My favorite arenas
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl answers your college basketball questions every Wednesday. Click here to send him a question.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- How do I love thee, McArthur Court? Let me count the ways.
But first, a little background. Last week I finally got my first chance to visit Oregon's Mac Court, the three-decked, volume-to-11 crackerbox masterpiece that just happens to be the oldest college basketball arena in the country (older, even, than the Palestra).
What do I love about Mac Court? I love the old wood floors in the second balcony, the kind that make loud splintering sounds when you walk on them, like old elementary school floors in small Midwestern towns. I love the 1939 national-championship banner honoring the Tall Firs, the first kings of the NCAA tournament. I love the way the fans bang on the deck facades to make noise during an opposing team's free throws.
I love the students' rowdy Pit Crew, whose hilarious chants are led by suspender-wearing, red-'fro-wig-styling star Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington. I love the fact that there are more view-obstructing support beams (several) than skyboxes (zero). I love the way the crowd cheers for lovably bumbling 7-foot-2 center Chris Christoffersen.
I love the way school officials used to paint the basketball rims yellow -- until national rules forced them to change to hated Oregon State orange. I love that Mac Court is inexplicably named for an administrator who so disliked basketball that, early in the century, he dropped the Oregon hoops program.
I even love the 25-foot-high poster of Flo Hartenstein that now looms in the southwest corner of the arena. (Wait ... no, I don't. Big Flo's just plain scary.)
And I love it when I actually get recognized by fans in any arena, which brings us to a question from Ducks supporter Aaron Habler of Eugene: "I talked to you last Thursday at the Oregon-UCLA game. I was wondering what you thought of McArthur Court in comparison to other hostile home courts in the country."
Well, Aaron, let me first say that, because Sports Illustrated has so many ACC alums, I have never been to an ACC arena. (Pathetic, I know, but this is what happens when you have staffers living in Chapel Hill.) So while I would include Cameron Indoor Stadium on any list of this sort, I'll limit this to arenas I've actually visited. (That's why you can cross New Mexico's The Pit off my list, too.)
1. Allen Fieldhouse (Kansas). You never forget your first.
2. McArthur Court (Oregon). I know Mac Court mysteriously adds an a where there was none before, but would you rather call it McCourt and have the place sound like a McDonald's sandwich? Didn't think so.
3. Hilton Coliseum (Iowa State). Don't forget your ear plugs. Great acoustics magnify the sound. (I miss hearing The Tonight Show theme music for Johnny Orr, though.)
4. Breslin Center (Michigan State). With a bullet, thanks to the boisterous Izzone.
5. Maples Pavilion (Stanford). The Sixth Man gets great seats and puts them to good use. The bouncy, vibrating floor still freaks me out, though.
6. The Palestra (Penn). More historic than hostile, but a real treat nonetheless.
7. Rupp Arena (Kentucky). Attached to a hotel, where the bar is always hopping before a game. Inebriation = loud, loud fans.
8. McKale Center (Arizona). Lousy student seating, but those blue-hairs sure can make a lot of noise.
9. Shoemaker Center (Cincinnati). Can't tell whether they're howling at the game or the scantily clad female students in the front row. Either way, there are decibels aplenty.
10. Gampel Pavilion (Connecticut). For the UConn men or women, this Buckminster Fuller geodesic palace gets hectic. I could do without the Michael Buffer "Let's get ready to rumble" intro, however.
A TOTALLY RANDOM COMMENT
While I was exploring the upper deck of Mac Court last week, I ran into former UCLA player Bob Myers, who was doing the same. We got to talking, and from what I learned, Bob has (as we would say in soccer) "a high work rate." He's holding the equivalent of three full-time jobs these days:
1. Doing radio commentary for Bruins games.
2. Working with agent Arn Tellem.
3. Going to law school at night at Loyola Marymount.
Then again, this isn't that surprising to anyone who recalls Bob's overachieving days as a UCLA player.
More questions? Oh, all right ...
Do the Dukies lack a killer instinct? While they always feast on teams they should beat, all their losses have come against strong clubs and involved last-minute blunders. If they can't get it together before tourney time, will we see another disappointing finish?
Hmmm, don't follow you there. I'd say Duke does a better job putting away opponents (and good ones, too) than any other team in the nation. Put it this way: If your life depended on picking one team to beat another by 30 points (regardless of the opponent), wouldn't you have to pick Duke? Killer instinct is not a problem here.
