Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Plan Your Road Trips - Part II

Yesterday was November 2nd.  Election Day.  The day the Republicans took back the house in what seemingly was a national repudiation of the Obama Administration's first twenty months in office.  It was also the day after Iowa was cleared of any wrongdoing for a couple of their basketball  recruits meeting Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore at an Iowa football game.   Honestly, it seemed like much ado about nothing.  I think the recruits just wanted to ask Ashton about the above scene in the Shakespearean classic "Dude, Where's My Car?"

The above movie title is the perfect lead in for Part II of "Plan Your Road Trips" and Part II has a very colorful motif.  Our first road trip involves a state that inspired a "yellowbrick" road.  Another trip involves a "rose hill".  And finally, our third trip involves "Blue Hens".

1) Colorado State vs. Kansas - Saturday December 11, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas.   If you are a huge college basketball fan and you have never gone to Lawrence to see a game at Allen Fieldhouse, one of the meccas of college basketball, I have one question for you.  What the hell are you waiting for?

You have a little more than a month to plan this trip.  Having gone on the trip to Lawrence to see Hofstra vs. Kansas last season,  I can tell you that you want to go to a non-conference game where you have the hope of getting a semi reasonably priced ticket.   Colorado State, coming off a .500 record last season, will probably be a more competitive opponent than say Longwood.

Step one, you will have to go to an secondary market service, like Stubhub to get tickets.  It's probably the only way you are going to get tickets for the always sold out Jayhawks.   Step two, take the Friday before the game off and book your flight for early Friday morning to Kansas City.  Then rent a car from the KC airport to drive to Lawrence.   You won't have to struggle to get a hotel room for Friday and Saturday like we did last year, since we didn't realize that the Jayhawks were hosting the Cornhuskers the next day in football.  The entire state of Nebraska booked just about all the rooms surrounding Lawrence.  Whatever you do, don't book the Econo Lodge in Lawrence, otherwise you might not have toilet paper or a working phone in your room.

Step three, make sure to have a GPS.  Then, when you get in on that Friday, take a  lunchtime drive from Lawrence to Williamsburg.  Williamsburg is the home of Guy and Mae's Tavern, one of the best barbecue places in Kansas.  You must, you must, you must, order the ribs.  And this is coming from someone who is not a big ribs fan.  They are that good.  Wash it down with their iced tea and you are in BBQ heaven.

Step four, a few hours before the game on that Saturday night, go to the Free State Brewing Company in downtown Lawrence.  Great beer brewed on the premise for a reasonable price ($4 a pint) and damn good cheddar soup.  Then step five, get to Allen Fieldhouse early enough to soak in the atmosphere.  Spend time looking at all the memorabilia and history in the Hall of Fame in the promenade.

Then get ready to hear one of the loudest crowds in all of college basketball, with the Kansas students standing for the entire game, serenading the road team with "Rock Chalk Jayhawk".  Don't worry if you happen to be a CSU Ram fan.  I wore my Hofstra sweatshirt that night at Allen and not one single fan abused me the entire evening.  Kansas fans are pretty respectful (well at least to non Missouri folks).  Just enjoy the moment in basketball mecca.  It's worth the trip.

2) Richmond vs. Fordham - February 5, 2011, Rose Hill Gym, Rosedale NY -   Want to know one of the best kept secrets in college basketball?  Rose Hill Gym on the campus of Fordham is a wonderful place to see a game.  It's cozy, nearly 3500 seats in total, but the 85 year old facility is a walk back in time.

I have seen a few games at Rose Hill, including a barnburner in February 2008, in which Rhode Island came back from a fifteen point first half deficit to win 65-63.  What I remember especially was that it was a day game and with the sun glowing into the windows, it was like being at church.

Now it seems many don't share my view of the Rose Hill Gym.  What I consider a church experience on a day game, others consider "a quaint, 3200 seat venue that does little to attract recruits and opponents."  Apparently for years Fordham fans and alumni want a new arena.   The honest truth right now is that Fordham's team doesn't have the fan base for a new arena, due to honestly the lack of success with the men's basketball program.  The Fordham basketball team has won a total of FIVE games in the past two seasons. And if you take out an 18-12 record in the 2006-07 season,  Fordham's record in the other eight seasons is a combined 62-166.

