Thursday, December 31, 2015

Indiana Hoosiers 79 at Rutgers Scarlet Knights 72 (NCAA Basketball, Big Ten) - December 30, 2015

Conference play in NCAA basketball got underway in earnest when Iowa upset #1 Michigan State on Tuesday night, and the Big Ten held several more games on Wednesday, including one at Rutgers. The Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland in 2014 as it sought to extend its presence to the populous east coast, upsetting its midwestern fan base in the process by bringing in a couple of relatively weak football programs. For the Scarlet Knights, the result has been an embarrassment to their basketball program as well as they finished last with a 2-16 conference record in 2014.

Rutgers University is located just a few miles from Staten Island, but is not easy to get to on transit. There are two campuses that lie between Edison and New Brunswick stations, and although there are shuttles from the latter, they do not reach the stadium area; a two-mile walk from Edison might be your best bet if the weather is nice. At any rate, my buddy Eddie offered to drive yesterday, thus saving me a couple of hours on NJ Transit.

Rutgers plays in the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) which is also known as the Louis Brown Athletic Center, though I could find no mention of that name anywhere in the facility. The building is shaped like a trapezoid, with a single entrance along the east side. It is hard to believe that this is a Big Ten basketball arena.

General parking is $10 in lots right next to the venue, which are easy to get into but clog up after the game as there is no highway nearby for easy egress. Tickets are not cheap here either, with the lowest level 100 sections going for $80, those in the middle at $35 while those in the top 300 level are $15. You can see all three levels in the shot below; the 300 level is bench seating but as the RAC is quite compact, these are good enough. We found someone with extras in section 215 who sold them at a discount, so look around outside before approaching the ticket window. Note that if you are going to see a big name team here such as Michigan State or Wisconsin, the venue will likely sell out in advance, so buy your tickets online in that case.

The student section is to the left above, but as students are still on holiday, it was mostly empty, except for the band. Below you can see the other end zone which has a few seats and the media contingent. Note the Rutgers 250 along the end line; it is the school's sestercentennial (there's a word you don't see in sports that often).

This is the view from those end zone seats. You can tell that the visiting team is Indiana by their weird warmup pants that make them look like members of a barbershop quartet.

Overall, the RAC is not suitable for the Big Ten. It is too small, with capacity at 8,000, and very crowded in the concourses, with limited concessions as well. It has a good reputation for being loud and filled with passionate fans, but most of the 6,002 on hand yesterday were from Indiana, perhaps having stayed over after the Pinstripe Bowl. With the team likely to lose nearly every home game for the rest of the season, it might be the worst basketball venue in the power conferences.

The Hoosiers came in at 10-3 while Rutgers was a dismal 6-7, so a blowout was in the offing, and it looked that way early as Indiana held a 30-18 lead with 7 minutes to go in the first half. Both teams struggled from the floor and made several turnovers in a game that was kindly described as sloppy but was really just terrible execution. Anyway, freshman Thomas Bryant (#31 above) committed his third foul around this time and earned a spot on the bench for the rest of the half, and Rutgers used the opportunity to mount a 16-4 run to get to halftime tied at 34.

At the under-16 timeout in the second half with the Hoosiers up by a point, Bryant returned to the game and was immediately whistled for his fourth foul, sending him back to the bench. This time however, Indiana responded with a run of their own, sinking three treys to make it 54-44 and essentially ending the contest then. Rutgers never got closer than 6 the rest of the way as Indiana won 79-72 in a game that took less than two hours.

Max Biefeldt led the winners off the bench with 18 points and 14 boards, while Omari Grier topped Rutgers with 20 points. The teams combined for 40 turnovers, or one for every minute of action. Not pretty.


These two schools played in the 1976 Final Four, with both arriving undefeated. Rutgers lost to Michigan and then UCLA in the thrd place game, while Indiana won the championship, the last team to do so undefeated.

After the game, we drove down to High Point Solutions Stadium, home of Rutgers football. The gates were open so we went inside to have a look. I'll be back here in 2016 for a game.

