Thursday, February 7, 2019

Creighton Bluejays 59 at Villanova Wildcats 66 (OT, NCAA Basketball, Big East) - February 6, 2019


Despite being national champions two of the last three seasons, the Villanova Wildcats still play most of their home games at their on-campus arena, The Pavilion, the only college venue in Philadelphia where I had yet to see a game. I couldn't go last year because it was being renovated, sending the team to Wells Fargo Center (where they still play a few times a year), but it re-opened this season with a slightly modified name. As the improvements were partially funded by alumnus Bill Finneran, the name of the arena is now officially Finneran Pavilion. This is not the first time a Villanova alum saw his name on the building; when it opened in 1986, it was the John Eleuthère du Pont Pavilion, but du Pont's name was removed after he was convicted of murdering Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz. With corporate naming rights, you only have to worry about scandal (Enron Field for example), but with a donation, you have to hope your benefactor doesn't go insane.



With my schedule for the rest of the college basketball season seeing me on the road quite a bit, I only had one option to see the Pavilion and that was yesterday evening as the Wildcats hosted Creighton in Big East action. The silliness of the conference name is apparent when you realize that Creighton is in Omaha, Nebraska. That's a good place to go if you want to build up some decent frequent flier miles during your school years.



Anyway, Villanova is about 15 miles northwest of Philadelphia and can be accessed via SEPTA's Paoli/Thorndale line. A one-way ticket from downtown costs $6 and the train takes about 40 minutes. Unfortunately, the return trip is not ideal for weekday evening games, with trains scheduled at 9:22 and 11:04, so driving is the better option if you can do so. From the station, it is about a 10-minute walk south to the arena and you will arrive at the main entrance, with the walkway lined with glowing portraits of the players in action (above).



Tickets are usually sold out for Big East matches here, but there might be returns at the box office, where face value is $60 for seats in the 200 level. However, the secondary market is often cheaper, so have a look at VividSeats, the official reseller marketplace, to see if you can snag a deal. When I arrived, there were two seats going for $20, but as I was solo, I paid $35 for a seat in the north end zone. Upon entering, I saw the back of the south end zone (above), which consists of Sections 205-207. Just below this is the one of the club areas that is open to those with lower level tickets. That was not me, so the best you will get is a shot from above.



To be honest, you don't want to waste time in the club area anyway, because there is a lot to see just inside the main entrance. Most important are those national championship trophies, of which there are three.



They are surrounded by the regional trophies as well as other commemorative items from those title marches.



Their first title was as a #8 seed in 1985, the first year with 64 teams, when they upset Georgetown in the final, winning their 6 games by an average of 5 points.



These days, the national champion also receives a trophy for winning the USA Today poll, which seems a bit redundant. Does anyone vote for any team other than the champ?



If rings are your thing, you will enjoy the below display that shows several different items from various titles.



After admiring all of the silverware, you can then spend some time at the interactive kiosks going through the illustrious history of this program. There are several kiosks, and as most fans there know this stuff by heart, you should be able to spend a few minutes at one.



Once you have exhausted your capacity for Wildcat lore, you can enter the seating bowl, which is surprisingly compact with a capacity of just 6,501. Below is the south end zone, taken just as you enter from the main concourse.



You can walk all the way around on an interior walkway between the two seating levels, or use the concourse underneath the 200 levels, which is where you will find the concession stands, with pizza in a cone the specialty at $7. Below is the view from right under the cameras at center court.



As you make your way around, you will see that there are really no bad seats in the place. Below is a corner above which students sit. In fact, there are several student sections, with 2,000 seats reserved for them. This really makes the atmosphere here electric, particularly as tip-off approaches.



Below is the topmost spot in the northwest corner. I use the term corner loosely, as there are no true corner seats here due to the design, where the roof comes down to a point, at which scoreboards are set (a good example can be found in the above photo).



This roof design is considered a hyperbolic paraboloid, rarely seen in a sports arena, particularly with the sharp angles used here. The Saddledome in Calgary is another example, but that is entirely rounded, though still considered a hyperbolic paraboloid. Below is the view from my seat in section 214. This is row 18, but was still relatively close to the court, especially when considering there is another level of seating below. Note the center scoreboard is thin and round; during the action it shows ads on the north and south sides.



