Friday, March 27, 2015

A Random Friday

TigerBlog was sitting at his desk yesterday afternoon when he casually asked his colleague Andrew Borders what he should write about for today, and Borders unflinchingly said "Bill Carmody."

The way he responded made TB think Borders would be great at the round in "Family Feud" where they play for the big money at the end. TigerBlog can see it now:

Steve Harvey: "We'll give you 20 seconds to answer these questions. Say 'pass' if you'd like to pass."
Andrew: "Okay, Steve, but I won't need more than 10 seconds. I remember one time when I was asked what my colleague should write about one day, and I said 'Bill Carmody' in less than one second."
Steve Harvey: "Okay then."

So, in deference to Andrew, TigerBlog starts today with Bill Carmody.

Those who have been loyal readers know that Bill Carmody is one of TigerBlog's all-time heroes. Carmody was a longtime assistant to Pete Carril and then the head coach here for the four years after Carril retired, before he left to coach Northwestern.

Last week, at the age of 63, he became the head coach at Holy Cross.

TigerBlog could write for two weeks and not tell all of the great - and mostly hilarious - stories he saw first-hand from Carmody. And yet he can sum Carmody up in two words, two words that can be applied to any situation in the world, not only basketball, two words that cut through all of the nonsense in the world and get right to the practical heart of every matter, which is what Carmody was so great at.

The two words? Make shots. If you want to add a third word, it's "just make shots."

What does it mean? It means don't try to con him or BS him. Don't make things more complicated than they are. Don't pretend you're doing something so difficult that you can't succeed. Just make shots. Everything else falls into place.

Holy Cross finished sixth in the Patriot League, which is as balanced a league as there is in the country. TB is wishing Carmody all the best, and, just as when he was at Northwestern, TB will be rooting for him.

You can read about his introduction at Holy Cross HERE. These quotes are exactly who he is and how he is. 

Okay Andrew, what else is there today?

There's the change to the softball schedule.

Princeton was to play Brown and Yale home this weekend, but the incessantly awful weather the last few weeks have scoffed at that plan. It's actually been the worst it could possibly be, with snow and below freezing temps, followed by warming, followed by more snow and freezing. And now rain the last two days.

The Tigers will sort of be at home against Brown, at least in terms of being in New Jersey and batting last. The games tomorrow have been moved to Bordentown High School, which is in Burlington County, the next county from Mercer, which is the county where Princeton is located.

Bordentown is about 30 minutes from Princeton. It was also, for what it's worth, the site of the second game TigerBlog ever covered in his newspaper days. The first was a football game on a Friday between Pennington and Academy of the New Church. The next day was Maple Shade at Bordentown. TB thinks it was 33-0 Maple Shade.

As for the Yale games, they're being moved to April 22, which TB believes is a Wednesday.

The baseball team is still going to try to play at home this weekend, or at least Sunday against Brown and Monday against Yale. The weather should actually be decent by then.

It'll be sunny and near 50 Sunday when Princeton faces off against Brown in men's lacrosse.

This is a big one, as both teams are unbeaten in the Ivy League. It also has the potential to be a total track meet, in the mold of Albany's 21-17 win over Harvard Wednesday night.

That win moved Albany past Brown into the top spot in scoring offense in Division I men's lacrosse. Brown, at 16.88 goals per game, is second.

Princeton scores them in bunches too. This could be really high scoring.

Brown is led by Dylan Molloy, who has 41 goals in eight games. He had eight Tuesday night against Marist, when the Bears blew and 11-2 lead and then won in overtime anyway, 16-15.

Who else has blown a big lead this year and won 16-15 in overtime? Princeton, who led Johns Hopkins 7-0 and then ultimately needed Gavin McBride's OT goal to get the W.

Speaking of Ws, no team with three of them in the Ivy League has ever failed to make the league tournament since it began in 2010. Princeton currently has two Ivy wins - over Penn and Yale.

Princeton is 2-0, as is Cornell. Brown and Dartmouth are 1-0. Yale, Penn and Harvard are all 0-2.

After missing the Ivy tournament last year, Princeton's first goal is to get into it this year. And then the NCAA tournament.

Forgetting that, though, this game offers the potential for a lot of goals. Princeton and Brown average nearly 30 per game between them. If you factor our each team's one off day this year - both teams have one loss, Princeton to Maryland, Brown to Bucknell - then they average 32 per game.

The Class of 1952 Stadium record for goals in one game is 31. That was in Princeton's 17-14 win over Hofstra in the first game of the 2010 season, which was Chris Bates' first game as Tiger head coach.

Anything else?

Oh yeah, Courtney Banghart found herself in some incredible company in Fortune magazine. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mo'Ne Davis Is Right

Well, TigerBlog supposes there's nothing left to say about the women's basketball team. For now at least.

It's supposed to rain today. And tomorrow. Because of all the snow, including some from last week, most fields in this area are completely unplayable, forcing a major scramble by colleges, high schools, Little Leagues - everyone who's trying to play baseball or softball.

Hey, even lacrosse isn't immune. Miss TigerBlog is 0-2 in her first high school lacrosse season - as in two games scheduled, two unable to be played because of field conditions.