I've been to 41 NCAA basketball venues, but four of those were for tournaments, one was a women's game, three were in secondary homes, and one has been replaced. Thus, this was my 32nd active home men's NCAA Division I hoops arena, which means only 319 to go!



Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Drexel Dragons 70 at Iona Gaels 77 (NCAA Basketball) - December 28, 2015

There are 14 Division I basketball programs in the New York area, and I have attended games at all but two: Iona and Fordham. With the winter still quite warm, I decided to complete the list as soon as possible, and so I headed to New Rochelle on Monday night to see the Gaels hosting Drexel in non-conference action.

New Rochelle is about 30 minutes from Grand Central on Metro North's New Haven line. A one-way, off-peak ticket is $7.75, while a peak train costs $10.50. I decided to save the difference and caught the last off-peak train at 3:58. Iona College is about a mile from New Rochelle station along North Avenue, but with about 90 minutes before doors opened at Hynes Athletic Center, I stopped along the way at the Smokehouse Tailgate Grill, where pints are only $3 during happy hour, conveniently between 4 and 7. So yeah, I saved $2.75 on the train, but spent quite a bit more on a very enjoyable dinner.

The entrance to the college is just a couple of blocks further along North Avenue and clearly marked. Just inside the gate is the Hynes Athletics Center, which contains the gym where the Gaels play.

I entered by the first door I saw, which leads to the Hall of Fame (below) but not the ticket window, which is outside and up a small hill.

There were numerous options and I chose the cheapest naturally, $12 for general admission, which includes all seats on the far side of the court. Reserved seats are $14 while those with chair backs are $25, but the best reason to choose GA seats is that the cheerleaders welcome you as you come through the door (below).

I was surprised at how many fans were in the GA side at least 30 minutes before tipoff and made my way to the top of the section. The ceiling is very low here and there is netting hanging down, which made it a bit claustrophobic. The chair back seats are in yellow across the way.

Near the end of the game, I moved down a few rows, and you can see the difference when the ceiling is not so close to your seat.

This is the view of the court from the entrance; unfortunately you cannot stand here during the game. In fact, there is really no place to stand at all, and with 2,711 on hand for this one, not a lot of room to move around.

Iona came in 4-6 and 13th in the nation in three-point attempts (10.4 per game) while Drexel (who are from Philadelphia and play in the Colonial Athletic Association) was 2-8. It did not take long for the Gaels to show their long-range ambitions as their first four attempts were from beyond the arc, with two successful. Unfortunately the Dragons were very cold from everywhere on the floor and Iona stormed to a 25-6 lead with Jordan Washington scoring 9 points. I did notice that Iona took too many 3-point shots without setting up the play, i.e. with 20+ seconds left on the shot clock, a silly strategy when leading.

Anyway, the only question was whether Drexel could make it respectable, and they eventually did, getting back within 8 at 43-35 early in the second half. A 15-4 run by Iona followed, highlighted by a 3-point shot from Isaiah Washington that seemed to end any hopes for the visitors, but Tavon Allen responded with a quick ten points as the Dragons got it back to 72-68 with just over 3 minutes to go. Drexel missed their next three shots, but a couple of Allen free throws got them within 2. Washington added a charity shot for Iona, and Drexel had four chances to score with 3 offensive rebounds, but all fell short, including a couple of treys from Allen. The Dragons were forced to foul and Iona made four to win 77-70. Like Iona, I took the shot below a bit early.


Drexel has Mohammed Bah from Mali, who wears uniform #15. With the year nearly over, I found his jersey a worthy commentary on the past 365 days.

Iona finished 8/21 from three-point land and 19/30 from inside the arc, suggesting they should shoot less from long range. And judging from some of their possessions, that would be good advice. Too often they ran the break and shot immediately, rather than setting a play. Mark Jackson recently commented on the rising number of three-point chuckers, blaming Steph Curry, but the problem is that the line is too close and the payoff is actually higher if you can shoot above 33% from afar and less than 50% from in close. which is the case for many teams. I think the line will eventually have to be moved back in the college game as too many squads are too good at the long-range jumper.

