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Monday, March 13, 2017

Don't Slam the Gate City

You don't wanna go to war with the 'Boro.

Syracuse head men's basketball coach Jim Boeheim has made it clear he doesn't believe the ACC Tournament belongs in Greensboro, its often home and site of the conference headquarters. Boeheim, who grew accustomed to Big East conference tournaments in Madison Square Garden, had nothing kind to say back in 2011 as the Orange headed to the ACC and by extension, Greensboro; he doubled down on his disdain this past week, stating that there's "no value to playing in Greensboro. None." Greensboro's clapback hit all the news cycles in the sports world and beyond.


Not only the city of Greensboro, but ACC traditionalists jumped to Greensboro's defense, letting Jim know that if he wanted to stay out of Greensboro altogether, there are conferences for that, and they're not named the ACC.

But the story didn't end there. A selection committee with a sense of humor and/or a flair for the dramatic decided to pit Syracuse against UNC Greensboro in the NIT. The seeding may or may not have warranted this, but it wouldn't be the first time the NCAA tweaked a matchup to get a better storyline in a lesser-followed tournament - see also: UD vs. DelState in the FCS playoffs a decade ago. The Spartans, it should be noted, will be headed to play in the postseason in a city about half Greensboro's size, but I've heard no grousing about it yet. Quite the contrary: UNCG is excited for the opportunity and has a city and state behind it.

There's something beautiful when a city and its namesake university are synergistic and the citizens truly see the school and its teams as an extension of themselves. UNCG's conferencemate UT Chattanooga's pep band has Rep Yo City on the books. Systemmate UNC Charlotte goes simply by Charlotte athletically, wrapping their arms around the largest metro in the Carolinas. And in a statement that works on multiple levels, Georgia Tech is proud to "Put On" for its city, playing Atlanta product Young Jeezy's hit. Still, here in Greensboro, UNCG isn't the only Division I team in town, and in a state where basketball allegiances are forged before birth, the Spartans haven't fully linked arm in arm with Greensboro just yet. But now, UNCG marches into the Carrier Dome to defend the city's honor. A victory seems improbable - UNCG has just two wins all time over ACC foes (thanks, Techs) but this Spartan program that fell just short of the conference tournament championship may just reverse the fortune of General Greene and the Spartans at Thermopylae and leave the Dome with a victory. If they can, it may be the shiningest moment the NIT has ever produced.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

In Like a Lion

The Madness has begun.

Some use March Madness as shorthand for the NCAA Tournament, but it's already upon us. From teams jockeying for position at the end of the regular season, to conference tournaments where nearly every team in America still has a shot to play their way in to the Big Dance, college hoops hits its fever pitch well before brackets are ever out.

By the time March hits, I'm well into a binge of my own. As I note just about every year, as much as I love college basketball, it doesn't get the lion's share of my attention until after college football wraps up. At that point, it's on: My audio focus turns to college basketball podcasts, I start stalking conference standings, and I try to catch up on the storylines I've missed on the likes of ESPN and CBS Sports

When I first tuned back in, one of the big stories was whether or not the RPI would continue to play a role in selection and seeding of the brackets. Long considered an imperfect system, most pundits will first look to metrics like those of Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin, but RPI is still the gold standard when the selection committee steps into the room. Still, it seems there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and some of the advanced stats will find their way into the process in the future. 

As storylines progressed, I was surprised this week to hear so much focus on smaller conference tournaments and whether regular season champions losing in the conference tourney doesn't allow them to put their best foot forward. As an alumnus of one one-bid league and an employee in another, while I can empathize with the clubhouse leaders who ultimately lose their chance to dance to a bad night in a conference tournament, I can't for a second ignore the excitement that comes with the possibility of playing one's way in. For every dejected and displaced Monmouth, there's an elated Iona - team, band, spirit groups, and fan base - whose team earned the shiningest of moments they're likely to see.

Put another way, as Jon Rothstein often reminds us: This is March.

