Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Beach Ball?

After 10.5 hours, 650 miles, and 24.5 gallons, I've gone from 32 degrees to 79 degrees and it feels more like I should be headed to the beach than to basketball games.

I've had 3 encounters with the state of Florida and College Basketball.

1) What feels like a century ago, we followed Duke to their second round game in St. Pete. Thanks to an all night drive that induced sleep deprived hallucinations, I don't remember much of that trip.

2) A few years ago I made it to FSU to see the Pack pull out a close one thanks to a late Levi Watkins 3. I liked the arena and atmosphere, but based on the fact that I got lower level seats for $10, sure felt like there wasn't a lot of enthusiasm for the sport.

3) In 2004 I watched State collapse against Vanderbilt in what can only be called a perfect storm of mishaps and luck. This was in Orlando for trip to the sweet 16. But, the bigger impression left by that trip was how little this state cares about basketball. I was driving down to Orlando on the opening thursday of the tournament. This is by far my favorite day of the tourney, and honestly it feels like a holiday in North Carolina. Everyone I know takes off the afternoon, and sports bars are packed.

I didn't need to be in Orlando until Friday, so I had done a bit of research and had directions to a Damon's near Jacksonville. So as noon nears, I head to Damon's, thinking I'll grab some lunch in a crowded bar, maybe drink a beer, then continue on after the first game. I finally find and get to the Damon's, about 12:15. Parking lot is a little sparse, but I'm not worried. I get inside Damon's. There are a few people eating lunch in a separate dining area, but in the bar area, where the 4 giant TVs are, there isn't a soul. 2 of the 4 big-screens are OFF, and the other two are showing a fishing show and a soap opera. The prospect of having to ask them to put on the tournament, then watching/eating alone was too depressing. I just headed back to the car.

So, I don't exactly come in with a clean slate as far as evaluating Tampa, but maybe things have changed. Since those days, Miami has entered the league, and Florida has a national championship.

I'll reserve judgment on Tampa for the tournament at least until I've been in the arena, but it's no Greensboro. On tournament week, miles before you get into Greensboro, you start seeing signs, directions, ACC mentions on business signs. The town literally becomes the ACC tournament. I haven't seen a lot of tampa yet, but I've seen exactly 1 mention of the ACC so far, and that was a big sign right across from the arena. We'll see how it goes tomorrow.

Rumor is that there will be tickets everywhere. I had 2 calls from friends today asking if I wanted to buy books. Joe on theBuzz reported that Wake couldn't sell their allotment. I ran in to two Baltimore based scalpers at the out-of-the-way hotel I'm staying in and they said they just had a call with someone offering them 22 books at face value, and they are scared to touch it.

One thing I'll say for Tampa, the weather is absolutely awesome. But, it doesn't put you in the mood for basketball. Golf, yes. Hoops, I'm not so sure. I'm wondering now if this could have any impact on the teams. UVA is already notorious this year for playing awful in warm weather. They dropped 2 in Puerto Rico and 1 in Miami. In the next 2 days, I guess we'll see who would rather be at the beach.