Arkansas (84) vs. Alabama (86) 02/25/2023

Game #118 of 362 32% complete

Count decreased by 1 from 119 to 118 because St. Francis Brooklyn is dropping D1 sports. 05/13/23

This is my final game of the Alabama trip and more notably the final game of the season for my Operation 351 travels. I was fortunate to get in 15 games this year compared to an abysmal 8 games last year due to Covid-caused cancellations. I arrived early at the Alabama campus to walk around and experience the excitement of a major football power school and now, this year, a candidate for the best team in college basketball.

I was hoping to get a bite to eat at the famous Rama Jama’s, as the place to be before an Alabama game. After waiting in a line that did not move 15 minutes and watching enviously patrons eating on picnic tables, I made the decision to exit and wait for the concessions in the arena.

Another reason that I came early to the Alabama campus was to visit the Paul Bryant Museum. I saw some folks inside and was glad that it was open. As I approached the front door, I was greeted by a sign “Closed for a Private Event”. My eight years of traveling on my Operation 351 trips have taught me to shrug off the unavoidable events and just “Breathe in, Breathe Out” as Jimmy Buffet sang in one of his hits. Now that I had plenty of time to kill, I hung out in front of the arena for a while because the doors did not open till 45 minutes before game time. It was nice day, so it was time to chill.

The song “Sweet Home Alabama” blared (what else?) as the white-shirted crowd settled in for a great game. These two rivals put on a show for the fans. I was fortunate to sit next to an elderly woman who introduced herself as Nita. She was the one who sold me her extra ticket on Stub Hub. We had nice conversations throughout the game. She was very knowledgeable about Alabama basketball. She joked that her second husband on their first date said that he was a holder of Alabama season tickets. She said that it was love at first sight.

Nita pointed out Alabama football coach Nick Saban sitting under the basket at the far end. Next to him was a man with a backwards sitting cap showing a movement in a golf swing. It turns out that this gentleman was Alabama alumnus golf pro Justin Thomas. Thomas came out during a time out to cheer the crowd on.

Alabama freshman star Brandon Miller had an outstanding game with 24 points with several key points down the stretch. Notwithstanding the current controversies regarding this young man, his quickness and shotting prowess for his size will make him a lottery pick next year. Nita mentioned that during one game, she sat next to Brandon’s agent and scouts from the Orlando Magic.

I hope that all my followers will have a healthy and happy year. Strap yourselves in for another suspense filled March Madness run! I bid you farewell for this season with a picture of myself adorning a free Alabama shirt handed out before the game. Till we meet again!

Jacksonville State (92) vs. North Alabama (83) 02/24/2023

Game #118 of 362 32% complete

After spending the day in Huntsville playing Topgolf and visiting the Space Museaum (pictures below), I made the hour-long trek to Florence, Alabama, right on the Tennessee border. Given that my hotel is in Birmingham, that made for a long two-hour drive back after the game. Making a three-game trip in a rural state like Alabama makes for some long drives. On a side note, I still cannot get over the fact that Jacksonville State is from Alabama.

The student section contained a line of young women dressed in different colors. They were one angry bunch arguing every call and letting the refs know about their displeasure. I could not hear them from across the court, but I am sure it was interesting. The band even started a “Refs you suck ” chant.

If the DJ working at the game is reading this, you need to take the volume down a couple of notches. I saw this elderly couple in front of me with their hands over their ears. That being said, kudos to you for being the first school in my travels to play “Welcome to the Jungle”.

North Alabama had quite a success as a Division 2 program before transitioning to Division 1 in 2018. The Lions also went to the Division 2 Final Four in 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1984. UNA secured three Gulf South Conference championships in 1977, 1981, and 1984 and three league tournament titles in 1981, 1984 and 1988. 

It is rare that I see the visiting team win on my travels. The Gamecock’s outstanding play in this game made me question their 13-18 record. JSU guards Demaree King and Marcellus Bringham scored 29 and 25 points respectively. Outstanding freshman Jacari Lane scored 26 points for the Lions in a losing effort.

I was very impressed with the two high-def televisions playing the game from the ESPN plus feed. Given the very small gym, it was unnecessary to look at the TVs for a better view but helpful in looking at disputed calls and reviews.

I just saw that the 6th seeded North Alabama was defeated by 3rd seeded Eastern Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference playoffs, so their season has ended.

Earlier in the day, I spent about 2 hours at the U.S Space and Rocket center museum in Huntsville. If you are a boomer with any interest in our space exploits, this is the place to visit. You can see the Mercury, Gemini and Appolo capsules along with the lunar module. The Saturn rocket lies in the ceiling above, covering the length of the building. Many displays attempt to explain the mechanics and physics behind space travel. The history of our race with Russia was headed by a team of Germans. Wehner Von Brahm led this team and began the space program in the 1950’s. His life and mission are documented throughout the museum. I miss those days of watching launches on TV.