Next Up

An afternoon college games to end the year with Indiana at Rutgers tomorrow to open up the Big Ten. As always, check back for more thrilling posts and the first release of the 2016 SportsRoadTrips schedule.



Monday, December 28, 2015

Toronto Maple Leafs 3 at New York Islanders 1 - December 27, 2015

I don't post here when I see games in NYC as there is really nothing interesting to say. But I will make an exception for a Leaf win! The Buds were at Barclays Center on Sunday in their first game after the Christmas break, and surprisingly it was a sellout, only the third of the season after the opener and the Rangers visit at the beginning of the month. I have a pair of season tickets here but was having trouble selling the extra single, so I ended up selling them as a pair, buying a cheapie from the box office. The seat was in the second last row at the goal line and I don't know if I've ever sat further from the ice at an indoor NHL game. There are 26 seats in a row here and it is very, very dark, so getting to your seat is an adventure when you are in the middle of a full row. Truly one of the more unpleasant seating areas I have experienced, so much so that I didn't bother leaving at intermission.

Even with 15,795 on hand, the crowd was quiet for the most part, which wasn't helped by the Islanders play. They did connect on a few hits in the first period that elicited some cheers, but could not turn that into anything meaningful, struggling to create chances against Jonathan Bernier (warming up below). The Islanders fan next to me was stunned at Bernier's awful stats and implored his team to "shoot" but they had trouble getting anything on net.

Thomas Greiss started for the Islanders as Jaroslav Halak was out injured, and he allowed a couple 100 seconds apart in the middle frame. Tyler Bozak scored when the puck bounced off the end boards right to him, and ex-Islander Michael Grabner (#40 below) potted one when Greiss failed to handle a shot from the point and the puck trickled loose. That turned out to be the winner as ex-Leaf Nikolay Kulemin scored with 7:30 to go in the third, but James Van Riemsdyk found the empty net in the final minute to make it 3-1 and send me and a few other Leaf fans home happy.


Sparky the Dragon, the Islanders mascot unceremoniously left back at Nassau Coliseum, made an appearance. In the video they showed on the scoreboard to illustrate his trip, they included a scene where Sparky underwent a security check. Only at Barclays Center!

This was the fifth Leaf road game I have seen this year and they are 3-2, a good record considering how awful the team should be. I saw the Jays on the road seven times this past season and they went 3-4 for an overall mark of 6-6. I'll take it.

Next Up

A couple of college basketball games to round out the year, with Iona College tonight and then a Rutgers matinee Wednesday against Indiana as conference play begins. As well, my 2016 schedule is about to be released, so check back for that in the new year!



Monday, December 21, 2015

Princeton Tigers 61 at Maryland Terrapins 82 (NCAA Basketball) - December 19, 2015

After watching UNC Asheville beat Georgetown in a noon start, I headed to Baltimore for an evening game at Royal Farms Arena. The two cities are just 40 miles apart and there are several ways to travel between them, with MARC the cheapest. MARC (MAryland Rail Commuter) is a commuter train that is quite frequent during the week, but runs just one line on the weekend between Washington and Baltimore. With only nine trains on Saturday and six on Sunday, you are not spoilt for choice, but the timing worked well for me with the 4:10 train getting me to Baltimore just after 5, plenty of time for the 7:00 start. At $8, MARC is cheaper than Amtrak though it takes about twice as long with all the stops in between.

Penn Station has a baggage storage service for $4, so I left my knapsack there and took the light rail downtown. Royal Farms Arena has but one pro team, the Baltimore Blast of the MASL, but hosts many other events during the year. On this night, the Maryland Terrapins were making their first trip to Baltimore since the 1999-2000 season, with Ivy Leaguers Princeton the visitors.

Royal Farms Arena was once known as Baltimore Arena and was opened in 1962. You will immediately notice the retro ticket windows, though there is a more modern box office just next to here for will call tickets. The cheapest here was $17 to sit in the corner of upper deck (view below), so I went outside to see what the scalpers were offering.

Nobody was willing to come down to $10, so I waited for someone with an extra to stop by. Sure enough, a guy had one left over at center court and when a scalper offered him $10, the seller walked away in a huff. I quickly offered him $20 and he accepted. As it turned out the seat was in the second deck, right next to the television cameras. It had a full view of the action, but I could not see the band as the camera stand blocked my view. The two seats to my right were also sold, and one gentleman had to move one row up to see the entire court, a bit odd, but what do you expect for an arena that is over 50 years old? Air conditioning? Nope, despite chilly temperatures outside, it was stuffy and hot in the seats.

An escalator will take you to the main (and relatively barren) concourse, but other than that it is stairs that go between the three levels. Concessions are basic and best ignored.

The ceiling can be quite low in places, not good if you are claustrophobic.

The only banners are for the Blast, who have won their league championship seven times. Indoor soccer is one of the sports that I have yet to see, but as I run out of venues, I will probably end up going to a game or two somewhere, sometime. I always enjoy getting to see old venues and Royal Farms Arena is no different. It is a reminder of times when there were no luxury boxes or club seats and the fans who went to the game were there for the game. Which on this night was quite entertaining.

Maryland came in ranked sixth in the country, but there had been a couple of upsets earlier in the day with #4 Kentucky losing at the Barclays Center, while #7 Duke was defeated at MSG. So all the Terps had to do was beat Princeton to move up.

Melo Trimble (#2 below) is the star for Maryland, coming off a freshman season where he averaged 16.2 PPG and was an All-Big Ten First Team selection. He was largely invisible early on as Princeton stormed to a 25-19 lead behind 7 treys including three from Henry Caruso (#21 above). Was this another upset in the making?

Not quite. The Terps called timeout and immediately went on a 16-2 run, highlighted by five points and a steal from Trimble as the half ended 35-31 for Maryland. The second half continued on much the same note as Maryland opened on an 18-8 spurt that ended with a Jake Layman dunk that made it 53-39.

Princeton got no closer than 10 and when Rasheed Sulaimon (#0 above) drained a three to make it 68-49 with 8 minutes to go, the result was settled. The final as you see below was 82-61, a convincing victory for the nominal home team.

Trimble finished with just 7 points but added 10 helpers. Jake Layman led Maryland with 19 points, while Caruso topped the Tigers with 17. Princeton went 11/24 from long range, and only 10/28 from inside the arc. The discrepancy is crazy when you think about it, but it shows how the college game has changed.

I did a quick bit of research and found that including all 351 Division I teams, 35.1% of shots are attempted from beyond the arc, with 34.4% of those being hit, while 49.2% of two-pointers are successful. Thus the expected value of a three point shot (1.033) is higher than that of a two-pointer (0.984, excluding fouls that lead to a three-point play). Princeton is just playing the odds as you would expect from an Ivy League school. From the few games I have seen this season, there are just too many three-point attempts. I think the three-point line needs to be moved back to the NBA line in college hoops; too many teams are just too good at hitting these shots and the low post game is suffering.

Interestingly, Maryland is second in the nation in FG percentage at 53.5, just behind St. Marys at 54.2. However, St. Mary's has a ridiculous 47.3% success rate from long range, second in the nation behind Oklahoma at 47.7 (Maryland is 23rd at 40.2).


In the end, #5 Iowa State also lost, so Maryland was ranked fourth in time for Christmas.

My Washimorelphia trip ended on Sunday with an NFL doubleheader that saw Baltimore lose to KC 34-14 and Philadelphia drop a 40-17 decision to Arizona that evening. No need to talk about those stadiums or games, but I will say that Chiefs-Cardinals is my new Super Bowl prediction. You heard it here first!

Next Up

I'm hoping to end the year with the Leafs at Brooklyn on Sunday and then a Monday night trip to Iona College and a Wednesday matinee at Rutgers for some more NCAA hoops. Check back next week for recaps.

Happy holidays everyone!



Sunday, December 20, 2015

UNC Asheville Bulldogs 79 at Georgetown Hoyas 73 (NCAA Basketball) - December 19, 2015

After watching the Washington Capitals come back to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night, I returned to the Verizon Center just 12 hours later, this time to check out Georgetown (Big East) taking on the UNC Asheville Bulldogs (Big South). Although Georgetown is known as the Hoyas, their mascot is a bulldog, so it was a Battle of the Bulldogs.

Mascots were a theme on this day, as several local teams sent their anthropomorphic cheerleaders to the game as part of a marketing campaign of some sort. Below is Pinch, the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs mascot, trying to sneak into the lower level.

The mascots held a basketball game at halftime. I was surprised to see Poe from the Ravens there, but as the Redskins don't have a mascot due to their wildly offensive name, Poe joined the spectacle as the NFL representative. The bulldog at the bottom center is Georgetown's mascot while the other three should be obvious to any sports fan.

I have been to Verizon Center many times before and when I wrote about it five years ago, I called it pedestrian. It seems like there have been a number of improvements since then, with displays around the main concourse dedicated to the Wizards franchise history and their world championship (trophy below) along with the Capitals two Winter Classic wins. I don't know if these are recent additions or if I hadn't noticed them before, but it was nice to tour the venue when the crowd was relatively small so I could take the time to see these displays in detail. Another nice surprised was finding the designated driver program in effect, a rarity for a college game as booze is not sold in campus arenas. I was the third person to sign up, suggesting that most fans don't know about the program. I estimate that I have saved about $2,000 lifetime by signing up for a free soda by promising to not drink a beer. Given that most stadium beer is overpriced swill, this really isn't a hard thing to do.

The problem with multipurpose arenas is clearly demonstrated in the shot below. The sections behind the court face straight ahead - good for hockey but terrible for basketball as you are constantly looking at an angle. Also note the space between the end zone seats and the court, that is used by the cheerleaders and dance team.

I picked up a ticket at the box office for only $12. Scalpers were not willing to sell for anything less than $10, so I ignored them. The general rule for scalping a game that is not sold out is half of face value or less. Anything more is not worth the risk as scammers are increasing with the advent of paper tickets. As it turned out, the seat was on the aisle low in the corner, a decent view for the price and better than those seats described above. Despite the stadium being a third full, the box office sold the five seats next to me instead of spacing them out, and those fans did not space themselves out, so I moved back for the second half where I could enjoy a row to myself. Common sense is no longer common.

Both teams came in at 6-4 but two of the Bulldogs wins were over lower division schools, while the Hoyas had most recently lost to suddenly powerful Monmouth. A key point came early when L.J. Peak (below) picked up his third foul about 6 minutes into the game, earning him a seat on the bench for the rest of the half.

That seemed to unsettle Georgetown, who ended up trying to match the Bulldogs from outside the arc, a strategy doomed to fail as the Hoyas clearly had the size advantage and should have been pounding the paint. The halftime score favoured the visitors 41-39, but the difference was in three point shooting as 5 of Asheville's 14 baskets were from downtown compared to just 2 of Georgetown's 14.

The Hoyas actually took a 45-44 lead early in the second period, but a trey from Kevin Vanatta allowed Asheville to regain the advantage and Georgetown never led again, though they came close at 72-71 in the last two minutes when Peak hit one of two free throws (above).

The Bulldogs then used a layup by Ahmad Thomas (#14 above) to take a three-point lead and when Georgetown missed a trey to tie, the game was reduced to a foul-shooting contest, with Asheville sinking 5 of 7 to win 79-73. Dylan Smith (#24 above) led all scorers with 19 points off the bench and was one of five Bulldogs to finish in double figures. The difference was long-range shooting: Georgetown went 2/11 from three-point land in both halves while Asheville finished 9/19. The Hoyas dominated in the paint 42-28, so you have to wonder what coach John Thompson III was doing during all those timeouts. Judging from the fan reaction, he is not a popular choice to lead this team.


