Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Harvard Crimson 71 at Penn Quakers 74 (NCAA Basketball, Ivy League) - February 24, 2018


The second half of my perfect Philadelphia doubleheader was at the Palestra, home of the Pennsylvania Quakers. Opened in 1927, it is the third oldest college basketball venue in the country, behind Northeastern's Matthews Arena in Boston and Fordham's Rose Hill Gym, but has hosted the most games in history. I had long wanted to see a game here, and was very excited as I walked over from Drexel after witnessing a thrilling game there.



The two schools are right next to each other and the jaunt from Drexel's DAC to Penn's Palestra is less than 10 minutes. Walk south along 33rd Street and go across Shoemaker Green to get to the majestic main entrance, shown above. This incredible building was lit up nicely at dusk. Just inside the center doors is the ticket office, which is a circular booth reminiscent of the information kiosk in Grand Central Station. Tickets on game day for Ivy League matches are $25, surprisingly expensive for a mid-major college.



The Palestra was given its name by Dr. William N. Bates, a professor of Greek language and literature. In ancient Greece, young men would compete in a variety of events in a rectangular enclosure attached to the gymnasium, which was known as a Palestra. Over 90 years later, the moniker still stands. I can only assume that naming rights are not for sale.



The concourse is where you want to spend most of the pregame as it is filled with historical information and displays. Both Penn's history and that of Philadelphia's Big 5 is shown, along with pieces on local high school athletes who played here, such as Kobe Bryant.



Each era in Penn basketball is given its own display case, and these are worth reading for any sports fan.



Other happenings and players are highlighted on several more boards all around the hallway. One of my favourites is Images of The Palestra, which shows other uses of the facility over the past 90 years, including when it was a Navy Mess Hall during WWII.



Princeton is Penn's most serious rival and their record to date is shown on another wall. As you can tell, this series has been going on for a long time.



The Big 5 comprises five of the six Division I schools in Philadelphia (Drexel is excluded). Each team plays the other once during the season (La Salle and St. Joseph's are in the same conference, so only one matchup counts in the Big 5) and many of those games used to be played here. The school who wins the most games (usually by going 4-0) is the Big 5 champion. There is quite a bit of Big 5 information on display, including a Hall of Fame for both men's and women's players who starred in those games over the years.



Each Big 5 school has a banner inside the gym, although these days, most non-Penn games are played away from the Palestra.



There is also an atrium entrance near the Southwest entrance and it seemed like more memorabilia was on display there, but it was closed after the game and I did not get inside to see it.



The court is surrounded by two levels of seating on all four sides. I was there early so the arena was empty but by game time, all but the top corners were filled and the place was very noisy indeed.



Chairback seats are available down low, while individual plastic seats make up the middle portion on the south sidelines (below), while old wooden bleachers are at the top all around. Comfort is not a concern here.



The roof is curved and no doubt has a lot to do with the acoustics. When the band was playing before the game, it was difficult to hear yourself think, even from the other end of the floor.



There is a nice video board above the west end, while a more typical dot matrix scoreboard decorates the east side.



Of course, there are dozens of banners in the rafters. Penn has a very successful Ivy League history, but also reached the Final Four in 1979, losing 101-67 to eventual champion Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the tournament that arguably started college basketball on its way to becoming a major sport.



The Palestra is truly one of the must-see venues in American sports. This post really doesn't do it justice, because I did not grow up in Philadelphia or as a college basketball fan in general, so I don't appreciate the detail that a more serious fan would. Check out this article by a local beat writer, written two years ago when a Big 5 doubleheader was held here. After reading that, you should be making plans to visit The Palestra if you have never seen it before. I'm glad I finally knocked this one off the bucket list.

