Road to Dallas: A Fan’s Story of March Madness

Road to Dallas

A Fan’s Story of March Madness

The phrase March Madness is typically used to describe the craziness that ensues when the 64 best teams in college basketball battle for their chance to be a part of history. After attending three Final Fours, this phrase can be extended to describe the scramble that is fan travel. Within minutes of our victory over Michigan State, I received a text from a close friend that he and his family had already booked their tickets to Dallas. Minutes later I had texts from five other friends expressing interest in Dallas. Tickets? Accommodations? Flight vs Driving? Duration of stay? By Monday night flights from Hartford to Dallas had jumped to $620, which after a weekend celebrating UCONN in Manhattan was more than I could pay. As a young alumnus, without the funds to travel as freely as I would like, it was time to get creative. This is what it takes to make the Final Four happen. I am not writing this to prove my fandom, but instead, bring to light the sacrifices young alumni/students make to support their alma mater in the hopes someone who can make this process easier in the future will make a change.

Note: 2014 Final Four accommodations were made possible by a good friend and Husky fan who moved from Storrs to Texas in high school (thank you Kevin Barry!) eliminating one of the more difficult/costly parts of trip.

2014 Final Four Objective: Get to Dallas in the cheapest way possible with time to enjoy Final Four attractions.

Monday, 3/31: Coordinating with friends from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Minneapolis and Houston we begin talking logistics. Ideally we are looking to find flights arriving in Texas on Friday and flying out Tuesday however with everyone in the Northeast looking at the same timetable, other options must be explored. With flights getting more expensive by the minute we look into driving 25 hours to Dallas. With 3 people and a car with good gas mileage, we figure it saves $200 on a flight. However, when work schedules get in the way, that plan is nixed. Next option: fly from Boston to Houston ($170) Friday night then get driven by a fellow Husky fan studying in Houston to Dallas for a 10pm Dallas arrival. Then, fly from Dallas back to Boston ($160) Wednesday morning at 6am (add in $60 for parking at Logan). OR, fly Boston to Minneapolis ($130) on Thursday and drive the 12 hours to Dallas for Friday afternoon arrival. Then, take the same Wednesday morning flight back to Boston. All of these conversations, mind you, are taking place with no ticket security and prices only rising. With student tickets only available to active students and stubhub prices skyrocketing to $320, young alumni don’t quite fit into the Final Four equation. Unable to secure a ticket the search continues…

Tuesday, 4/1: Glued to the phone/computer all day with prices continuing to rise (round trip to Dallas from Hartford up to $700, game tickets at $370) my friend from Minneapolis is told by his supervisor he can either work Final Four weekend or resign. Plans immediately shift to Houston as the cheapest option knowing I will probably need to spend close to $300 on a game ticket to the semifinal alone. But alas! Just as I’m booking my flight to Houston I am able to land a ticket. Around the same time my friend from Minneapolis calls to tell me he resigned from his job and is flying to Dallas on Wednesday (if you know of anyone hiring in the Minneapolis/ St Paul area please email jesse.jaber@gmail.com). With a ticket secured and friends en route to Dallas, my search shifts to Dallas from Houston. Frugality the objective, I used a tactic called hidden city ticketing (see below) to sift through potential routes. When this option returns few results I begin researching flights to Austin ($190), taking UT shuttle to University of Texas ($0) and MegaBus to Dallas ($20). However flights to Austin/Houston were only available from Boston which would incur the $60 parking fee (also a Thursday night on 6th street in Austin would inevitably lead to a large tab). Finally, at 7:00pm Tuesday night I find a round trip flight from Providence to Dallas Wednesday, 4/2 – Wednesday, 4/9 for only $350 and no associated parking costs (thanks mom and dad). 51 hours after UCONN beat Michigan State I had a week long trip to Dallas set for $350. Objective Complete.