Sideline seats are chairbacks, while those in both end zones are benches. The space between the benches is quite tight, a necessity to keep the seats close, so get there on time to avoid having to inch your way along while people do various calisthenics to avoid being stepped on.



Below is the view from the top row of the north section. This was taken after the game so people are standing, but it actually isn't a terrible place to sit, and with no one behind you, you could stand whenever you pleased.



Overall, Finneran Pavilion is an excellent college basketball facility that really should be seen by any fan of the sport. Plan for an early season game as those later on seem to see very high prices on the secondary market, but either way, you should have a good time.

The Game

Villanova was a perfect 9-0 in Big East play after a couple of embarrassing non-conference losses to Furman and Penn. They were ranked 14th, while Creighton came in at 4-5 in the conference. The Bluejays (note the different spelling from my favourite ballclub) had a couple of key injuries and so they changed their approach, playing a very deliberate and slow game. That seemed to throw Villanova off, and the first half was characterized by poor shooting from long range for the Wildcats, who limped to a 25-24 halftime lead.



The second half was played at a similar pace, and with similar results, only this time Creighton took it 25-24. They even had a chance to win it late, but a floater from Kaleb Joseph missed with 2 seconds remaining, which meant overtime. Fouls are continued from the second half, and that was Creighton's undoing, as they had 9 to Villanova's 6. After both teams sunk a three to get things started, they again reverted to their poor shooting before Joseph fouled Colin Gillespie with three minutes left, setting the double bonus. Gillespie made the first, but missed the second, only to have Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree grab the rebound and slam it home to get the crowd going. Creighton continued their slow play, allowing 35 seconds to pass before Joseph missed a three, and then Villanova secured two offensive boards that allowed Phil Booth to hit a devastating trey that made it 58-52 with 1:28 to go. Joseph missed another three, and Villanova killed 30 seconds before missing a three of their own. Creighton's Connor Cashaw then missed a jumper and when Booth grabbed the rebound, Creighton was forced to foul. The Wildcats went 6-8 from the line over that final 36 seconds and only a late three by Davion Mintz and a very, very late jumper (more on that below) from Joseph made it respectable as Villanova escaped with a 66-59 win. Saddiq Bey (shooting above) led the Wildcats with 17 points.



This was not a particularly well-played game, but it was fun. Both teams shot 29% from downtown, but Creighton attempted only 17 shots (making 5) compared to 34 (10 makes obviously) for Villanova. The Bluejays were superior from inside the arc, which is what kept them close, but those fouls ended up being the difference once overtime started. Both teams were 4-9 overall and 2-5 from three point land during the extra frame, but Creighton did not shoot a single free throw. The teams combined for 98 points over 40 minutes (2.45 points per minute) but more than doubled that pace in overtime to 5.4, mostly because of all those late free throws.

Notes

Joseph's last bucket clearly came after time had expired, but inexplicably it counted. Even from the opposite side of the court, I knew that the shot was late, and I watched dumfounded as the ref (not sure if it was Roger Ayers) signalled the basket as he walked off the court. He was not required to review the shot as there was no impact to the outcome of the game. But there was impact elsewhere, namely in the world of gambling. That seemingly meaningless basket made headlines because the spread was initially 9 points (and the second half over/under was 75.5), so many bettors were affected. This was the second time in three days that a late basket was wrongly counted and impacted gamblers and Ayers was at both games. I'm chalking it up to coincidence (and the refs did a great job in this game until that point) but it will be interesting to see if there is any change to the rules outside of the tournament, where all buzzer beaters will be reviewed.

Next Up

I'm off on the first extended trip of the year, starting in Milwaukee as we have a Club 123 meetup at Fiserv Forum, the newest venue in the Big 4. I then head to Vegas and Phoenix to see the Maple Leafs in those two rinks. There are several other games on tap, including Villanova at Marquette, so check back often for updates.

Best,

Sean

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