The end of the women's basketball season left only the six men's swimmers at the NCAA championships for winter sports at Princeton. Of course, "spring" for TB began on Feb. 14, when Princeton opened its men's lacrosse season.

So what to talk about right now?

Well, TigerBlog was struck by the story about the Bloomsburg baseball player who was kicked off the team after his really, really stupid tweet about Mo'Ne Davis.

If you missed it, a player from Bloomsburg said something very unfortunate about Davis, the girl who stole the show at the Little League World Series last year. TigerBlog isn't going to repeat what he said.

Let's start out by saying that in no way is TigerBlog defending what the baseball player did. It's just that, well, is this really what college is supposed to be about, purging someone for making a mistake?

TB doesn't know the kid at all. He has no idea if he was on double secret probation or had a perfectly clean record.

He does know that Bloomsburg took his name off the roster, from the this year and last. And he knows that the kid is simply gone from the baseball team.

So how did Davis -  who is 13, keep in mind - react? She wrote a really nice email to the Bloomsburg president asking him to give the player another chance.

As far as TB can see, Bloomsburg did not.

So that's it? He's done?

College kids live in a tough world these days. They're old enough to be out on their own, often late at night. They have access at all times to phones, tablets, laptops - whatever is necessary to constantly stay connected.

That's great on a lot of levels. On a few it's not great.

And the way it's the worst is that there is no filter between an 18- to 22-year-old and the ability to say something life-changingly dumb. Athletes. Non-athletes.

When TigerBlog was their age, the message coming from society was to work hard, go to a good college and get ahead, because that's the way to success. What do these young people see? The short cut to fame and fortune, which is to be as outrageous and shameless as possible in as public a forum as possible.

Geez, TB sounds old.

Of course, it makes TB cringe that someone can lose everything with what they say. Why? Because who decides when the line is crossed? Who decides when someone is edgy and cutting edge and then in the next instant toxic.

TigerBlog doesn't think for a minute that the baseball player at Bloomsburg is an awful person who honestly believes what he said about a 13-year-old. He assumes, for that matter, that the two young men who tweeted the atrocious comments about Curt Schilling's daughter are not terrible people.

No, they're people who did something that was really dumb. They did it thinking "what's the big deal, everyone today says stuff like this."

Or, more likely, they said something a little tamer last time, and even tamer the time before that. Each time, they pushed it a little more.

It's one thing to say something at a party. It's another thing to tweet it. That's the problem these days.

As TigerBlog has told a lot of Princeton athletes, to get in trouble you used to have to say something stupid and have someone who can repeat it. Now? Anyone can get in trouble any time they want.

So what is the responsibility for a college and its athletic department in these cases?

That's the big question. TB's advice to all the Princeton athletes he talks to is to make sure they understand that whatever they put out there will be seen by, oh, their coaches, teammates, parents, friends, professors, people on the admissions board at their dream grad school, potential employers. All of that.

Again, though, what is the college to do?

The instinct is to distance itself from the person who is bringing all the heat to the institution. TigerBlog gets that. It's the easy thing to do. The hard thing to do is say "hey, he made a mistake, but he's ours and we're not giving up on him."

But isn't Mo'Ne Davis right? Doesn't he deserve a second chance?

Shouldn't college be about learning and maturing? Think that baseball player at Bloomsburg would ever do something like that again? Think he'd ever take it for granted that he gets to play college baseball?

Instead, he's tarnished forever now.

TigerBlog gets it. He just doesn't like it.

Would Princeton do anything differently? TB doesn't know.

And he hopes to never find out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Final Thoughts

TigerBlog had a picture emailed to him yesterday of Princeton University president Christopher L. Eisgruber as he watched the women's basketball team's NCAA tournament game against Maryland Monday night.

President Eisgruber is with a group of students and professor Sandra Bermann, the master at Whitman College. They're eating pizza and drinking soda and watching the Tigers.

TigerBlog's first thought - what does the University president like on his pizza? TB can't tell from the picture.



And TB's second thought?

This is what a great athletic team in a major sport can do for a university. In a way that maybe nothing else can.

A school like Princeton prides itself on how diverse its campus community is, both the student body and those who work to support them. With such diversity in background comes a diversity of interest, which is understandable.

Again, a look at the main princeton.edu website is proof of this. At any given moment, the University could be showcasing almost anything - educational, cultural, artistic, service, international - anything. 

So what can bring this entire extended family together? Rooting for something under the "Princeton" banner.

And who better to root for than the 2014-15 women's basketball team?

That's certainly what happened this time around.

It's what happens when a team can excel so much at its sport while also being a part of the greater University as a whole. The women on Princeton's basketball team could be anyone - from your dorm, in your class, thanking you for whatever service you provide on campus.

They are not hidden away in a dorm near the gym, being steered to the easiest classes. They are accomplished across the entire spectrum of what Princeton has to offer, which is part of the reason that they were so wildly embraced.

Yes, there is something to being undefeated through the regular season and nationally ranked, in a sport where Ivy League schools rarely achieve such status.