Wednesday, 4/2: 63 hours removed from the Elite 8 my road to Dallas begins at TF Green Airport in Providence, RI with an 11:25am flight to Philadelphia then on to Dallas for a 5:00pm arrival. Stay tuned for more March Madness travel stories, Florida preview and updates from Dallas…

Safe travels to everyone who will be meeting me out here and GO HUSKIES!

Husky Nation stops at nothing…

Hidden City Ticketing: buying a one way flight from a small airport (Hartford) to a major airport (LA) with a layover in your destination (Dallas). Then simply get off at your destination (Dallas) while your flight continues on (LA). You can use kayak.com to search routing options by layover city. Also, Dallas/Fort Worth is an American Airlines hub so many flights will connect through there.

Caveats

  • Must book 2 separate one way tickets as your round trip ticket will be cancelled once you miss your connector
  • You must carry on bags or else you will be at the layover destination (Dallas) and luggage will arrive at final destination (LA)
  • Airlines (besides Southwest) do not encourage this tactic so it is advisable to only employ it a few times per airline per year

A Look Ahead at Madison Square Garden

Arizona v Connecticut

UCONN celebrates 2011 Elite 8 win vs Arizona

I will be heading down to the Sweet 16 this Friday at Madison Square Garden for the much anticipated matchup between UCONN and Iowa State. If the following occurs I will be attending the Elite 8 on Sunday as well:

Keys to the Game:

Control Deandre Kane

Kane is the Shabazz of Iowa State. Control Deandre Kane and you control Iowa State. He is their motor. How do you stop a player riding so much momentum? Don’t let him get the ball. To advance UCONN must keep the ball out of Kane’s hands and not let him get into the flow of the game. Though Kane played masterfully against North Carolina, he is susceptible to turnovers (7 against UNC). This bodes well for UCONN’s scrappy guards aka Napier, Boatright, Giffey and Kromah (a combined 9 steals vs Nova). UCONN will start with Napier on Kane assuming Iowa State goes with a big lineup. The loss of Iowa State star forward Georges Niang really helps us here because it will allow our center (Brimah, Nolan, Olander) to help on the drive and keep Napier out of foul trouble. When Iowa State goes small, we can counter with Giffey/Kromah on Kane. We could also rotate Bazz/Boat at select points in the game to provide full court pressure on the ball- force it out of Kane’s hands or make him exert more energy bringing the ball up against two of the quickest guards in the country. Iowa State is not deep- if we can exhaust/frustrate Kane, I like our chances Friday night.

Deandre Daniels

Deandre Daniels needs to play like a man. Assuming Iowa State goes big, Daniels will start the game on leading rebounder Dustin Hogue. Hogue played like a madman against North Carolina consistently beating Tar Heel bigs to 50/50 balls leading to extra Iowa State possessions. He also crashed the boards, leading the team with 4 offensive rebounds. In a game that could very well come down to the last possession, every rebound counts. We need Deandre Daniels to play hard and we need him to play tough.

X Factors:

Sixth Man

We are all aware of the madness surrounding tickets to the East Regional this year- Connecticut is the reason to blame. According to SeatGeek, more than 40% of traffic to event pages for the East Regional has come from Connecticut. In addition, New York/New Jersey have accounted for another 30% of traffic. While I completely agree that the price is insane and feel for students/fans who cannot attend for financial reasons, part of me is screaming FINALLY! Finally UCONN will have a formidable presence at the Garden. I have attended too many games over the years where Kentucky, Duke or even Louisville outnumbered us in our own backyard. Not this year. There is no better way to calm nerves than to step on the court into a sea of blue and white. The sixth man is real and he will be on our side Friday night.

