Columnists, Sports

COUGHLAN: Time to break out the weekend planners

Big weekend coming up. Biggest one yet, really.

The days are getting shorter, the midterms are getting longer, and you’ve finally slept off that Halloween hangover. Walks to class are getting colder and what was once excitement for the beginning of
hockey season has faded into the rhythmic cycle of weekly bouts with Hockey East foes and (this year) embarrassing upsets.

But, if you listen closely, the characteristic sounds of hockey season, the scrunch of skates on ice, the thwack of puck on wood and the occasional ping of rubber on pipe metal, have finally been joined by
the rhythmic thunk of ball on hardwood, the squeak of shoes on polyurethane.

It’s basketball season, and tip-off can’t come soon enough.

After the Boston University men’s ice hockey team suffered its worst loss in more than a decade to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell on Saturday, hitting what may or may not be the rock bottom of a vicious downward spiral in performance and effort, basketball will need to provide a breath of fresh air.

But, even though this weekend marks the season openers for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, who will be playing against Northeastern University and Providence College, respectively, in a double header at Case Gymnasium on Friday night, it also includes one of the Ice Dogs’ biggest challenges of the season against Merrimack College at The Greek the same evening. Hold on, it gets
even better.

On Saturday at noon, the women’s soccer team, fresh off of their fifth-straight America East title, will host the first ever women’s soccer NCAA Tournament game to be held at Nickerson Field against Ivy League champion Harvard University. Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.

So, the planets have aligned, and the proverbial Sports Gods have managed to schedule some of the best games of the year on the same weekend. It’s times like these that let you know that BU Athletics are really getting into the swing of things, and if you managed to schedule a weekend getaway starting on Friday, man, it sucks to be you.

But, with great home games come big decisions. Is it worthwhile to skip that class on Friday afternoon to make it to Case in time for tip-off? Should you stay at The Roof for the women’s game or duck out in favor of the team that is looking to bounce back from its biggest defeat in over a decade? How much is the women’s soccer team paying us to wake up at 11 a.m. on a Saturday?

Big questions. Make a wrong turn, and the whole weekend goes down the tubes.

But fear not, sports fans. Hopefully, the following tidbits will help ease the pain that comes with making such difficult and life-changing choices.

Cost- if you don’t have a sports pass

Men’s basketball vs. Northeastern: The student price is five bucks, four bucks if you come with a group. In other words, use the change you get from the 20 you’re going to use to eat at Panda Express at the

George Sherman Union on Friday afternoon and not only will you get to watch some solid basketball, you’ll have enough cash for beers afterwards.

Women’s basketball vs. Providence: Same price as the men’s game, except only three bucks if you come with friends. Still plenty of dough for beer.

Men’s ice hockey vs. Merrimack: Between three and four times the cost of the basketball games depending on whether you come as a group or not. Less beer.

Women’s soccer vs. Harvard: Free (for the first hundred BU students). And if you’re not one of the first hundred, reach into your jeans pockets, under your mattress, and between the apartment couch’s cushions. Pick out the coins from the pile of junk you have accumulated, and now you have enough to go to the game. Two bucks. Seriously.

Opponent and Matchup Appeal

Men’s basketball: The Terriers have faced off against the Huskies for five—going on six—straight seasons. While this cross-town rivalry is poignant despite the fact that the two teams reside in different conferences, the teams have remained neck-and-neck, with the Terriers posting a 2-3 record against the Huskies over the course of five seasons.

The series has produced some thrilling bouts, with the Huskies ousting the Terriers in their season opener among thousands of rabid fans last year at Matthews Arena by a mere two points. Just one season earlier, the Terriers pulled out a win with a five-point overtime decision in their first game at The Roof on the year—albeit in front of hundreds of fans instead of thousands.

Last year, the opening game against the Huskies provided a first look at the new-look Terriers, and freshman D.J. Irving emerged as a strong contributor at point guard. This year, with first-year head coach Joe Jones at the helm in place of high-octane head coach Patrick Chambers and star forward John Holland lost to graduation, this opening bout with NU will prove a valuable litmus test to judge where
the Terriers stand in 2011-12.

Also, with NU just down the E line, the Terriers run a serious risk of being out-manned in the fan department on Friday evening, which would be an especially embarrassing result for the reigning America East Conference champions.

Women’s basketball: BU took on the Friars last season for the first time in a long time, coming up 10 points short of the victory and completing their non-conference slate with a 2-9 record before rattling off a 10-game win-streak entering conference play.

While both teams have lost three players to graduation between seasons, the Friars are looking to replace more talent than the Terriers, having lost two of their top three scorers while the Terriers retain all three of their best offensive players from last season.

The Terriers bowed out to the University of Hartford in the America East championship game last season at Case Gym, so it would be hard to believe that they won’t come out hard on Friday, seeking to purge the bad taste that has been in their mouths over the last few months.

Men’s ice hockey: Merrimack College is arguably the best team in Hockey East to this point in the young season, having compiled a 7-0-1 record and representing the only undefeated squad left in the nation. Joe Cannata is far and away the best goalie in Hockey East, posting a stingy 1.41 goals allowed average, a whopping 0.78 goals away from the next best starting goalie in the conference in Boston College’s
Parker Milner.

With the Terriers having most recently been run off the ice by the less-talented Lowell squad by an abysmal score of 7-1, and sophomore defenseman Garrett Noonan hash-tagging the team’s upcoming games as “must-wins” on Twitter following the blowout, BU is going to need to be the polar opposite of the team that took the ice last weekend if they plan on pulling out a win.

Fans who decide to attend the hockey game instead of sticking around for the women’s season opener will know if they made the right choice minutes after the matchup begins. The Terriers’ body language at the beginnings of games thus far this season has been steadily indicative of how they are going to play for the rest of the contest. If BU comes out of the gate taking penalties and failing to win battles for the puck, you can be sure that the Warriors will have no problem walking all over them all night long.

Women’s soccer: Not much to say here. If you can’t find a way to drag yourself out of bed for the most important game in BU women’s soccer history completely free of charge, then there are bigger problems with BU Athletics than the men’s hockey team’s 11.1 percent power play conversion rate.

Not only does Saturday’s matchup against the Crimson represent the first time that the Terriers will host an NCAA tournament game at Nickerson Field, it marks their best chance at earning an NCAA Tournament win in their history. Enough said.

And so, with the biggest BU athletic weekend of the year approaching, the ball is now in your court.

Decide carefully, but whatever you do, don’t sacrifice what are guaranteed to be some of the biggest moments of these teams’ seasons for anything. You’ll never live it down.

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