But this was different. There was such a genuineness to the team that it became so incredibly likeable. And Princeton took notice. Across the board.

As TigerBlog said a week ago, mentions of the women's basketball team drew the loudest response at the University's employee recognition luncheon.

When it appeared that Princeton had a chance to host the NCAA tournament, Princeton Athletics was required to fill dozens on volunteer positions.

It was a pretty daunting task - until TB sent an email to the email list for all of the communications offices on campus. He ended up with nearly 40 volunteers in less than a day.

Most of the people who responded said they didn't know much about sports but would love to help out. Or that they had seen a game or two and couldn't get enough of the team.

TigerBlog isn't sure if he should be surprised that a women's team generated this level of affection or if this level of affection was generated because it was a women's team, not just on this campus but everywhere.

Maybe there is the appearance of a greater purity to the women's game, and maybe the national audience was responding to that.

There was a time not that long ago when a male audience never would have gotten behind a women's team like this. That's one of TigerBlog's big takeaways from this team, how many men - adults and students - went to watch the Tigers play.

It really does show how far women's athletics have come. TigerBlog has written several times in the last few weeks that the attention this team received rivaled that of the 1997-98 Princeton men's team. In fact, they were incredibly similar.

Both teams had the best record in Division I. Both received tough draws. Both had monstrous hurdles to climb in the second round. And both received a ton of media attention, from across the country, from sports outlets and non-sports outlets.

Had you told him in 1998 that the next time this would happen at Princeton that it would involve a women's team, TB would have said there's no chance of that. But it did.

And that's a big part of the story.

But not the biggest.

No, the biggest part of the story of this team was the team itself. It was a team completely unfazed by all of the attention. They stayed down-to-earth, approachable and likeable.

They seemed to genuinely be enjoying the moment, rather than feeling the pressure of reaching 30-0.

In the end, they settled for 31-1.

It might not have been perfect, but it was darn close.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

31-1

The greatest season ever by an Ivy League women's basketball team and one of the greatest seasons by any Princeton team in any sport ended last night when Princeton lost to Maryland 85-70 in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

If Princeton had decided to spend a sizable portion of its endowment to buy positive publicity for the institution, it couldn't have done better than what came of fielding the lone women's basketball team in Division I to reach the NCAA tournament unbeaten.

The 2014-15 Princeton women represented everything that is great about Princeton Athletics and the University as a whole.

First of all, the team won. It won big. It won bigger than any Ivy League team - men's or women's - ever has before, at least record-wise.

The Tigers went 30-0 in the regular season and then pushed that to 31-0 with an 80-70 win over Green Bay in the opening round Saturday. It was only the second NCAA tournament win by an Ivy League women's basketball team.

Princeton destroyed basically everyone who got in its way. Of its 31 wins, 29 were by double figures. Most of those weren't remotely competitive.

Way back in the regular season, attendance at Jadwin Gym skyrocketed, with crowds exceeding 2,000 by the end. And why? Because this team was fun to watch.

This team was great on both ends of the court, and it played at a pace that joined both ends of the court relatively quickly. The teams on the schedule couldn't keep up.

Keep in mind where this team began - as the Ivy League co-favorite along with Penn. It began the year two seasons removed from the graduation of Niveen Rasheed and the rest of the Class of 2013, the one that won four league titles and played in four NCAA tournaments after the program had never played in the NCAA tournament prior to its arrival.

When the 2013-14 regular season ended, the balance of power in the league appeared to have shifted to Penn, who came to Jadwin and handled Princeton to win the Ivy title. Was the run over with the graduation of Rasheed and her classmates?

That's where Princeton was when the season started.

Then the winning started. And kept going. And going and going and going.

It was more than that though. This team is made up incredibly likable players who excel in so many other areas than basketball. And, at a school like Princeton, they have been given the opportunity to do so.

And so you have a Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence winner (Michelle Miller), a Scholar in the Nation's Service Initiative honoree (Alex Wheatley), a two-sport athlete (Blake Dietrick), a player who speaks a bunch of languages (Annie Tarakchian) and the niece of the President of the United States (Leslie Robinson).

If you went to a Princeton game, you saw these players and all the others interact with fans young and old. You saw them be approachable. You saw them smile. You saw how much they loved playing with each other and for Princeton.

Because Princeton was winning every game, the team started to generate incredible media attention.

The more times Princeton's players spoke into a microphone, the better Princeton looked. Every time, every word, every interview.  It didn't matter which player it was.

Every time someone on that team spoke, the more impressive they all looked.

And at the forefront of it all was their coach, Courtney Banghart. If the players were really good in front of microphones, Courtney is one of the best that's ever been at it.

She said all the right things every time. TigerBlog has known her since the first day she was hired here, and he can tell you that there are few people who more competitive than she is.

She took over a program that had never played in the NCAA tournament. She is now a regular there. For her, an NCAA tournament appearance isn't good enough. She wants to win and then win again.

The result of the 30-0 regular season was an eighth seed, one that angered pretty much the entire national women's basketball audience. The reward was a tough first round game with Green Bay and then an even tougher second round game against the Terps.

