College Basketball Road Trip: The best of times, the worst of times
The last 48 hours have been quite the grind, as your friends at the Fox Sports College Basketball Road Trip have traversed up and down the East Coast to take in the world of college basketball. When we came up with the decision to do 12 games in 12 days in 12 cities, we knew it would be an exhausting task. But when factoring in the current weather and miles covered, while mindful of the typical rigors of travel, there were certain stretches of the trip that we knew would be particularly daunting.
This past two days was one such stretch. We knew we would need our fresh legs, as long journeys through massive traffic on crowded metropolitan interstates were ahead. We began Saturday morning in Manhattan, drove to Charlottesville, Va., for Syracuse-Virginia, then awoke on Sunday morning to head to Philadelphia for Marquette-Villanova before heading to our current location, Harrisburg, Pa. And yes, we now await the arrival of an apparently major snowstorm. As we hunker down, it has occurred to me that we are now 33 percent finished with this tour experience — and hitting the one-third pole is worthy of sharing a few reflections:
Angry coaches have been a theme of this trip:
College basketball coaches as a whole may be the most angry group of human beings in the entire land. In fact, I believe that college basketball tolerates a level of behavior from its coaches that not only no other sport, but very few professions in America, would consider reasonable. Can you imagine if you were able to scream at will at anyone associated with your business for long periods of time and then they were expected to simply put that past them and continue on normally with their work? It would be insane, but that is the dynamic between college basketball coaches and just about everyone.
Just look at what saw in the last four days. We saw Jim Boeheim berate a security guard for no apparent reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, fresh on the heels of his outlandish behavior last weekend at Duke. We watched on television as John Calipari was tossed from the UK/South Carolina game, saw seven of the eight coaches we viewed live explode at an official (Tony Bennett of Virginia being the one exception) and witnessed in person the bizarre antics of Buzz Williams on the Marquette sideline at Villanova.
The latter is a sight to behold, as Buzz is as animated as any human being I have ever seen in my life (in his excitement, he dropped a nickel out of his pocket, which I picked up and am keeping as a souvenir). A two-hour game, even a 73-56 blowout loss like we witnessed Saturday, turns Williams into a sweaty mess and one can get caught being mesmerized by his behavior as opposed to the game action. As a whole, college coaches need to settle down and realize that they can validly express their opinion without looking like a delusional lunatic in the process.
There is nothing better than taking in a dramatic college basketball game live:
Our first three games on this trip were all wildly entertaining affairs that showcased just how amazing this sport can be at its peak.
We watched Rupp Arena rock as the UK fans tried to will their team to a comeback win over Arkansas, only to end up with one of the biggest upsets of the college basketball season. As a UK fan, the sight of a wild Razorback celebration in and around the visitors’ locker room was painful, but showcased a level of joy that you don’t see in professional sports.
We witnessed the beauty of mid-major basketball with Friday night’s Iona-Manhattan overtime thriller that produced the best environment I have seen this season anywhere in the country. The MAAC rivalry had inspired play that rocked the building and had me enthralled on the edge of my seat from start to finish.
We felt like part of the party at one of the most underrated gyms in America, the John Paul Jones Arena, as Virginia played its best game of the season in a dismantling of Syracuse. The ensuing scene was equivalent to one gigantic Saturday night at The Corner, only interrupted with "U-V-A" chants that caused my ears to ring. In each case, one couldn’t help but get wrapped up in all the energy and excitement, even without a rooting interest. Nothing is quite like college basketball live in March, and as great as the NCAA Tournament is, give me the madness of a home environment any day of the week.
A boring game, however, is brutal
While great college basketball can be transcendent, a less-than-ideal environment for college basketball can be brutal. We attended Marquette-Villanova on Sunday and it was the basketball equivalent of a C-Span call-in show.
Marquette could never get its offense ignited and the entire game was a brutal affair in which Villanova was never really tested. The 73-56 score doesn’t do justice to the overall monotony of the play (it’s never a good sign when sounds of the ball bouncing echo throughout the gym) and if not for watching Williams lose his mind, I would have had very little to occupy my time. Throw in the fact that Villanova plays in a pro arena, both unbelievably nice and without any real character or charm, and the entire event was unable to keep my attention.
As I plotted my escape, I bided my time by watching videos of the Allen Iverson retirement ceremony in the same arena the night before ("The Answer" is only one of my five favorite players ever). Thanks to some deft maneuvering by Drew and me, we were able to come away with some free mementos of the occasion, thereby salvaging an otherwise underwhelming trip. Villanova has a great team this season but my guess is the drab nature of their Sunday afternoon contest in Philadelphia will make their home arena the least memorable of our stops.
At Virginia, It is possible to run out of Internet
When most Internet journalists arrive at a sporting event, the first question they like to have answered is how to get on the Internet. This is especially true for that subset of humanity known as a "blogger," for whom the Internet is just one notch below oxygen in life’s requirements.
We arrived at the John Paul Jones Arena just a few minutes before tipoff, eager to watch one of the biggest games of the ACC season and settle in to the excitement . . . at least the amount of the excitement we could experience while still keeping up with our Twitter feed. When I went to get an Internet code, I noticed that none were left at the table, a potential crisis that I hoped would be averted. A helpful young man in a UVA tie (people at UVA all wear school colors or that flying "V" on every piece of clothing, no matter how formal) was standing nearby and I asked him about acquiring an Internet code to get online. He then looked me directly in the eye and with sincerity said, "sir I am so sorry. We are out of internet today."
I stared back at him with a look of puzzlement and said, "excuse me… you are OUT of Internet? What does that mean?"
He said, "we have already given 100 codes out today and decided to not give out any more Internet."
While he was unfailingly polite, the idea of running out of Internet amused me so much that I just let him go. To be fair, another UVA media employee later helped me and they were able to dig up enough Internet to satisfy the supply. But remember folks, when you head to Charlottesville for a game, pack your own Internet just to be sure . . .you never know if another shortage may occur.
It has been a great start to our journey and we continue it Monday (weather permitting) by heading to Pittsburgh to see the Panthers play NC State. See you then.