Road to the Summit: A nice day in Shreveport

A quick pre-game post . . . we ran around Shreveport, doing a bit of shopping but mostly just scouting out the town between the luxurious Rodeway Inn and the Centenary campus.

Here’s our venue tonight:  the GoldDome:

It’s a geodesic dome, painted gold.
Inside, SDSU is up on the wall. Nice.

(Sorry for the slight blurriness.)

Gold Dome seating

It’s not a big facility by any means, but it looks nice enough.  I imagine it could get rocking with the right crowd.  It should be interesting to see how many folks show up tonight.
Elsewhere, In the Could Be A Good Omen Department, located just a stone’s throw from the Gold Dome is . . .

The Jackrabbit Lounge.

Road to the Summit: The road to Shreveport

We’re comfortably in our room at the luxurious Rodeway Inn in Shreveport, after a ten-and-one-half hour drive from Kansas City. Let me tell you a bit about the drive, in case you might in future years consider a road-trip to Shreveport from Brookings: it isn’t that bad at all.

On the maps, it looks like a journey into the backroads, with minimal Interstate-level roads. It’s basically U.S. 71 all the way from Kansas City to Shreveport. From Kansas City down all the way to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, there isn’t more than a few miles of two-lane road. Most of it is near-Interstate-grade divided highway, with some intersections at grade, but with normal controlled-access Interstate type highways in most of the built-up areas. US 71 turns into I-540 in northwest Arkansas, going through Wal-Mart home Bentonville and Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas. The 30 miles or so from Bentonville to Fayetteville are basically one big city now. The metropolitan area contains nearly half a million people now, and is the sixth fastest growing metro area in the country.

(Quick lesson in highway engineering terminology: “controlled access highway” is what most of us know as Interstates–you can get on and off the highway only at interchanges. When I say “near-Interstate-grade” I’m talking about a highway that looks to be basically engineered to Interstate standards, but allows direct connections of other roads to the highway–“at grade” in highway-engineering-speak. That BS in civil engineering from SDSU comes up at the oddest times.)

As a further diversion from this highway engineering-oriented travelogue, we stopped in the town of Mena, Arkansas. Those of you who are unreconstructed conspiracy theorists from the Bill Clinton years will recognize the town of Mena. It was at the center of the black-helicopter level conspiracy theories of Bill and his cronies being hip-deep in all manner of untoward activities. Ah, good times! Anyway, we had lunch in Mena at the Skyline Cafe, which billed itself as being open since 1921. Snookums reported that the roast beef was good meat, but very very salty. I had the Reuben, which wasn’t bad, but watch out–they’ll try to sell you french fries or onion rings instead of the potato chips, and won’t tell you that there’s an upcharge. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!

Back on the road again–once you get south of Ft. Smith (coming into Mena from the north, and heading out of Mena from the south), you’re on a good 2-lane road, driving through terrain which is somewhat reminiscent of the Black Hills, until you get close to Texarkana. Then, you have a mix of near-Interstate-grade divided highway, five-lane highway (with center turning/traffic separation lane) and some 2-lane highway for US 71 just north of Shreveport. That segment of highway has signs on it saying “future I-49” so it must be on somebody’s plan to upgrade.

Anyway, we’re here, and after the usual follies getting an acceptable room (i.e. our first room didn’t have any light bulbs, but did have dirt on the easy chair and at least one of the bedside tables) we’re here, and Snookums is doing an Internet search for Shreveport sports bars so we can find one that will show the Tennessee-Old Dominion women’s basketball game that started a half-hour ago.

And there’s a Centenary-SDSU preview being teased for the 10 o’clock Channel 3 newscast.

Ah, there’s a Buffalo Wild Wings nearby . . . that’ll do.

Road to the Summit: Contemplating a season of college basketball

Tonight, my wife and I are getting ready to hit the road, bright and early tomorrow morning, to Shreveport, Louisiana. That’s where Centenary College is, the opponent the night after tomorrow of my alma mater’s men’s basketball team–the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits.

It will be the first of ten weekends of travel from our home in suburban Kansas City. Travel to Shreveport and Tulsa, Oklahoma, Brookings, SD, Macomb, Illinois and Indianapolis, Brookings again, Fargo, ND, Ft. Wayne, Indiana and suburban Detroit, Brookings, Cedar City, Utah, Brookings, and then Brookings one last time to finish the season.

That’s a lot of travel. I’ll have to add up the mileage some time. Good thing my wife both loves to travel and likes basketball.