The first half last night was played at a lightning pace, and Princeton appeared to get worn down. It didn't help that Maryland couldn't miss, knocking down 12 of 20 three-point shots. That's the number that Princeton needed to win, not the other way around.

Dietrick finished with 26 points in her final game as a Tiger. Princeton competed really hard, but ultimately the Terps - 32-2, winners of 26 straight, undefeated in the Big Ten, undefeated at home, one of the very few teams that can stay on the court with UConn - were too physical and, on this night, way too accurate.

It wasn't a fair draw for the Tigers.

What they deserved was to play at home, in Jadwin, as a fourth seed. What they deserved was to get Maryland in the next round, on a neutral court.

It didn't get that. And so it ended last night in Maryland.

The final number is 31-1. It's an incredible accomplishment.

All of Princeton - athletics and non-athletics - embraced this team.

Of course. How could it be any different?

Teams like this do not come along too often. They are to be cherished when they do, and that's what happened with the 2014-15 Princeton Tigers.

Cherished.

For what they did. And how they did it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

31 And Obama

TigerBlog lied to you Friday.

Like right to your face.

He didn't mean a word of this when he wrote this:
Does Princeton need this win to validate its perfect regular season? No. At least TigerBlog doesn't think that way. No matter what happens, this will go down as a history-making season by the Princeton women. Nothing that happens tomorrow morning changes that.

He knew at the time is was bogus. He just didn't want to say the truth, which is that had the Princeton women's basketball team not won its opening round game in the NCAA tournament Saturday then it would have in fact left a big hole in an otherwise perfect season.

Actually, it would have done more than that.

Thirty-and-one would have been a bad record. Even at 30-1, the narrative would have been - "oh, you wanted a higher seed? You should have proved it on the court. Overrated. Overrated."

TigerBlog didn't want to say this Friday, just in case Princeton lost. He didn't want to be the one to throw a bigger damper on what the mood would have been.

Yes, it still would have been a great season. No, it wouldn't have been what it became Saturday.

Princeton went out and did what no other Princeton women's basketball team had ever done and what only one other Ivy League team had ever done. It won an NCAA tournament game.

Princeton defeated Green Bay 80-70 in a game that was no fluke at all. Princeton had five players in double figures, had a 49-22 rebounding edge, knocked down 9 of 16 three-pointers and shot 21 for 26 as a team from the foul line.

More than that, Princeton executed flawlessly when it needed to in a close game in a big spot, something that was a big question mark for a team that had won 28 games by double figures and had almost never had a moment this season - other than one game at Yale and maybe a little stretch of the second half at Penn - when the outcome of its game wasn't a foregone conclusion after 10 or 15 minutes.

This time, Princeton trailed at halftime. This time, it was the NCAA tournament. This time, Princeton could be forgiven for sensing the narrative that TigerBlog lied about Friday.

Instead it was a magical day for the Tigers. It's not every day that the President of the United States comes to watch a game in person, so that alone made it special. Call it "31 and Obama."

Beyond that, this was the game the team had pointed to all year. The chance to be different. It's not the 30-0 that necessarily defines this team now. It's the 30-0 regular season AND the NCAA tournament win.

It was accomplished on a huge stage, with a national ESPN2 audience. The team generated a ton of media coverage as it got closer to 30-0, but that was nothing compared to what the last few days were like. And then, with the President there, the attention skyrocketed.

It made for a one of the greatest moments in the history of Princeton Athletics in the last few decades. Or ever, really. That's how great Saturday was.

HERE, see for yourself. 

So now what?

Well, it's the game that TB would rather have come one round from now, but oh well. It's the Tigers, the 31-0 Tigers, against the No. 1 seed in the region, the 31-2 Maryland Terps. The game is tonight at 6:30, by the way.

This is a huge challenge.

It would have been better to be a four or five, which would have meant the 12th or 13th seed and then the four or five, with the top seed in the Sweet 16.

But hey, there's nothing that Princeton could do about that.

Maryland is for real. The Terps ran the table in the Big Ten and in fact have won 25 straight. Their only two losses came back-to-back, against Washington State and Notre Dame, back on Nov. 29 and Dec. 3

This is a team built to go deep into this tournament, and it will be playing on its home court. Maryland scores more than 80 a game and allows barely 60.

Princeton needs to shoot well. It needs to rebound. It especially needs to not turn the ball over.

Princeton needs to not get run out of the Xfinity Center quickly. The longer the game stays close, the more confidence Princeton will have. The goal is to get to the under-eight media timeout of the second half in position to pull the game out.

Maybe it will be a great game. Maybe it won't.

Princeton put the validation on its season Saturday. The game tonight just adds to to it.

Princeton has won every game it has played to this point, and it's a team that couldn't be more likable. Every time any member of the team - player, coach - speaks into a microphone, the team's image is enhanced a little more.

Nothing that happens tonight changes that. Yeah yeah, he said that last week, but he was lying to you then. He's not lying now.

This is one of the greatest teams ever to represent Princeton University.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Main Event

TigerBlog tried to stay up to watch the Georgetown game. Much the same way he did when Monday Night Football was a new idea, he saw a little but fell asleep.