Madison Square Garden

Comfort. Such a small concept but imperative not to overlook. UCONN is comfortable at the Garden- we know the routine, layout and locker rooms. Everyone from the managers up to the coaches. Seniors have played close to 20 games at MSG and we won the 2K Sports Classic there earlier this season. Terrence Samuel and Omar Calhoun hail from the area. There is still magic left in the building from 2011. Also, this is Iowa State’s first time playing at MSG. Not only do they lack the luxury of comfort but are prone to fall victim to the thrill of the moment. Manhattan, New York City, Madison Square Garden- this is where the stars come out. Couple that with the excitement of March Madness and that’s a lot of adrenaline pumping through your veins. If Iowa State cannot harness the added energy it could lead to playing outside of yourself and trying to do too much, which again, works in our favor.

Unnamed Role Player

Could this be the return of Omar Calhoun? Will Terrence Samuel rise to the occasion in front of friends and family? Maybe a big Brimah block? Giffey shuts down Big 12 POY Melvin Ejim? Tyler with a boost off the bench? Who knows but to win we will need one of the above.

 

Prediction: UCONN 75-67

 

 

 

A Look Back at Buffalo

photo

UCONN-St Joe’s

 

I drove up to Buffalo for the NCAA Tournament games at the First Niagara Center, home of the Sabres. Here is what I took away from the 1st and 2nd rounds:

ROLE PLAYERS EMERGENCE

 We made up a 10 point first half deficit with Shabazz on the bench in foul trouble. Down 19-9 , it would have been easy to fall apart with the undeniable leader sidelined but instead, we came together. Terrence and Niels combined for 15 points/12 rebounds Saturday and Brimah provided a game-saving AND-1 Thursday. In 2011 it was a Jeremy Lamb steal and dunk vs San Diego State, Shabazz free throws vs Kentucky and Scoe’s 4 blocks in the championship game. This is what has to happen to win championships. Role players need to make big plays. Shabazz is undoubtedly our Kemba but Kemba would be the first to say he needed a team making plays behind him. A knock on UCONN I’ve heard is we lack players outside Shabazz to make winning plays, not necessarily game winning shots but the small plays you need to make to win in March- get a big stop, snag a big rebound or finish a tough put-back in traffic- if Buffalo is any indication, our bench responded to the critics.

UCONN DEFENSE IS BACK

Nova shot only 35% for the game, 11-51 from the field and 11-31 from beyond the arc. Our guards had 10 steals led by Kromah’s 4 contributing to 16 Nova turnovers. Not only did we create turnovers but we capitalized as well outscoring Nova 20-4 in points off turnovers. Nova went 11:24 in the first half without a field goal. On Thursday, during the last St Joe’s possession of the first half active defense caused a shot clock violation giving us the last shot. The Huskies responded to a subpar beginning holding the Hawks to 25% on shots outside the paint after the first half.

ABILITY TO CLOSE OUT GAMES

The debacle that was inbounding the ball in the final minutes of the AAC tournament game against Cincinnati did not say much to our ability to close a game. Buffalo was different. Brimah came up with a huge AND-1 in the final minute against St Joe’s, the defense forced a shot clock violation and Shabazz/Niels executed a full court inbound play to near perfection before Shabazz took over in OT. Deandre put us ahead 37-36 with 14 minutes remaining against Nova and we controlled the remainder of the game never allowing the Wildcats to get closer than 5 points.

FREE THROWS

To complement my last bullet is the kryptonite to Calhoun Era teams: Free Throws.  UCONN shot 90% (18-20) vs St Joe’s and 79% (22-28) vs Nova. I hope this becomes a staple of the Ollie Era as it is certainly conducive to tournament wins. In the last 5 minutes of each game UCONN shot 90% , 15-16 in OT first round and 20-23 Saturday. Impressive given the added tournament pressure and location at a neutral site.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

  • Not a great UCONN turnout- Buffalo is evidently not a popular spring break destination
  • Syracuse fans miss us, Requiem For The Big East must have struck a chord
  • It’s not spring in Buffalo either
  • Bars close at 2 in Boston/DC/SF but 4 in Buffalo, that will never make sense to me and it shouldn’t to you

 

CHECK BACK TOMORROW FOR A LOOK FORWARD TO THE SWEET 16 AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN