SAN DIEGO – The strong wind whipped the American flag and dozens of signal flags on the island of the USS Midway, giving No. 9 Syracuse and No. 20 San Diego State an idea of what it could be like playing Sunday afternoon on the flight deck of the decommissioned aircraft carrier.
Although the court for the Battle on the Midway is surrounded by bleachers, enough wind reached the hardwood floor during Saturday's practices to blow jump shots off trajectory, with many missing the rim.
The game was postponed from Friday night due to the threat of rain. The forecast for Sunday is for clear skies and less breeze. But the flight deck of the World War II-era carrier, now a museum, is 50 feet above the shore and any amount of breeze could be a factor.
The players and coaches say they'll take what conditions they get and try to put on a good show.
"It felt like an outdoor court in New York City; it's just there's a little less wind there," said Orange forward James Southerland. "With a great view, of course. I like the view."
The teams and organizers hope the wind is the only major obstacle for the game on the carrier, which is berthed on San Diego Bay.
On Friday night, organizers of two other games afloat found out the hard way that Mother Nature has the final say. The Georgetown-Florida game on the USS Bataan in Jacksonville, Fla., was called off after halftime and the Ohio State-Marquette game on the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C., was cancelled, both due to condensation on the courts.
A year ago, the Carrier Classic was held on the USS Carl Vinson, across San Diego Bay from the Midway. Michigan State, which lost to North Carolina, was just 2 of 20 from 3-point range and it started raining hard less than an hour after the game ended.
It remains to be seen whether college hoops games on aircraft carriers will survive this weekend.
Coaches Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and Steve Fisher of SDSU agreed that delaying the game two days and keeping it on the Midway was preferable to playing it Friday night in a local sports arena.
"I have no interest in going somewhere else to play," Boeheim said. "We want to play this game on the ship. We gave ourselves the best opportunity to play the game by moving it to tomorrow. Hopefully there will be no reason to not play it here tomorrow and we'll be able to finish the game."
Boeheim said it was too early to tell if the concept of aircraft carrier games will take a hit because of Friday's problems on the East Coast.
"We're still glad we did it," he said. "It's a great experience for our players. It's one game. We're going to play 30 more games in the regular season, so I don't think one game will dictate whether we do this type of thing again. It's a good thing."
Said Fisher: "We're here to play Syracuse. Syracuse came a long way to play San Diego State. Hopefully we'll have a game that will be talked about and be a wonderful event and that's great for both teams. What happens after that, I don't know. I'm not worried about that right now."
Syracuse already has an advantage of being taller and bulkier than the Aztecs. Plus, it plays a 2-3 zone defense.
If it's windy on Sunday, the Aztecs could be in even bigger trouble trying to shoot over the zone.
"If it's windy, Boeheim said he'd play nothing but man-to-man," Fisher joked.
Having to shoot over the zone in the wind "makes it a lot more difficult for us, but we've been working on a lot of zone offense preparing for this game," SDSU star guard Jamaal Franklin said.
Franklin said he spent time recently shooting on an outdoor court at UC San Diego, which gets wind similar to San Diego Bay.
"The ball is being affected," Syracuse guard Brandon Triche said. "You can't think about it. You still have to take open shots. If you're not really open, you might want to go to the basket a little more."
Syracuse should have an easier time of that than the Aztecs.
"Just make more layups," said hulking Orange freshman DaJuan Coleman, who is 6-foot-9 and 288 pounds. Syracuse also has sophomore Rakeem Christmas (6-9, 242) at the back of Boeheim's signature zone defense; and 6-8 junior C.J. Fair at small forward.
The tallest starter in SDSU's guard-dominated lineup is forward DeShawn Stephens, who's 6-8.
Regardless, it'll be an atmosphere to remember, SDSU guard Chase Tapley said.
"It's a great experience and a great memory I can share with my bros and my coaching staff and my family. It's still not hit me we're going to be playing on a boat and the water's right there," Tapley said.