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.

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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.

Kennesaw State (86) vs. North Florida (89) 01/05/2023

Game #109 of 363 30% complete

We begin our three-game trip to Florida here at North Florida University. I have waited many years for Northern Florida and Jacksonville University to play with close dates. This was also an opportunity to stay at the Margaritaville Hotel on the beach. Although not beach weather but still warm for us Connecticut folks, the scenery was beautiful and a welcome sight versus the cold northeast winter.

My wife Linda accompanied me on this trip. We try to do one Operation 351 trip together a year. Linda is far from a college basketball fan so four trips to different Home Goods, two trips to Marshalls and one to TJ Maxx was part of the tourism events. Trust me in that this was an even deal for me!

Jose Placer for the Northern Florida Ospreys was honored before the game with his 1000-point career. Jose would play a big part in the win as I will point out later on.

There were a couple of firsts for me here. The grey floor was a color that I have not seen before in a college basketball arena. The nickname Ospreys is a cool name but unique to me at least. I could not find another team with that name.

We were burned once again with a clear bag policy at the arena. We had to return Linda’s purse to the car because they would not let us through. This happened to us a couple of years ago at the University of Central Florida game. We performed some good deeds by warning some other ladies of this clear bag policy when we were walking back to the parking garage and noticed they were carrying purses as well. I guess that looking through each bag would take more time, but it’s not like there is a long line to get in. Her purse stayed home for the next two games.

In the 2015-15, the Ospreys made their first ever appearance in March madness by winning the ASUN tournament for the first time. As a No. 16 seed in the NCAA tournament, they were defeated by fellow No. 16 seed Robert Morris in the First Four. A display was set up in the lobby to commemorate the special season.

The game turned out to be one of the more exciting games on my travels. Jose Placer hit a contested long three-point shot to tie the game with under a minute to play and followed up with a last second three-point shot from the top of the key to win it for the Ospreys. I mentioned to Linda that most of the games end up a winner for the home team, but I knew that I had to quantify this for Operation 351.

The record for my 109 games is Home Team wins 86 games. Away Team wins 23 games.

Hartford dropped from D-1 to D-3 this year. After much thought on how to note this in my blog statistics, I have decided to drop my count back to 109 games from 110. I have no blog post for Hartford since I counted them before I began my blog. This is frustrating to say the least in addition to the number of D-1 schools growing from 351 (i.e., Operation 351) to 363 this year. Is there an end in sight?

I do wish that arenas would keep the final score on the big scoreboard so I can get a picture instead of what you see below.