Rice (57) vs. University of Alabama – Birmingham (85) 02/23/2023

Game #117 of 362 32% complete

This is the first game of a three-game trip to sunny Alabama. The Bartow Arena was named after legendary UAB coach Gene Bartow. He left UCLA in 1977 to start the athletic program at UAB becoming its first athletic director and coach staying on for 18 years before retiring in 1986.

It is rare that I see a coach twice in my travels leading different teams. This is the case with UAB coach Andy Kennedy who I saw coach at Ole Miss in 2017. Kennedy had a good run at Ole Miss in 12 seasons and became the schools’ all-time leader in wins. He resigned in 2018 when Old Miss refused to give him a contract extension; he took the UAB job 2 years later.

I cringe when I see a buffet for what I assume are donors or season ticket holders set up in the main concourse smack in the middle of fans heading towards their seats. I would feel foolish sitting there in an open space having fans look at us eat like we are somebody important.

This game on senior night was over at halftime with UAB leading with a score 55 -24. The press put on by UAB was stifling to Rice.

I was very impressed with UAB guard Jordan “Jelly” Walker who scored 32 points. Having previously played for Seton Hall and Tulane, Walker was named the Conference USA player of the year in 2022. Standing only 5’11”, his shifty moves and propensity to shoot gives him the look of a scorer. No one on Rice could guard him. Ironically, his 30 plus total broke the record for most 30-point games by a UAB player previously held by Coach Kennedy’s scoring record when Kennedy played at UAB in the early 90’s.

My nightmare parking scenario came through tonight. I parked in an outdoor lot when you had to pay upon exiting the lot. The line and wait were so long that I pulled over and listened to Jimmy Bufffet for a half hour before leaving. I was lucky that there was not a second game afterwards. I know better but I could not back out once I saw the ticket machine.

Here are some obligatory pictures of some Birmingham Zoo animals. I always visit zoos on my travels.

Finally check out the rental car – A GTO sitting very low to the ground. I am more of an SUV guy but this GTO was very cool to drive.

St. Francis Brooklyn (51) vs. Stonehill (62) 02/11/2023

Game #116 of 362 32% complete

Congratulations to Stonehill College for making the move to Division 1 this year. I have seen this before with other schools making the move. The arena is the size of a high school gym. The sound system needs to be upgraded to be understood. The concessions were run by students at a small table offering candy and a popcorn machine that could not keep up. However, given the exuberance of the students at the game cheering and the solid past history of Stonehill basketball, I am confident that the future bodes well for the Seahawk program.

Although both teams played hard, the poor play by both teams resulted in a 23 -15 halftime score that made it a difficult game to watch. My mood was boosted at the beginning of the second half after hearing the entrance song for Edwin Diaz of the Mets – “Narco” by Timmy Trumpet blaring over the sound system.

I do hate backtracking during my journey. I was done with Massachusetts and New England at one point, but Stonehill’s move to Division 1 necessitated a 2-hour ride to Easton, MA from my Connecticut home. The name “Operation 351” was derived from the 351 schools in Division 1 in 2015. We are now at 362 with Hartford dropping out this year.

Kudos to Seahawk forward Andrew Sims who scored 30 points in a variety of ways. He hit 9 out of 10 from the field and converted 10 of 12 free throws. His last second hand-in-the-face three-point shot put the game on ice for Stonehill in the final minute. His elevation on jump shots was impressive. He stood out this afternoon as the MVP of the game.

Stonehill is now tied with Merrimack for first place in the Northeastern Conference standings. Stonehill began competition in the NEC in the Fall of 2022 and will become a full member of the Conference in 2026-27 upon completion of its four-year NCAA Division I reclassification period. 

Furman (69) vs. UNC Greensboro (57) 01/29/2023

Game #115 of 362 31% complete

The Greensboro Coliseum is full of history for the ACC and March Madness. Often, the number one seed like Duke or North Carolina gets to play basically a home game here in the first round. I remember UNC defeating UCONN here in 1998 with UNC a number 1 seed and UConn a number 2 seed. I was not too happy with the home court advantage given to the Tarheels.

The arena is much too large for a program like UNC Greensboro that does not draw fans like Duke or UNC does. Black curtains were draped around the upper sections to hide the emptiness. However, the fans were very enthusiastic around me and very much into their team.

I was surprised to see no student section or band. I will assume that they were on break but that seems weird given this is late January. I was very impressed with Furman forward Mohammed Abdulsalam who was 9 of 10 from the floor and 5 of 7 from the free throw line finishing with 23 points.

I have to show this picture of an Alaska Waffle. Ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream makes an awesome combination.