The Game

On top of this wonderful venue, there was a great matchup on tap as Harvard was in town. Both teams came in at 10-1, tied for top spot in the Ivy League. Harvard had won the reverse game in Cambridge two weeks prior so Penn had revenge on their mind. The first half was close, with neither club able to take more than a five-point lead as we went to the break tied at 35. The second half was more of the same, and with 6 minutes left, Harvard led 58-57. But Penn, led by AJ Brodeur's 8 points, went on a 10-2 run over 4 minutes. The Crimson did not wilt though, as Seth Towns followed a layup with a three pointer to get back within 2 with 50 seconds left. The Quakers took the ball back down the court, took 20 seconds off the clock, and then Caleb Woods drained a three that made it 70-65 and send The Palestra into paroxysms of ecstasy. Harvard was forced to foul and when Penn missed one, a Crimson trey made it a three-point game. Penn then sank both of their next free throws and Harvard followed with another three to get within 2. With two seconds left, Penn made just 1 of 2 freebies, but Harvard could not get off a Hail Mary in time and Penn held on to win 74-71.



Another excellent game on this day trip, with only 33 fouls until the last minute that allowed for a decent flow. Towns led all scorers with 22 while Brodeur had 17 and 12 boards for the Quakers.



After the game, the Penn alma mater was sung (above) and the band stayed well after to put on an impromptu concert as it was senior day and the last regular season game there for any senior members. Many parents were also in attendance and it was a nice way to end the evening.



Notes

The Ivy League tournament will be held here next weekend and these two teams will have the top seeds and will likely contest the final for a spot in March Madness. Update: They did meet in the final and Penn beat Harvard 68-65 in another 3-point game and is going dancing.

I found this article that lists 15 of the best college hoops spots, and I have only been to 5! So I'll be adding these to the list of places to go.

Next Up

I'll be checking out some postseason hoops action in New York over the next couple of weeks as the Big Ten, ACC, and Big East all hold their tournaments here, and some mid-major schools might have on-campus games as well. The next trip will be to Montreal on March 24, where I plan to see an AHL/NHL doubleheader featuring the Laval Rocket and their parent club, the Montreal Canadiens. Check back next month for a recap.

Best,

Sean

Monday, February 26, 2018

UNCW Seahawks 83 at Drexel Dragons 82 (NCAA Basketball, CAA) - February 24, 2018


Having seen all of the college basketball arenas in the New York area, I am turning my attention to other nearby locales, with Philadelphia the most obvious. There are six Division I hoops schools based there: St. Joseph's, La Salle, Temple, Villanova, Penn, and Drexel. I have seen games at the first three, so an ideal situation would be seeing two of the other three on the same day. This season Villanova is playing at the Wells Fargo Center as their regular home court is being renovated and that is not quite worth the trip, so I scoured the schedule for a Penn/Drexel doubleheader. This is doubly convenient as the two schools are just 10 minutes apart, the two closest NCAA hoops venues in the country. This past Saturday afforded such an opportunity, so I grabbed a Megabus down to Philly. Their stop next to the 30th Street station is just a short walk from both schools as well, making this a very easy trip indeed.



The first game was a 4 p.m. start at Drexel, which is the only school not part of the Big 5. They play out of Daskalakis Athletic Center, just north of Market Street at 34th. In fact, you should enter through a door on Market Street (right next to Landmark Americana, a bar worthy of a visit if you like cheap beer) rather than walk around to the main entrance, pictured above.



That's because there are a few things to see in the hallway leading to the main entrance, including a staircase schedule (above) and the Drexel Hall of Fame (below).



You will also pass one of many dragons scattered throughout the building.



When you get to the main entrance, the box office is to the right. Tickets are $20 on game day, and there is usually only a crowd of about 1,000 so freebies are tough to come by. I bought one near center court, with the view shown below. As you can see, the gym is quite small and there are no bad seats on the sidelines, though those on the very end are just benches, while chairbacks are available elsewhere.



Both end zones are student sections (the students call themselves the DAC Pack), though anyone can sit in the upper rows, as they aren't very crowded. There is also a VIP section and Presidents Suite for season-ticket holders; I happened to sit next to that and enjoyed the extremely passionate Drexel fan who criticized the officials using their first names. That is knowing the game!