This was my 100th basketball venue lifetime. Of those, 38 were NCAA venues, with 4 of those being for tournaments and one a temporary home. Thus I have only been to 33 of 351 Division I venues for a home game. Which means I could keep on road tripping for a long, long time. That's the great thing about sports travel, there is no limit on what you can see. I certainly won't be visiting the remaining 318 basketball courts anytime soon, if ever, but it is nice to know that they are out there.



Friday, December 18, 2015

Stony Brook Seawolves 86 at American Eagles 68 (NCAA Basketball) - December 17, 2015

The first stop on my Washimorelphia trip was American University, home of the Eagles who naturally play in the Patriot League. No points for guessing that their colours are red, white, and blue.

I was staying just over a mile away, so I walked to the campus, which is in the northwest quadrant of the city, right across from the temporary headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security and a couple of blocks away from the Embassy of Japan. The entrance to campus is off Massachusetts Avenue and clearly marked.

From here, Bender Arena is straight ahead, part of a large complex of facilities and a parking garage. The box office is just inside the doors shown below, with end zone tickets going for $11, while sideline seats are $20.50. The disparity in price is surprising for such a small arena, but they do have ushers checking tickets, so the usual sit where you want advice doesn't apply here. They also ask if you want to sit on the home or visitor side, so if you are supporting the visitors (as I was), you will be at the far end of the court.

As this is Washington, politics must be represented, and there are sculptures of a donkey (below) and elephant in the lobby.

Before entering the arena proper, have a look at the Hall of Fame, whose most recognizable name is probably Kermit Washington.

Inside the arena is a list of those players who have reached 1,000 points along with career leaders in several statistical categories.

The Patriot League banners are on display here, Army and Navy both play in this conference as well. There is a single concession stand here but I did not partake as there was a PotBelly along the way.

The court is set up on top of the gym floor, with the end zone seats a bit far away. The shot below is taken from the visitor seats, and you can see there is quite a lot of space between the first row and the court. The media sits at that table to the right too, so a low down seat is not advisable here.

Note that the end zone seats are bleacher style, while the sidelines have chair backs. Still not worth an extra $9.50 though.

In fact, I stood for the second half, as there is a railing at the top of the seating bowl that you can lean on. This is the best place to watch the game and with the pace of college basketball improving (they removed one timeout per team this season), you won't be standing that long. As you can see, there were few fans here as finals are over and most students have gone home for the holidays. Attendance was announced at 368, and half of those seemed to be Stony Brook fans.

And they were in for a treat. The Seawolves played very well right from the start, sinking a number of threes early on. Just after the midway point of the half, Roland Nyama drained the team's fourth trey to make the score 23-17. Interestingly, the rest of the half saw the same score as Stony Brook took a 46-34 lead into the break.

Whatever adjustments the Eagles made at halftime were fruitless, as Stony Brook went on a rampage early in the second period. A 15-6 run led American to call timeout, but that was useless as Stony Brook followed with a 13-5 spurt that essentially ended things at 74-45.

The last 12 minutes saw the Seawolves take their foot off the gas and American got back within 18. The star was Jameel Warney who finished with 22 points on 10/12 shooting (that's him at the line above) a couple of steals and two blocks. There were a number of NBA scouts at the game so who knows, maybe you'll be hearing a lot more about him next year.

The palindromic final score.

Next Up

I just watched the Capitals comeback to defeat the Lightning 5-3 (no need for a post, but it was one of the best games I have seen in a long time). This weekend is doubleheader time. Saturday starts right back at the Verizon Center as Georgetown hosts UNC Asheville, and then the nightcap is in Baltimore as Maryland takes on Princeton. On Sunday it will be my first NFL doubleheader with games in Baltimore and Philadelphia. Check back for recaps next week.