Happily, the Hoyas won, ending that streak of falling to double-figure seeds - even if one of those double-figure seeds reached the Final Four, another reached the Elite 8 and another reached the Sweet 16. Why would the media add context to it?

Harvard lost, even though the Crimson really fought North Carolina hard and Wesley Saunders was great. TigerBlog joins all Princeton fans in celebrating his great career and the end of his eligibility.

Two No. 14 seeds won. Mostly what it shows is that there isn't much of a difference between the power conference teams and the next level teams if you can get the power conference teams out of their buildings, which you can't in the regular season. 

There were a bunch of close games. There were some head-scratching calls by officials.

Northeastern couldn't get a shot off at the end against Notre Dame. VCU couldn't convert at the end of regulation and lost to Ohio State in OT. The kid from SMU took it way too personally; it wasn't his fault. What was he supposed to do? Not go for the ball and let the UCLA kid have an uncontested offensive rebound on a ball that was nowhere near the basket?

Best of all, the kid from Georgia State knocked his father - the team's coach - off of his stool with his game-winning three against Baylor. The coach was only on the stool because he tore his Achilles while celebrating the conference tournament championship.

And basically that was Day 1 of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

What else does TigerBlog have for you today?

Well, there was the NCAA wrestling that was on ESPN3. Princeton sent five wrestlers to St. Louis, and two Tigers won their first round matches.

There was also NCAA fencing, Day 1 of four. Princeton won the NCAA title two years ago.

This is spring break week at Princeton, which means almost nobody is around. There is a lacrosse doubleheader tomorrow, a big one in fact, as all four teams who will be part of it are currently 1-0 in the Ivy League.

It starts at noon when Princeton's 13th-ranked women meet Harvard. The Tigers come in on a short turnaround after Wednesday's 12-11 win over Penn State to go to 5-1 overall.

Olivia Hompe is Princeton's leader in goals (14) and points (21). Erin McMunn leads the team in assists with eight to go with nine goals, and Erin Slifer has been strong all year, with 12 goals and five assists.

Princeton defeated Dartmouth in its Ivy opener. Harvard knocked off Columbia.

In the interest of gender equity, or perhaps coincidence, the Princeton men are also ranked 13th (in the media poll anyway; they're 10th in the coaches' poll), also 5-1 overall, also 1-0 in the Ivy League and also, amazingly enough, a 12-11 winner in its midweek game.

Princeton's trio of Mike MacDonald, Kip Orban and Ryan Ambler have been incredible the last two games. After getting shut out against Maryland, the three have combined for 24 goals and 16 assists in the last two games.

MacDonald had six assists against Penn and then seven goals against Rutgers. Orban had seven goals against Penn. Ambler had five goals against Penn and then five assists against Rutgers. All three either tied or bettered their career highs in goals, assists and points the last two games. 

Their next test is against a Yale team ranked 9th in both polls, in the second game of the doubleheader, beginning at 3. 

And there you have all that.

Really, though, the Princeton athletic focus this weekend - the main event, as it were - will be at the University of Maryland, where the women's basketball team is hoping to do something that it has never done before and that an Ivy  team has only done once in the history of the league. Win in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

This will be the first time that an Ivy League women's team is the higher seed, as the Tigers are the No. 8 in the region. The first round opponent tomorrow morning at 11 is Green Bay, a 28-4 team that defends well and can make some shots. You don't get to be 28-4 without being really good.

Nor do you get to 30-0 without being really good.

That's where Princeton is now, at 30-0.

Does Princeton need this win to validate its perfect regular season? No. At least TigerBlog doesn't think that way.

No matter what happens, this will go down as a history-making season by the Princeton women. Nothing that happens tomorrow morning changes that.

At the same time, a win in the tournament would be incredibly special. Certainly Princeton will be confident. The Tigers haven't played in 10 days, and it's been since the beginning of January that the team played a non-Ivy opponent.

Still, this team will be primed and ready to go. And it's for real. Princeton did not schedule to get to 30-0. Princeton exceeded any reasonable expectation, not only with the wins but also with the blowout manner in which almost all of them were achieved.

At the same time, will that hurt Princeton when this game comes down the stretch and is close? Or will Princeton be able to execute even though it has been in that situation so few times this year?

One fan thinks the Tigers are ready for a big run. President Obama, whose niece Leslie Robinson is a freshman on the team, picked Princeton to get to the NCAA championship game before losing to UConn.

TigerBlog? He's not picking the Tigers to go that far.

He just wants to see Princeton come out and play its best against Green Bay and see what happens from there. He would love to see the team get to 31-0. And get a shot at Maryland to try to get to 32-0.

It won't be easy. It would be wild.

With everything else going on this weekend, it's the No. 1 storyline for Princeton athletics. If winning the Ivy League became a foregone conclusion at some point this winter and if the quest for 30-0 dominated headlines, it was always this weekend that had Princeton's focus.

This is what the team has wanted all year. This is what this team is built for.

The NCAA tournament.