Take a bit of time to walk around behind the seating area to find surprises like: another dragon!



And look, another one! I find it interesting that on the floor, the dragon breathes fire to the right, but here to the left. Nice to see both political persuasions included!



The venue was opened in 1975 and still looks quite new, partially due to renovations carried out between 2010-16. The team has made the tournament four times in the interim, securing one win in 1996, defeating Memphis before falling to eventual runner-up Syracuse. I do like how they signify that win with a star. The two retired numbers on the left belong to Michael Anderson (blocked by the speaker) and Malik Rose, while those on the right are for Barbara Yost and Gabriela Mărginean.



This is quite a simple venue for basketball, though the entire complex does have a lot more to see. The US Open Squash tournament has been held here every year since 2011 for example.



Philadelphia is a great college hoops town and although the DAC is not as impressive as some of the other local gyms, it is still a nice place to visit.

The Game

UNC Wilmington were the visitors and both teams were 6-11. This should have been a meaningless game, but the CAA tournament gives a bye to the top 6 teams, so the winner of this one would likely get that bye. If you haven't understood the stupidity of having conference tournaments involving every team in the conference, the fact that a 7-11 team gets a bye should enlighten you.



Drexel completed the largest comeback in NCAA Division I history on Thursday, defeating Delaware 85-83 after being behind 53-19, so when they fell behind 20-7, nobody was much worried. Sure enough, the Dragons came back and took their first lead of the game early in the second half at 43-42. From there on in, the advantage changed hands 8 times and with 1:10 left, Drexel was up 80-76. But a trey from Ty Taylor II (TT2 no doubt) followed by 2 FTs from TT2 gave the Seahawks the one-point edge. On Drexel's next possession, Tramaine Isabell was fouled and drained his two shots to again give the Dragons the slimmest of leads with just 19 seconds remaining. UNCW went right up the floor and Jordan Talley managed to sink a jumper with 8 ticks on the clock to make it 83-82. Drexel did not call a timeout and raced down the floor, but a layup from Kurk Lee did not fall and Austin Williams failed to tip home the rebound as UNCW got the coveted bye with the road win.



This was a highly entertaining game with a lot of fast breaks and only 31 fouls. It only took about 1:40, giving me plenty of time to wander over to the Palestra for the nightcap at 7. More on that in the next post.

Notes

Drexel finished in a four-way tie for 7th in the 10-team conference at 6-12, and was given the 8th seed in the tournament. They'll take on James Madison for the right to play top seed College of Charleston while UNCW gets Hofstra.

Best,

Sean

Thursday, February 15, 2018

New York Open - February 13, 2018


After the New York Islanders left Nassau Coliseum for Brooklyn back in 2015, the venerable venue was extensively renovated by its owners, Forest City Enterprises, who also own the Barclays Center. For two years, the coliseum was closed and essentially gutted, with an entirely new facade the most obvious addition.



Compare it to the picture below, taken three years ago. Quite the difference.



The stadium has been rebranded as NYCB Live, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (NYCB is New York Community Bank), though is still referred to as the Nassau Coliseum by most fans. It has been hosting the Long Island Nets of the NBA's development league (now known as the G-League after Gatorade in another branding disaster) since November, but I have yet to get out for a game. This week, however, a new tennis tournament came to town, and fellow sports nut Andrew decided to drive up for the occasion. Dubbed the New York Open, this is an ATP 250 tournament, making it the lowest tier of the tour. It had been held in Memphis from 1975-2017, moving this year because a title sponsor could not be found down in Tennessee. It remains the only indoor hard court tournament in the country. For this tournament, 28 singles players and 16 doubles teams would contest the two titles.



Andrew, a Philly resident and bandwagon Eagles fan (note the hat), picked me up at Hempstead and we headed over to Uniondale. There were no scalpers so we picked up tickets for the day session at the box office for $22 and wandered in.