Monday, March 6, 2017


I hope I've never given you, dear reader, any illusion as to my impartiality. I'd like to think I wear most of my allegiances on my sleeve, and tonight I remind you that I work at UNCG, who will compete for the Southern Conference crown and NCAA Tournament bid tonight.

Let's Go G.

2017 SoCon Tournament Twitrospective

If you've been around a bit, you know that I'll sometime gather the tweets from a live event into a twitrospective that encapsulates it all. This Saturday I spent the day up in Asheville for the Southern Conference men's basketball tournament. Here's what all went down.

Sabado Gigante

There's a sports occurrence that may be my favorite in all of sports. I realize that I've always loved it, but only recently began to recognize it as its own distinct and glorious entity.

I'm calling it Fat Day.

In single-site conference basketball tournaments, there's always at least one round where the day's action is a double doubleheader. Two games are played in a morning/afternoon session, and after a recess and typically the clearing of the arena, action returns for an evening session. The same scenario plays out at NCAA Tournament first/second round sites.

What does that mean for the attendee? About eight net hours gets you four games, eight teams, eight fan bases, and eight pep bands, with barely the need to leave your seat. The break between sessions is typically timed for dinner, so you can poke around in the tournament city a little and grab some local fare, and then it's back in place for the evening. There's little in sports that gives you that much variety, and there's little that's as satisfying.

I spent Fat Day of the Souther Conference tournament - Saturday's quarterfinals - in Asheville, catching not just my employer but severn other teams, bands, and fanbases. The break took me to Wicked Weed brewery and exploring Asheville a bit on foot before returning for the evening session. I've often done the same during the ACC tournaments here in Greensboro, and did the same in Asheville back in 2012. Now that I've recognized it as its own paradigm, I'm planning future conference tournament travel around getting the most bang for my buck by catching Fat Day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hashing It Out

One of the rules of the internet is that no one owns a hashtag. While that may be so, I'm setting one aside to pick up another.

For years, I've used #MarchBandness for conference and NCAA tournament band tweets. Damning the torpedoes, I went forth indignantly as a radio station or two used the same tag for their March rock band brackets. While no one was going to confuse my subject matter with theirs, I'm moving into the 2017 postseason with #BracketBands instead. Those following along closely at home will note that a similar change took place this bowl season, from the ambiguous #B4 (Big Band Bowl Battle) to #BowlBands.

A few other hoops notes:

-I spared you the annual opining about the return of my side jawn after football season, because the story remains the same. It took a bit of revving up, but I'm all in on college hoops season now.
-That said, I've not been to a single game all year, and I need to get on that before the season passes me by entirely. I can usually be saved by local postseason action at the Greensboro Coliseum, but there's none of that to be had this year. Thanks, HB2.
-Speaking of HB2, there's a many-things-falling-into-place scenario where a team I care about could end up benefiting from a move from NC. IF UNCG manages to win the SoCon (not entirely far-fetched), there's a SLIM possibility they could end up with an accessible game in Greenville, SC. The only reason Greenville exists as a tournament site is because the NCAA pulled out of Greensboro, where UNCG would've never gotten the chance to play on their home floor.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Under the Dome

It's been a huge two month stretch for the Georgia Dome in its final season. Through December 2016 and January 2017, the Atlanta Falcons' home has hosted or will host the SEC Championship, the Celebration Bowl, the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl, an NFC Championship that sent the home team to the Super Bowl, and the Honda Battle of the Bands.

When Mercedes Benz Stadium opens later this year, its stretch a year from now will be similarly impressive. While it remains to be seen if the Falcons will bring any NFL postseason games to the Stankonia Dome, the SEC Championship Celebration Bowl, and Peach Bowl will all return; the Honda Battle of the Bands can be assumed, hopefully, and they'll add to the schedule the College Football Playoff National Championship.

If You Want Me, You Can Find Me in the A

As the events of the College Football Playoff National Championship unfolded in Tampa, I was struck by a tinge of FOMO (or by that point, ROMO - Reality of Missing Out) I couldn't have foreseen. Back when Tampa was awarded the championship, I made a few noncommittal references to making a trip. After all, Tampa was once my home, I still have friends down that way, and they'd be playing in the same stadium where I've spent so many football Saturdays. But I never gave it any effort, it never panned out, and earlier this month, I felt it. And I don't intend to let it happen again.