The main event.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Princeton Madness

If you're a Princeton fan or a March Madness fan, then you'll like the "30 For 30" short film entitled "The Billion Dollar Game."

If you're both - and you were back in 1989 - then you'll love it.

If you want to watch it, you can click HERE.

Obviously, it's about the 1989 NCAA tournament first round game between Georgetown and Princeton. No. 1 Georgetown. Against Princeton, the 16th seed.

Final score: Georgetown 50, Princeton 49.

A few years later, after he won his 500th game, Pete Carril was asked to list the biggest wins of his career. The first game he mentioned was the Georgetown game, until it was pointed out that he didn't actually win that one. 

The game through the years has largely been credited with getting CBS to buy the rights to the entire tournament. The short film confirms that, with interviews with television programmers and execs.

There are also interviews with Pete Carril, several of the 1989 players and current head coach Mitch Henderson, as well as Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Dave Blatt. It is a really well done piece, and it really does convey what a colossal mismatch the game was supposed to be, but wasn't.

The first two nights of the NCAA tournament have come and gone, and the meat of the tournament gets underway today. As days on the sporting calendar go, today and tomorrow are among the best.

TigerBlog filled out a bracket for the Office of Athletic Communications "just for fun, no money is involved, repeat, no money is involved" pool. Figuring everyone in the world was picking Kentucky, TigerBlog went a little different. He has a Final Four of Virginia, Duke, Kentucky and Wisconsin (three 1s and a 2, he knows) and a final of Duke over Kentucky.

Do not take this to mean that TigerBlog is rooting for Duke. It's just that he doesn't think Kentucky is invincible, and he this is the kind of thing that Duke seems to find a way to pull off.

For many people, today and tomorrow are better than the later rounds. And if you agree, well, then you can thank the 1989 Princeton Tigers.

TigerBlog came on board covering Princeton the following year, 1989-90. He wasn't at the Princeton-Georgetown game, bu he saw the after effects, how everyone flocked to the team the next year to see how they did it.

Most of the players who played in that game were back the next year, and TigerBlog got to see most of them play for two or three more years. It was a great group, with some of his all-time favorites, like Kit Mueller, Matt Eastwick, Matt Lapin, Matt Henshon, George Leftwich, Jerry Doyle and Sean Jackson.

TigerBlog saw them play in the 1990, 1991 and 1992 seasons, all of which ended in the NCAA tournament. Until Harvard this year, Princeton's Class of 1992 was the last Ivy League class to go to four NCAA tournaments.

There really is nothing like the NCAA men's basketball tournament. It's an incredible event to be a part of, especially from the inside, from what TigerBlog's perspective always was.

The NCAA tournament is incredibly regimented, with a tournament manual that spells out basically every single thing that can be done, has to be done, will be done. It makes everything run incredibly smoothly, especially for CBS, whose fees to cover the tournament basically underwrites all of college athletics.

For the fans in the building, it's a fun experience. For someone who is behind the scenes, seeing the media crush, seeing how the teams prepare, seeing the intensity of every moment of the trip, it's as fascinating as anything that TB has experienced in his career.

TigerBlog was also there with Princeton in 1996 - the year the Tigers beat UCLA, which was the single wildest week of all his time here - 1997 and 1998. And 2001. And 2004.

He was lucky to be part of such great years of such a great program.

It can be overwhelming to get everything done on time. The postseason guide, which gets distributed to the media, was always a challenge. More than once TB had to meet the printer somewhere on the road as he headed out to the site of the tournament.

When Princeton played in New Orleans in 2001, TB accidentally shipped three boxes of football media guides, rather than the basketball ones.

TigerBlog is left with great memories, beginning the year after the Georgetown game and continuing for the next 15 years or so.

There are others who will be having their own memories made today and tomorrow, or for as long as they can keep their run this year going.

And TB? He's in the same spot he was a year ago, hoping that next year it'll be Princeton's turn again, Princeton's next chance to be part of the madness that it did so much to help create.

Don't believe TB?

Watch the movie.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

No Time To Worry About Seedings

TigerBlog will add "Princeton will be home for the NCAA tournament" to the list of things that he was colossally wrong about.

First, there was the Trenton Thunder. TigerBlog used to live in the general neighborhood when the stadium was being built, and he said that nobody in a million years would ever go there. He was wrong about that. Colossally.

Then there was the Backcourt Bistro in Jadwin Gym for men's basketball. He said no way on that one too. He was wrong then also.

And to that list you can now add the NCAA tournament.

TigerBlog was pretty sure that Princeton would be at home when the seedings were announced Monday night. At worst he thought it was going to be a five seed, maybe a six, but unlikely.

Instead, it was an eight.

Princeton will play ninth-seeded Green Bay at 11 a.m. Saturday at the University of Maryland, whose top-seeded Terps loom in the second round for the winner. Green Bay enters with a record of 28-4 and is one of the better mid-majors around.

TigerBlog heard from someone - okay, John Cornell, who is one of two people who ever held the title of Publications Director for Princeton Athletics - who heard the committee valued quality losses and that Princeton might have been marked down because they didn't have any.