I made a trip to the North Carolina Zoo earlier in the day. This zoo is the largest zoo in the world comprising 2600 acres. As I was walking toward the big cat area, someone came up to me and asked if I worked in the zoo. They said that the cougar was watching me from the time I entered the area. I went over to him, and he snarled at me a few times. Not sure what emotions I brought forth from this animal, but I am an animal lover!

Arkansas State (51) Vs. Appalachian State (63) 01/28/2023

Game #114 of 362 31% complete

The trip from the Wake Forest game to this game took about an hour and a half. I was overjoyed to see that I would make it in time for the opening tip but to my dismay, I saw the dreaded parking garage. The garage was about a 10-minute walk after I found a spot on the top floor. I entered the game with about 10 minutes left in the first half. I was very impressed with the arena, as I was not expecting something that big.

As I walked to the arena, I heard loud rap music blaring through the air. Next to the arena, there was a frat house with occupants on the roof with speakers greeting guests as they entered the arena.

The ride from Wake Forest was mostly uphill. I could tell that we were hitting higher elevations because my ears started popping. As evidenced by this board in the arena, I was 3,333 feet about sea level.

The Arkansas State coach went ballistic a few times during the game, going at the refs and sometimes his own players. The assistant coaches had to hold him back from killing someone.

I have only known Appalachian State through its football program, incurring huge upsets of national powers. The Mountaineers had a 17–14 victory over 6th ranked Texas A&M in 2002. The Mountaineers also shocked the fifth-ranked Michigan Wolverines in 2007. The football team has won three national championships in its division.

Appalachian State led for most of the game against the last place Red Wolves in the Sun Belt Conference. This was the ninth loss in a row for Arkansas State.

I was hoping to catch dinner in Boone after the game. The roads were a nightmare which seems obvious when a basketball game happens on a Saturday night in a small town. I caught dinner on the road a couple of towns over. I swear I was on Candid Camera when the waitress brought over chicken noodle soup instead of tomato basil, gave a me a big glass of water when I haven’t even touched my first glass and finally gave me a bill from the wrong table. The restaurant will remain nameless.

North Carolina State (79) vs. Wake Forest (77) 01/28/2023

Game #113 of 363 31% complete

This game was extra special for me because I was able to take a self tour of the campus. My daughter graduated from Wake in 2011. Some of the buildings brought back some good memories. Of course, I had to buy a Wake shirt. I visited the Collins dorm which was her home for freshman year. The campus with old buildings is reminiscent of the IVY leagues schools here in the northeast.

One of the major differences between a major p5 game and a mid-major school is the pre game festivities. Wake puts on an impressive show. I was shocked to see the Deacon mascot ride a motorcycle onto the court for the player introductions.

With North Carolina down the road in Raleigh and being a major ACC rival, there were quite a few fans from NC State. This was the 168th meeting between the two rivals. I was sitting next to three young enthusiastic fans who took an interest in my Operation 351 mission. As the game progressed, I slowly turned into a Wolfpack fan and cheered along with them.

Former Deacon Mugsy Bogues made an appearance to participate in a half time presentation. He was waving and smiling towards the cheering Wake fans.

So I need to talk about Wolfpack player D.J. Burns. To date, I have never heard of this gentleman. In all my Operation 351 travels, I have never seen a player so dominate the game as Burns did today. At 6’9″ and weighing 275, he was fed the ball every play and bulled his way to the basket scoring with whirling moves and quick footwork. Burns ended up 31 points and nine rebounds and was basically unstoppable down the stretch.

Burns is receiving the ball in the above picture.

The hallways of the arena were filled with Wake memorabilia. Two notable displays were a tribute to coach Skip Prosser who died of a heart attack in 2007 in his office after jogging on the Wake campus. Also honored was Tim Duncan who is perhaps the best-known Wake graduate.

Damari Monsanto led Wake with 24 points with many long range three pointers. Tyree Appleby from Wake also put on an impressive show with 19 points. The transfer from Florida has been compared to Alan Iverson in looks and style of play.

Wake Forest led for most of the game and had a 10-point lead in the first half. The Wolfpack whittled the lead down and took the lead with minutes left in the game. Although the ACC is having a down year, it was fun to watch a heated ACC conference game.

The final score above did not include a final three by Wake that was added late.

St. Louis (74) vs. Davidson (70) 01/27/2023

Game #112 of 363 30% complete

This is the first of a four game trip to North Carolina. It is always difficult finding a good location for a hotel that result in minimal time on the road. The trip to Davidson from Asheboro took about an hour and a half but tolerable because it was mostly highway. I always stick with Marriott and Hertz on my trips to build up the points.

The student razzing during the visitor’s introductions is lame. They turn their backs to the court and yell “Sucks”. Some are reading a newspaper to feign indifference. Perhaps I am tired of this routine because UConn students do the same routine. BTW if I hear ‘sweet Caroline” one more time, I will explode.

