Game #82 of 353 23% complete
Welcome back my friends to my sixth season of Operation 351 with the usual disclaimer that there are now 353 Division 1 teams. I begin this season in Pittsburgh with a doubleheader at Pittsburgh and Robert Morris. I have always started the season in November but the scheduling and family times did not allow that to happen. As more and more of my trips start outside the confines of drivability, it is incumbent on me to find back to back games in the same geographical area to save on travel costs. There once was that rare occasion in Philadelphia where I scored the perfect trifecta – 2 games on Saturday and one on Sunday.
As I walked into the Peterson Sports Center, I was in awe of its size and architecture. This is definitely a high class arena from a P5 conference, I was looking forward to a raucous celebration from the “Oakland Zoo”. The Zoo takes its name from the zoo in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh. Its 2000 student member club provides entertainment at the Pitt games providing unmerciful chants and catcalls to the opposing teams. UConn fans will remember Khalid El-Amin jumping on the scorer’s table after a victory declaring his love for the Zoo. (I kid!). As the start of the game drew near, the student section was almost empty. Ah the dreaded student break which happens often during my December travels. A fan next to me said to be sure to state in my blog that this place rocks when the Zoo is in full force. I was disappointed but scheduling these games are hard enough without factoring in school breaks at each school.
The Panthers looked like they missed the energy of the Zoo. They trailed for most of the game until finally turning on the defensive pressure, they willed out a victory. Northern Illinois shot the lights out in the first half. Their point guard Eugene German had 18 points at the half. With an unimpressive record of 6-4 to that point, I was thinking that an upset here would make a splash on ESPN. The Panthers are a very athletic team but lack that steady and consistent scorer which will make them vulnerable in ACC conference play. I do believe that Coach Jeff Capel has them on the right track with impressive wins over Rutgers and Florida State. However like with a loss to Nicholls State, the young Panthers will show signs of their youth throughout the year.
As I drove around Pittsburgh, I see that most of the houses are on hillsides looking like a picture of the Italian Amalfi coast missing the villas and olive gardens. I was very impressed with the Station Square development on the river. This 52 acre riverfront area has indoor and outdoor shopping with residential housing. My dinner on the first night was at Bucco di Beppo. The name itself convinced me to give it a try. When I walked in the place, the place looked very very familiar. I know that I have never been here before. Then it hit me. I visited this place in Washington D.C. a few years ago. I found out that they have 17 locations throughout the country. I was surprised because the ambiance of the place with pictures of Italians on the wall with checkered table cloths led me to believe that was a family run place in D.C. in business for a 100 years with Grandma in the kitchen kneading the pasta dough.
As I do in new cities, I seek out the local zoo. On this dark dreary day, I showed up at the admission booth at 3PM for a zoo that closes at 5PM. Between the long walks and the aquarium on the grounds, I needed exactly 2 hours. Here are some picture for my fellow animal lovers.
Next Game : Central Michigan at Robert Morris 12/20/2019