Princeton, of course, has no losses, 30-0, 30 games, 30 wins, 28 by double figures.

Steven Schultz, a colleague in the engineering department, put the odds this way: "If they went in as 9-1 favorites in 30 independent games, it would be a 4% chance of a perfect run. If they went in with a 95% shot at winning every game, they'd still just have a 21% chance for a perfect run through 30 games."

Maybe TigerBlog overvalued the respect such a record would carry, since it was shown very little.

Maybe it's an anti-New Jersey thing by the committee. The other two New Jersey teams in the field are Rutgers and Seton Hall, who are seeded eight and nine and meet each other in the first round. The winner gets UConn.

In other words, for a New Jersey team to get to the Sweet 16, it will have to beat a No. 1 seed to do so - assuming that the No. 1s aren't shocked in the first round.

So what's the deal? The committee didn't like "The Sopranos?" Sinatra? Springsteen?

Princeton was one of the big stories in women's basketball yesterday. Those in the know felt that the Tigers were jobbed, as it were, and some columnists really took it to the committee on Twitter and in their stories.

It was all over ESPN.com. And lots of other places. The consensus was that the players and head coach Courtney Banghart handled it flawlessly.

And while that brought even more attention to the program, it doesn't make a difference come Saturday.

So now the anger of not getting more respect from the committee fades away in the face of preparation for the game itself.

The goal for Princeton has always been to get an NCAA win. It's something that only one Ivy team has ever done - Harvard over Stanford in 1998 - and it comes with an asterisk, as Stanford lost three starters to injury the week before the game.

Winning this week was Princeton's goal the other four times that Banghart brought a team this far. It remains the same.

Standing in the way is a Phoenix team that is used to winning.

The two have one common opponent, and that's Duquesne. Princeton beat the Dukes 79-62 in Pittsburgh; Green Bay won 84-52 at home.

What can anyone conclude from those results? Nothing. The games were played six days apart in November. That's about it.

Green Bay is a great defensive team, allowing teams only 55.3 points per game while holding them to 35.8% shooting and just 27.2% three-point shooting. Princeton's averages? 75.8 points, 49.3% shooting, 40.6% from three.

That's the game, right? Green Bay scores 69.2 per game. Princeton allows 50.9.

Princeton wants to run. Green Bay wants to defend. It figures to be the key to the game, at least based on a 30-second analysis of stats.

Come tip-off time, it won't matter who is seeded where. It will only matter what you do in that game

Princeton's reward for 30-0 wasn't a good seed or a chance to play at home.

Its reward is to play a 31st game that gives the team a chance to make history nonetheless. Additional history, beyond just the 30-0.

There's no sense worrying about what the committee said.

Now it's time to try to make your own statement.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What? An Eight?

TigerBlog was part of the University's service luncheon yesterday at Jadwin Gym.

This is an annual event that recognizes those who have worked at Princeton for 10, 15, 20, 25 years, all the way up to 50, in the case of Thomas Provost, who has worked at the Princeton Plasma Physics lab since 1964.

If you're keeping score, that's 20 years for TigerBlog. Actually it's closer to 21, or even 26, if you want to count the time he spent at the newspaper.

The event began when University President Christopher Eisgruber welcomed everyone to the building, calling it "the home of the undefeated women's basketball team," which got a huge ovation.

When TigerBlog left the luncheon, he firmly believed that Jadwin Gym was also going to be the home of the 2015 NCAA women's basketball first and second rounds. He was pretty close to 100% sure of it.

Princeton, after all, is 30-0, with nine wins over top 100 RPI teams and an RPI of 12. Plus, TigerBlog figured, the women's basketball committee surely wouldn't hold it against the Tigers that their strength of schedule was low, since more than anyone the committee should realize how hard it is for a powerful mid-major to schedule out of the league.

Not everyone from a power conference is open to playing a team from a non-power conference that figures to be tough to beat. Surely the committee knows this, TB thought.

He thought back to the 1998 men's season, when the Tigers got a fifth seed with a very similar profile. In that year, Princeton was rewarded for its 26-1 regular season.

So yeah, TigerBlog thought the Tigers were going to be home.

And then the selection show started.

TigerBlog was tweeting, and he figured that Princeton was going to be a four or five seed. When the first three regions came and went with no mention of the Tigers, he thought it was down to Princeton and George Washington to be the four and five seeds, in either order.

So what happened? First Maryland came up as the No. 1. And then, stunningly, there was Princeton, an eight seed, to play against Green Bay, a nine seed.

An eighth seed? TigerBlog was shocked.

The winner gets No. 1 Maryland, assuming the 30-2 Terps can beat 16th-seeded New Mexico State in Round 1.

And there you have it.

TigerBlog tweeted "is this fair?" Within an hour he had 36 retweets, 20 favorites and 11 comments.

Afterwards, Princeton coach Courtney Banghart appeared on ESPNU and said all of the right things, about respecting the tournament, about the difficulties in schedule, about how good her opponent is and about how proud she was of her team. She did all this while wearing her 30-0 t-shirt and a big smile.

