and was able to pick up a pair of very good seats for the opener against New Orleans. Mark, a fellow member of Club 123 who resides in Georgia, agreed to join me so I didn't have to let the other ticket go to waste.

I flew down that afternoon and Mark met me at the airport. We made a brief stop at my downtown hotel and then rode the free streetcar to Amalie Arena, mainly just for the experience, as it saves only a couple of minutes.  

The streetcar drops you off behind the stadium, so we walked up a set of stairs to the front, where a small crowd had gathered. Having seen a few Lightning games here, there was no need to get in early, but I wanted to see how the surrounding area was handling the pandemic, so we got there about 90 minutes before game time. Unfortunately, that was way too early as there was nothing going on, with Thunder Alley completely shut down and no bars in the immediate vicinity.

We did the obligatory walk around to see the Lightning statues on display (Phil Esposito visible above, Dave Andreychuk below), but then we made our way in when gates opened at 6:30. 

Before entering, we had to answer 'no' to 5 questions to ensure that we didn't have COVID, and that was the extent of it. Out of the 3,800 fans (about 18.5% of the 20,500 the place usually holds), I am sure there were at least 100 positive cases, based purely how many asymptomatic carriers there are and Florida's positivity rate. Still, everyone was required to wear a mask and social distancing was enforced in the seating bowl, so I was not particularly worried. By now, it is apparent that the virus is primarily transmitted in confined spaces where you spend a long period of time, so by avoiding such spaces, you should be fine.

Once inside, I did a quick lap around the concourse, sad to see that World of Beer was closed along with many other concessions. There was one concession offering Raptors Poutine for $10, but it came with waffle fries, so that was a hard pass. I picked up a beef empanada and that was my dinner.

There are obviously no displays for the Raptors, but the Lightning have a case of replica trophies, which will see some additions when the NHL season opens next month. No NBA trophy here for the Raptors title unfortunately. At least not yet, I am sure they could squeeze one in next to the two Stanley Cups that will be sitting here.

At least the championship banner is on display, though smaller than those Lightning retired numbers. 

The entertainment was straight from a Raptors home game, with some Tampa touches such as on the scoreboard below. Amalie Arena is just north of Hillsborough Bay, so it works on that level. Note that the word North is printed along the sideline in 18 different languages. There were no cheerleaders, although Raptor was in the house, but limited to an area in the club section, with performances shown on the huge scoreboard. There was also piped-in crowd noise, which was a first for me. I found it a bit odd because it is just one person's opinion of whether the play was worth a button push or not, and sometimes that person was a bit too generous.

Our seats were in Row J facing the Pelicans bench, but the first 7 rows of each section were covered by tarp to prevent fans from getting too close, as you can see above. This was my best NBA seat since I saw Grizzlies first game in Portland back in 1995. The court was also bereft of sideline seats; there were a few in each end zone, but they seemed to be for media or guests. If you do go, avoid the seats down low behind the baskets as they are too far away from the action. 

There isn't much else to say here, as you would expect for a venue hosting a team temporarily in the middle of a pandemic. There is no home-court advantage and that could hamper the Raptors, who are used to an incredible level of support at Scotiabank Arena. If you are a stadium traveler, you have a few months to see this unique NBA venue, but I would suggest going as soon as possible, before more players follow in James Harden's footsteps. 

Update: Too late! With COVID cases spiking after the holidays, Amalie Arena announced that fans would not be allowed to attend games until February. The Raptors only had three home games in front of fans, so I am glad I went when I did.

The Game

It was opening night after just three pre-season games, and both teams had undergone some significant lineup changes since the previous campaign ended just over two months ago. As you would expect, there was a lot of sloppy play early with 13 combined turnovers in the first quarter, which ended with Toronto up 26-23.

The second quarter saw the Pelicans attempt only 3 shots from inside the paint (making 2) while going 7/14 from long range. The Raptors were 8/14 from downtown but just 3/10 from inside the arc and went to the half leading 57-50.

Toronto started quickly in the third period, sinking 5 close-range shots to take a 67-56 lead. Then they decided to start jacking treys, and things fell apart. They ended up going 0/10 in the quarter (Kyle Lowry missing below) while New Orleans went 7/8 in outscoring the Raptors 38-22 to take control. 

The final frame saw Toronto get within 5 after Norman Powell knocked down some rare free throws (they had only 12 attempts on the night) but the Pelicans responded with a 14-5 run over the next five minutes as Toronto remained cold from distance. They went 1/7 over their next few possessions and New Orleans was able to run out the game, finishing with a decisive 113-99 win. New Orleans only managed to sink 10 of 20 from the charity stripe, which kept the score from being a complete embarrassment.

Brandon Ingram (driving below) was the star, falling just a rebound short of a triple double at 24-9-11, while JJ Redick was 6/11 from beyond the arc. Pascal Siakam (above, with the ball in his left hand and a Ball on his right hand) led the Raptors with 20 points.

There were 44 total turnovers, not surprising given the circumstances. The refs were quite harsh away from the ball, whistling 39 fouls, but only 32 free throws were taken. In the pivotal third quarter, they only called four fouls. 

The most interesting stat to me was the difference in three-point percentage between the two baskets. The one closer to me seemed a bit off and the teams combined to shoot 11/44 at that end, while hitting 22 of 44 at the other end. The NBA may want to double-check that basket before the Raptors host the Knicks on New Year's Eve.

Notes

This was the third time that I had seen a Toronto home game on the road. The first was the Blue Jays in Washington, where I watched four innings from a hotel across the street back in May; the second was TFC in Hartford.

I flew Southwest down and was happy to get Lone Star One, the aircraft with the Texas livery. I was not able to get a good picture unfortunately, snapping the one below on the train to the main terminal.

Next Up

That's it for 2020. The first few months of 2021 are expected to be difficult as the second COVID wave passes, but by April, we should be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, with vaccinations proceeding apace. I hope to visit nine new minor league ballparks this summer, plus the three NFL teams that opened stadiums this season, as well as the Seattle Kraken in the fall. I'm sure I will find other things to see in the meantime, so check back on occasion.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Best,

Sean