Good thing too that the SDSU men’s basketball team has showed signs of life this year. So far, they’ve won three games in six tries, which is half of their total wins last year, when they went 6-24. Any way you cut it, 6-24 is a bad, bad basketball team. But that’s one thing about college basketball–each year is different. New players come in, returning players take their game up a notch, and a doormat can become a competitive team.

That’s the hope, anyway. My wife asked me why we were going to all of the Summit League conference games of SDSU’s men rather than SDSU’s women, who won 25 games last year and lost in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament to eventual WNIT champion Wyoming. My only answer was that the men’s team needed the support more than the women did. Even so, we’ll be able to catch half of the Summit League games of the SDSU women this year, due to the scheduling in the Summit League. The men play on Thursdays and Saturdays, and the women play on Saturdays and Mondays. The Saturday games feature the same colleges in the same cities for the men and the women. It’s not quite as nice (from a traveling fan point of view) as the identical schedules for men and women that SDSU had as a member of the Division II North Central Conference. But I understand why women’s basketball needs its own identity, and has its own fan base. (My wife and I have worked as volunteers for the last three NCAA Women’s Final Fours, so we definitely put in our time in support of the women’s game. My wife has actually volunteered for eleven straight Women’s Final Fours, but who’s counting, really?)

South Dakota State University is in the last year of a four-year purgatory called “reclassification” from NCAA’s Division II to Division I, the highest level of athletic competition in the NCAA. In Division II, SDSU was one of the perennial powers in basketball, making the playoffs more often than not, and winning more than our share of North Central Conference championships in the process. SDSU would be near or at the top of Division II attendance figures as well. Life as a Jackrabbit basketball fan was good. We were a big fish in a small pond.

We quickly discovered that Division I was a much bigger pond, and we were a much smaller fish in that pond. The men struggled through three long seasons of injury, player retention problems, and scandal that have, I think, been documented elsewhere. We watched as our partner in reclassification, North Dakota State, improbably developed the kind of scrappy, competitive men’s basketball team in Division I that we in the Jackrabbit Nation expected that we would be.

Some of us may have, perhaps, learned a bit of humility in the process.

I intend to post my experiences as I venture into a new territory–a new major college basketball conference called the Summit League (nee the Mid-Continent Conference). I’ve watched a lot of basketball in my day, but I’m definitely not an expert on the X’s and O’s. I watch college basketball to be carried away with the emotion of the game–the highs of an off-balance 3-point shot or last second tip that goes in at the buzzer–and the lows, like some of the truly dreadful drubbings my Jackrabbits have withstood in the past couple of years. Like every year, I hope that this year that there will be more highs than lows.

And, next year will be the first year SDSU will be eligible to make the “Big Dance,” the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Summit League tournament is in Sioux Falls, SD, just 50 miles down the road from the SDSU campus. This year is all about laying the foundation for a run to the Dance, next year. But, first things first: Centenary College of Louisiana, followed by Oral Roberts University.

It’s a good time to be a Jackrabbit.

Hey, I’m ahead of the curve

I used to watch Fox News all of the time.  Now?  Not much at all, really. I get all the news I need from my RSS feeds.  TV is mainly for sports, science fiction, and science/nature shows nowadays.

From Instapunk[*1] , via Instapundit:

In the whole hour-and-a-half I watched while I was drinking coffee and trying to avoid ESPN because of the awful Eagles game yesterday, there was absolutely no mention of the biggest story of the day and perhaps the month: The electoral defeat of Hugo Chavez’s bid to transform Venezuela’s democracy into a dictatorship. He lost. And he conceded. That was HUGE NEWS, available as early as midnight last night.

F&F didn’t mention Chavez. At all.

Fox News was a good idea. So was the Thunderbird.
. . .
Count us out. As smart as Ailes is, he has to know that even conservatives can bail out to the Internet.

Royals add Guillen

The signing creates roster flexibility because it leaves the Royals with a glut of outfielders. Guillen can play left or right field, which could allow the Royals to shift Mark Teahen to first base.

Club officials must also decide what to do with outfielder Emil Brown, who led the club in RBIs in each of the last three seasons. Brown is eligible for arbitration after making $3.45 million in 2007.

The Royals are also now better positioned to field trade offers for David DeJesus and Joey Gathright. DeJesus had drawn heavy interest from several clubs, including Texas and Atlanta.

The Braves are believed to be offering lefty Chuck James for DeJesus. James, 26, is 22-14 with a 4.05 ERA over the last two seasons.