Few fans joined us for the day session of the first round of the tournament, not surprising given that there were no big names scheduled to play, unless you count Jeremy Chardy. We did a quick walk around the empty concourse, and I spotted a cool photo from the 1976 ABA championship, won by the Nets.



Of course, the building has a lot of history and those Nets banners are still hanging, while the Islanders ones have yet to return from Barclays Center. I suspect a new set will be created in time for next season, when the Isles will play 13 games here (as well as 48 total games in the two seasons following).



The entire seating bowl has been replaced and capacity has been reduced to 13,000 for hockey, likely a testament to how fans have gotten bigger over the past 50 years. The renovations are really quite nice and although the venue is still small when compared to newer stadiums, it will be a great experience when the Islanders play here, without a bad seat in the building.



For tennis, there are two courts dubbed stadium (above) and grandstand (below). Seats are only sold for the stadium area and ushers were there to protect their turf - mainly to prevent fans from going to their seats during play. At the grandstand, it was free seating, though few fans cared enough for these secondary matches. Andrew and I tried both, and I realized that I prefer to sit behind the court rather than beside it as you can see the movement of the shots so much better.



We saw three matches while we were there, with #7 seed Steve Johnson (USA, ranked 49th in the world) losing to qualifier Adrián Menéndez Maceiras (Spain, 128th) in the big upset. Johnson had at least 5 match points, including being up 6-3 in the third set tiebreak, only to lose. Menéndez Maceiras went on to defeat Chardy (France, 95th) in the next round. We also saw Radu Albot (Moldova, 91st) knock off Bjorn Fratangelo (USA, 109th) on the grandstand, and later Peter Gojowczyk (Germany, 63rd) beat Slovenian Blaž Kavčič (108th) in straight sets. We left midway through Chardy's match with Stefano Travaglia (Italy, 132nd), which Chardy won in 3 sets.



Unless you are a tennis nut, you have probably not heard of many of these players. To be fair, there are some big names in the draw, but the top four seeds (Kevin Anderson (11th ranked), Sam Querrey (12th), John Isner (18th), Adrian Mannaniro (25th)) had received byes to the second round on Wednesday, while 5th seed Kei Nishikori (who has fallen to 27th after injuries) played that night. Our day session ticket would have allowed us to remain in the venue for the night session, but it wasn't worth hanging around for 3 more hours.

Still, it is interesting how those outside the top names receive little respect. In team sports, being the 100th best in the world means a multi-million dollar contract and adulation. In tennis, it means you are sentenced to play on the smaller court in front of ten fans, and you can only hope for lifetime earnings of a million. What I enjoyed most about this experience was seeing how those players are incredibly talented and often make fantastic shots, but their inconsistency dooms them. The line between good and great in tennis is very thin, but also very hard to cross. If you have a chance to see a smaller tournament, do so as you will enjoy the sport without having to fight the crowds.

Notes

They did a good job seeding as Andersen won the tournament, defeating Querrey in the final in a third-set tiebreak.

Next Up

I'm taking a day trip to Philadelphia next weekend for a college hoops doubleheader as Drexel and Penn, two schools within minutes of each other, host games just 3 hours apart. Check back after that for a recap.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Brown Bears 102 at Princeton Tigers 100 (OT, NCAA Basketball, Ivy League) - February 3, 2018


Over the past couple of years, I'd been to Princeton University for football, hockey, and even soccer, but had yet to add basketball to the list. I really wanted a doubleheader with another sport to make the 90-minute trip worthwhile, but the schedule maker did not cooperate, so I finally bit the bullet and went last Saturday to see the Tigers host the Brown Bears in Ivy League action.



Princeton's hoops home is Jadwin Gymnasium, named for Leander Stockwell Jadiwn, a track athlete who died in an automobile accident in 1929, a year after graduation. His mother left a gift to the university upon her death in 1965, and some of this money was used to build the gym, which opened in 1969. It is located on the east side of campus, just south of the football stadium and a short walk from the train terminus. Pick up your tickets at the box office to the left of the main doors, with all seats going for $15. You can save a couple of bucks if you buy online in advance.