The new playoff format allows for the championship to come the closest it ever has. And while even Tampa would've been a flight or a long drive, next year in Atlanta is a mere five hours away. The 2017 season championship will be in Atlanta's new Mercedes Benz Stadium (aka the Stankonia Dome) and while actually attending the game may be too rich for my blood, there's plenty to enjoy, especially when your primary beat is, well, the beat. With this year's schedule as a guide, both bands made multiple appearances throughout championship weekend. If I stick around, I'll likely make it to the tailgate lot as well.

While I can't say for certain it's happening yet, I'm working towards it, and part of putting it out here is to hold myself accountable. I've got a hotel booked (though fully refundable). If all else works out schedule-wise, come January 2018 you can find me in the A.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Points in Transition

It may be one game, but tonight will be a home-and-home.

The NBA Developmental League's Greensboro Swarm began play this past season, and tonight, via an opportunity through my daughter's school, I'll be headed to a game.

The opponent? Delaware.

I've known this would happen for as long as the Swarm had existed, and in fact made soft plans to attend the game since I saw it on the schedule. It's happenstance that this is the game I'm attending, but it presents an interesting quandary: Who am I rooting for?

Swarm-87ers isn't the only opportunity locally that pits hometown against current home. I've threatened for 12 years now to go see the Wilmington Blue Rocks play the Winston Salem Warthogs/Dash and root for the Rocks, though I've still not made that one happen. But while I grew up rooting for the Blue Rocks, the Sevens get my support only because they're based in Delaware (and, secondarily, because they're the 76ers' affiliate). I've never been to a game, and in fact they and I have never shared Delaware soil - the Sevens came into being in 2013, 14 years after I last lived in my home state year round. The Swarm, in contrast, are of the city where I now live, have started my career and am raising my family. They should certainly have my allegiance, but the pull of Delaware may prove hard to resist.

I will root root root for the home team, but tonight may be a bit of a ceremonial transition. My in-laws got me a Sevens shirt for Christmas, and I will wear it proudly. But at the game, it is my intent to buy Swarm gear for my Greensboro native daughter, and who knows, I may even get some for myself. I have every intention of supporting the home team. It just may be a bit tougher when they're playing... the home team.

Rank and File

USF football's 20th season was one for the ages. After notching an 11-2 season and a Birmingham Bowl win over an SEC team, the Bulls end the season ranked for the first time in program history: 19 in both the AP and Coaches polls. Notable to many Bulls fans, USF sits just above in-state Miami and longtime conferencemate Louisville. It cements the legacy of the Willie Taggart era and gives hope for the impending Charlie Strong era. While star running back Marlon Mack has announced for the NFL draft, the cupboard is far from bare for Strong; among those returning is quarterback Quinton Flowers, the CFPA Performer of the Year.

From a ranking standpoint, I remain peeved that the College Football Playoff committee does not rerank at the end of the season, their most important job having been accomplished on the field by the Clemson Tigers. In the committee's final rankings, USF was left off in favor of a Navy team who would lose twice more since the early December ranking.

The future is bright for the Bulls, who are looking to capitalize on this year's successes. CBS Sports ranks USF at 10 in its way-too-early top 25, and uses the H word (Heisman) in conjunction with Flowers. USF's schedule should prove favorable for results - the only Power 5 program, an Illinois team that finished 2016 3-9, is coming to Tampa, as are conference foes Temple, Houston, Tulsa, and Cincinnati. It may also prove a hindrance as the Bulls seek the heights: The non-conference slate that also features UMass, Stony Brook, and San Jose State, none of whom had a winning record in 2016. We'll also miss Navy, the American West's champion, so even if USF should go undefeated (a "problem" I'd welcome, to be clear) we would likely lack the national respect. Nonetheless, I'm proud of this year's Bulls and optimistic for the season to come.
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