The arena is adorned with red seats and a huge scoreboard. I do have a problem with the configuration of the building. All the food and activity is in the front half of the building. You are not able to walk around the arena and visit memorabilia or sample various food items. It is my pet peeve but I do look forward to my circle walk round the court at halftime.

Stephen Curry played for Davidson from 2006 through 2009. He is considered a god here. I saw many fans wearing a “30” shirt with G.O.A.T on the back. He set the single-season NCAA record during his sophomore year for most three pointers made. As you can see, his jersey was given an extra shade of red.

I was curious to see the play of St. Louis guard Yuri Collins. He led the NCAA in assists in the 2022 season. His coach sang his praises earlier in the year on a college BB podcast. He was a passing wizard during this game, making passes that defined imagination. He was a general out there at crunch time and scored when a big basket was needed. I would love to see the Knicks pick him up.

A shout out the to the restaurant 23 Magnolia in Asheboro. The blackboard inside stated that their fried chicken was voted the 57th best in the country. I concur.

St. Louis proved the better team tonight thanks to Yuri. I forgot to shoot the final scoreboard so I will leave you with a picture of the mighty Davidson wildcat outside the arena.

Lipscomb (44) vs. Jacksonville (51) 01/07/2023

Game #111 of 363 30% complete

I waited many years for Northern Florida and Jacksonville to play on dates near each other to make it a worthwhile trip to see them. Adding the Florida Gators to the trip was a bonus. After a one and half hour trip from Gainsville, we made it just in time for the opening tip.

It is hard to imagine that this was the home of Artis Gilmore who in 1970 lead Jacksonville to the Final Four. It was truly one of the great Cinderella stories in college basketball history. The court has been named in his honor. Various plaques memorialize that great season for the Dolphins.

I was surprised to learn that the school also produced notable pros like Dee Brown and Roger Strickland (not to be confused with Rod).

We unfortunately ran into the crowd heading to the Jags game. After a few detours that had Google Maps confused, we made it in time. The game was originally scheduled for 6PM but moved to 5PM because of the football game.

I always admire those kids who come out to every game and dressed to be noticed.

As a self-professed Parrothead, I enjoyed the cheer during a foul shot by the fans – “Phins Up!’ The scoreboard also made clever use of memes to cheer on the team.

The Dolphins’ defense held Lipscomb as they rallied back from a first half deficit; The Dolphins won their 21st consecutive home victory in Swisher which is the fifth longest active streak in Division I. Swisher Arena was built in 1953 and looks like an arena from that era but it did get loud. I confess that I prefer the small arenas vs. the big ones.

Georgia (75) vs. Florida (82) 01/07/2023

Game #110 of 363 30% complete

I need to do a better job researching parking options at big arenas on campus. It never fails to confuse and delay me trying to find the correct parking area. As we entered the campus area, I asked the guard where the free parking is. She said that there was a shuttle from parking lot 5. Shuttle is not a word that I like to hear when we are in a hurry. So, keeping in mind that I had a second game that day that would be difficult anyway to catch the opening tip based on the distance (Jacksonville), I thought that I am on my own. I went in the opposite direction of where people were walking towards the arena. I did find a fraternity parking lot that allowed parking on weekends.

I love seeing the student section courtside. I wish more teams would do this (hear me UConn) but I get that there is a balance between satisfying the students vs. the big pocket season ticket holders. As typical of a major P5 conference game, the crowd was loud and energetic.

I noticed a first here with the huge cheerleading squad. The men and women would couple up and hold hands with each other as they would leave the court. This would be completely unfeasible with most schools given the dearth of male cheerleaders.

Interesting to see that the former coach of Florida Mike White is now the coach of Georgia in his first return to Gainsville.

I did not see much of Florida memorabilia in the arena lobby. My guess that this is a multi-use arena for other venues like concerts which I saw advertised on the walls. This is unusual to see for an on-campus arena.

I had a chance to watch Florida earlier this year on TV playing UConn. I was very impressed with the play of Colin Castleton the Florida center. Very mobile for a big man, he ended up with 7 blocks and was proficient passing the out to this guards. This was Todd Golden’s first win in the SEC. Florida needs to be really good in the second half of the season to make March Madness sitting at a record of 8-7.

Likewise, Terry Roberts was a one man show for Georgia putting up 22 points on a lot of shots. But his quickness and scoring ability will hold up well against future SEC opponents.

My wife and I and had a chance to visit St. Augustine before the game. The downtown area was lit up with lights. Sad to see the homeless folks laying down along the busy shop areas. Below are some pictures from our stroll through the oldest city in the country.

The picture below reminded me of the time I got food poisoning when I visited the grandkids in Missouri.

On to see Jacksonville whose game time was moved up from 6PM to 5PM because of the Jags game.