I know your point is that Duke has had somebody choke in all four of its losses ( Mike Dunleavy Jr. against Stanford; Shane Battier against Carolina; whoever was supposed to defend Adam Hall against Virginia; and the entire team to open the second half against Maryland). But look at those teams: Stanford, Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. And for every one of those games I can point out times when Duke has come through gloriously in the final seconds this season. How about Jason Williams at Maryland? Chris Duhon at Wake? And, for that matter, Dunleavy against Carolina?
The bigger question, of course, is how to spell the name of a Duke fan. I've always preferred "Dookie," but my !@#$ editors always change it to "Dukie." (Don't worry, Albert, you know I love you.) Vote your preference here.
What mid-majors do you like to win a first-round game in the NCAA tourney this year and maybe get to the Sweet 16? I personally like Butler, Hofstra, UC-Irvine and Creighton. I omitted St. Joe's since the Atlantic 10 is a bit above a mid-major.
I like those sleeper picks a lot, and I'd add Gonzaga to the mix. The Zags have big talent and loads of tournament experience. Keep an eye on Cleveland State, too. Rollie Massimino has his boys in position to repeat the glories of 15 years ago. But while all those schools should make the tournament as regular-season conference champs, not all of them will. (See rant on conference tournaments below.)
You left off someone on your list of whom should receive top-coaching recognition -- Billy Donovan of Florida.
You're right, Trevor, and I knew it within hours of posting my column last week. It's frankly amazing that the Gators are still in the top 10 despite major injuries to Teddy Dupay, Brent Wright (twice) and Justin Hamilton. If they can beat Kentucky this week -- and I think they will -- Donovan should deservedly get some national-coach-of-the-year votes.
Plus, by saying that, Chip over at the Mane Stop might give me a free haircut sometime.
Do you think basketball should do away with postseason conference tournaments? I think they are a big waste of time, and it doesn't reward teams who had good regular seasons with a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Few subjects get me as riled up as this one does. You're totally right, of course. In no other sport (with the possible exception of the NHL) does the regular season mean so little. Maybe it's because I have a background in soccer, in which champions around the world are decided by regular-season results, not postseason tournaments. But there's no debating that in soccer the best team wins the title. Always. It's inherently fair.
Conference tournaments, on the other hand, are inherently unfair, particularly in the smaller leagues that get only one bid. Are you telling me that if St. Mary's (0-14 in the WCC) wins the WCC tournament, the Gaels should be in the NCAAs over league champ Gonzaga? Of course not. I have no problem with keeping conference tournaments, but why not give the automatic NCAA bid to the regular-season conference champ instead? What, that would take the incentive out of conference tournaments? Nobody would come to the games anymore? Good. We don't need them anyway.
RANT OF THE WEEK
In the absence of communication from Alan Ogg (you're killing me, Ogg-man), we'll ditch WATN this week for more Andy Rooney commentary.
You know what really bugs me?
Answer: When The New York Times covers sports as if it were an anthropology subject.
I love the NYT, I really do. But every once in a while I want to shake some sense into an Arts section editor, or writer, or both. For an example of what I'm talking about, check out this unintended comedy from the Feb. 22 NYT review of the new play Three Seconds in the Key by Deb Margolin (we'll omit the reviewer's name to save her from public ignominy):
"The title she chose instead is Three Seconds in the Key, which basketball fans know refers to the length of time a player whose team has the ball can stay under the basket. As Ms. Margolin has pointed out in interviews, this requires the player to dance in and out of the area before making the shot. ... As the play points out, life can be pretty much summed up as 'three seconds with the ball and forever and forever and a day without it.'"
Time for a few constructive points:
1. Does the paper assume that because we're reading the Arts section, we have no clue what a three-second violation is?
2. I'm all for artistic license, but anybody who describes a center as "dancing in and out of the area" has never watched basketball.
3. With all due respect to the play's writer, shouldn't it be called Three Seconds in the Lane? Or is it now a violation to spend more than three seconds in the jump circle, too?
4. Forget for a second that the last cheeseball sentence of the above excerpt totally botches the definition of three seconds. How lame is the attempt to draw a parallel between "life" and being an idiot on the basketball court?
5. To help the playwright, I've come up with a couple of helpful titles and storylines for her next project:
Encroachment. A housewife ( Catherine Zeta-Jones ) reports a peeping Tom in a movie that points out how life can pretty much be summed up as "a 300-pound lineman entering the neutral zone."
Illegal Defense. Weepy romance about a woman ( Meg Ryan ), her dedicated husband ( Dennis Quaid ) and a "floater" ( Russell Crowe ) who enters their lives. As the movie points out, life can be pretty much summed up as "a weakside defender getting whistled for prematurely crossing the center of the lane."
We could keep going. But you get the point.
See you next week.
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