That's why Fordham hired Tom Pecora away from Hofstra.  Under Pecora, Hofstra won twenty plus games four times in the past six seasons, including three NIT bids (one of which should have been a NCAA at large bid).  And Pecora recruits heavily in the city and has a lot of city connections.   And I know I have been a frequent critic of his Xs and Os, but give Pecora his due, he knows talent.   During his years as an assistant coach and head coach at Hofstra, the Pride/Flying Dutchmen had longtime NBA player Speedy Claxton, Norman Richardson (briefly played with the Pacers and Bulls), Rick Apodaca (played on the Puerto Rican Olympic Team), Loren Stokes (former CAA player of the Year), Antoine Agudio, Carlos Rivera and most recently, CAA player of the year, Charles Jenkins.

So in time, I think Fordham under Pecora will definitely be better than the past several seasons.  But give him some time, since he has a young team.  Thus why I selected the February 5th game vs. Richmond as your road trip game.   Pecora's team that includes ten freshmen and sophomores should be playing better in the second half of the season.  Richmond, which made the NCAA Tournament last season, returns their best player, 2010 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Kevin Anderson.  Plus, it's a day game (1:00 PM start).  So hope that it is a sunny day, get an early brunch, then head to mass to watch the Spiders take on the Rams.

3) Hofstra vs. Delaware - February 12, 2011 - Bob Carpenter Center, Newark Delaware.   For those of you in NY, like me, here's a suggestion.  On Saturday, February 12, take a trip down the Jersey Turnpike/I-95 to Newark to see one of the old former America East rivalries at the Bob, as it is affectionately called.  This is a trip that Tieff and I have done a couple of times and had a great time both times (it's also a similar route if you are heading to Towson to see the Tigers play, another trip we have done a few times).

First, you have a quality road trip.  You and one of your best friends are talking about life, work, and most importantly, hoops for the two plus hours (at least for us) to get to the Bob.  Then you when you get off the exit off of I-95, not too long  after you will see the David M Nelson complex, which contains the football stadium on the left and the Bob on the right.  The Frank E. Acierno arena is located inside the Bob.  The arena seats 5,000 and was previously the host for the first two rounds of the America East Tournament for six consecutive years (1996-2001).  There is also a reception lounge area for the alumni club that has a view of the arena.

But what's best about the arena is the concession area when you first walk in.   Real food.  Hot turkey, roast beef and BBQ pork.  They slice the turkey and the roast beef right in front of you.  Add a couple of sides to make it a platter and throw in a drink.  Total cost, $12 for a real meal right at the game.  And to eat your meal, there are large event round tables to sit at.  You end up talking to other fans at the same table.  A good meal and good friendly conversation.

Now the Blue Hens have fallen on hard times since they left the America East for the Colonial Dipper League.  This generally coincides with former coach Mike Brey leaving after the 1999-2000 season for the Land of Leprechauns.  Dave Henderson, the replacement for Brey brought the Blue Hens back to the America East Championship game but lost to Hofstra in the title game.  After that, it was onto the CAA with a few seasons around .500, then it was all downhill after that for Delaware.  Since 2004-05, the Blue Hens have an unseemly 59-127 record.

But things should be better for the Blue Hens this season. By the time of this game in February 2011, point guard Brian Johnson should be around 100 percent from his recovery from knee surgery (he is out the first 4-6 weeks of the season).  He averaged ten points and five assists per game in 2008-09.  2009-10 leading scorer senior guard Jawan Carter and his 18 points per game returns as does second leading scorer Alphonso Dawson.   Sophomore forwards Kelvin McNeil and Jerome Hagins should be better.  I think Delaware is going to be better than people think.

And of course their opponent for this February game is long time America East foe Hofstra, with the returning CAA Player of the Year Charles Jenkins, transfer Mike Moore, improving David Imes and new coach Mo Cassara.   Both teams should be playing better by the time of this game.  I think it will be a very good game at the BOB in February.

So there you have it, three more itineraries to plan.  But these are just three more games in a myriad of college basketball games that you can go to.  Remember, it's best seeing a college basketball game live.

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