Once you enter, you might be surprised by the amount of trophies and awards on display here. Princeton has a long and storied athletics history, including Dick Kazmaier, a Heisman winner back in 1951, whose trophy is on display just inside the main entrance.



Kazmaier wore #42, as did basketballer (and future Senator) Bill Bradley and that number has been retired across all sports, with an informative display describing the achievements of both athletes.



There is quite a lot of history on display here from all sports, including rowing, which is an activity you rarely hear about at the college level.



Make sure to check out the stairwells to get to the upper balcony, as there are more photos and displays to see there.



As you walk up, you can stop at the mezzanine level and look over the side into the main lobby below. Note the banners celebrating all the sports above the doors.



The building itself is quite large and has a long curved roof, which consists of three interlocking shells. It is the middle shell that is visible in the photos above and below.



There are three seating areas, with the benches closest to the court known as North, South, East, and West. Above the north side is a grandstand area with balcony and above upper balcony seats. Note that the upper balcony, shown above, is not sold for most games. Below is a shot of the south side, with the east side to the left, taken from the walkway between the balcony and upper balcony. Beyond the south stands is a large running track along with space for other field events. The large open space does make it difficult to generate a lot of noise here, particularly when compared to other, much smaller gyms.



Each seating area starts from section 1, so you have to specify what side you want to sit in when at the box office. I ended up with a seat in South 8, but found it much more roomier in the balcony and stayed there.



There are several banners highlighting the Tigers impressive accomplishments over the years, which includes over 200 national titles, though mostly in sports that get no coverage. Basketball did reach the Final Four in 1965, losing to Michigan, while Bradley was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.



Bradley has his own separate banner, as does Pete Carril, who coached here for 30 seasons. You can see the third part of the roof in the photo below.



Overall, Jadwin Gymnasium is an impressive venue with a lot to see for those who enjoy reading about the program's history. It is true that atmosphere suffers a bit as the court is such a small part of the facility, but that hasn't hurt the team who performs quite well at home. If you enjoy mid-major hoops, a trip to Princeton is well worth your while.

The Game

Both the Bears and Tigers had played overtime games the night before, with Brown losing to Penn while Princeton had defeated Yale. Neither team seemed tired however, and they played each other evenly for the first half, with 12 lead changes and no lead larger than 6 points as the half ended 49-49. The second stanza saw Princeton take several small leads, but Brown continued to tie the game, though they never regained the lead. Down 4 with 36 seconds left, Desmond Cambridge (why is he not at Harvard?) hit a 3 for Brown, and when Amir Bell missed one of two free throws for Princeton, the Bears had a chance to tie. Princeton fouled for some unknown reason, and Cambridge sank both stripe shots to send us to overtime.

The teams remained close throughout the extra period, and with 15 seconds left, Princeton's Myles Stephens drained two free throws to give the Tigers a 100-98 lead and the Tiger defense looked stout as the Bears brought the ball down. That didn't stop Cambridge from launching a desperate three that surprised everyone by going in, and the Tigers were suddenly down a point with just 5 seconds to go. After a timeout to build excitement, they turned the ball over immediately and had to foul with 2 seconds on the clock. Brown's Brandon Anderson made one FT and Princeton failed to do anything, falling 102-100 in a highly entertaining affair.



As you can tell by the high score, this was an excellent shooting game by both teams. Brown shot 58% (62% from three-point land) while Princeton was no slouch at 55% (but "only" 50% from distance). Cambridge led all scorers with 32 points and 9 rebounds.

Notes

This was the 68th meeting between the two schools at Princeton and only the 6th time that Brown has won.

Princeton is the first U.S.-based school at which I have seen four venues and four sports and I could still return to see baseball and complete the five main college sports.

Best,

Sean