She did mention that this will be her fifth NCAA tournament with the Tigers and third in the eight/nine game.

This team, though, should have been different. Not a top four seed and host? Okay, TigerBlog could deal with it. Maybe even a six.

But an eight?

Here are the big problems with being an eight: 1) your first opponent is a supposed to be on your level and 2) if you win, you get the No. 1. If your goal is to get to the Sweet 16, that's not the easiest way to do it.

Princeton deserved better.

You want to say that the RPI isn't the only factor and is in fact only a guide? Okay. You want to say Princeton's strength of schedule isn't great? Okay.

But hey, did you watch the team play? It's not a team that went 25-5 or 27-3 or 29-1. Princeton is 30-0.

There's only one unbeaten team in Division I women's basketball. That should have counted for something.

It didn't. Not a thing.

And this wasn't a team that just eked out wins. This is a team that destroyed pretty much everyone it played.

Ironically, during the men's selection show, the committee chair used the term "eye test" a bunch of times in talking about seedings. Princeton's women's biggest strength was the "eye test," but it appears not to have been used here. 

So now what? Of course, there's nothing Princeton can do about it now other than to focus on the task at hand, and that's the game Saturday morning at Maryland against Green Bay. It's a chance to get the first NCAA tournament win in program history and just the second by an Ivy League team.

It certainly won't be easy. Green Bay is 28-4, by the way.

Princeton's goal has been to get that first NCAA tournament win for the program.

It just didn't think that it would have to try to do it in the eight/nine game.

In reality, it shouldn't have to be.

Princeton deserved better.

The Tigers earned it. They just didn't get it.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tonight's The Night

Manish Mehta was not exactly suited for a life in athletic communications, which is fine. It's not for everyone.

And hey, Manish gave it a try. He worked in the Office of Athletic Communications in the 1996-98 range. TigerBlog is pretty sure he was the women's basketball contact at one point.

TB knows he was a lunchtime basketball player. In fact, that was probably Manish's favorite part of working here.

It certainly wasn't the daily grind of sports information. Manish had this incredible ability to annoy almost everyone and yet do so in a charming way that made almost all of those people really like him. Almost all of those people. Some of his exploits are part of OAC legend.

What Manish was really good at was writing. When he left here, to pursue that as his career, he had made some lifelong friendships, including with TigerBlog. To this day, when you mention Manish to people like Gary Walters, Joe Scott and John Thompson - he called him "muh-NISH" -  the first thing they'll do is smile.

Manish has come a long way from the guy who used to bring quarters of chocolate milk, pounds of lunch meat and loaves of bread to work with him.

Today, Manish is one of the top NFL writers in the country, covering mostly the New York Jets for the New York Daily News. He is a regular guest on sports talk shows all over the country, locally on WFAN, the biggest sports talk station in the country.

TigerBlog saw his friend muh-NISH on a different outlet yesterday. Manish was one of the panelists on ESPN's popular Sunday morning show, "The Sports Reporters."

Jeremy Schaap was the host. Manish was on the panel with William Rhoden of the New York Times and Gene Wojciechowski, who writes for ESPN.

TigerBlog's only pre-show advice to Manish was to mention the Princeton women's basketball team. Early Sunday Manish texted TB to tell him that he was going to bring up the Tigers but that both Rhoden and Wojciechowski had beaten him to it.

Rhoden mentioned Princeton during his opening segment. Wojciechowski mentioned the Ivy League in his "parting shot."

What Wojciechowski said was that this was a great year for Ivy basketball. He mentioned specifically Harvard's 53-51 win over Yale in the Ivy League playoff game at the Palestra yesterday, and he also mentioned the 30-0 Tiger women.

Wojciechowski mentioned a quote by Blake Dietrick, the Ivy League Player of the Year, who said that her two immediate goals were to win an NCAA tournament game and to finish her thesis. Wojciechowski said that, like the Tigers, her quote was perfect.

It's hard these days to turn on ESPN without hearing about the undefeated Tigers.

It's obviously been an incredible year for them. It's far beyond what any of them figured would happen when they came to Princeton.

Did they expect to win? Of course. Did they expect to go 30-0, be ranked where they are and be swarmed by the national media?

Probably not.

Tonight is a big night for the women's basketball team. There will be another media crush, this time around the selection show, which is at 7 on ESPN.

Before he talks about the women, TigerBlog does want to say something about the Ivy League men.

Harvard's win over Yale earned the Crimson a fourth-straight trip to the NCAA tournament, something no Ivy men's team had done since the 1989-92 Princeton men did it. Harvard's margin was razor thin this time around, and in fact it was out of the Crimson's hands a week ago, when it took that miraculous comeback by Dartmouth against Yale to force the playoff in the first place.

Harvard found out last night that it will be the 13th seed in the West region, with a first round date against North Carolina in Jacksonville.

Yale? It came oh so close and had it get away. It's a tough one for the Bulldogs and their faithful, whose team hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1962.

What was the difference between the two? It was Wesley Saunders, who carried Harvard home when it was needed most. Saunders is a total difference maker on that team; his graduation will be huge in terms of the balance of power in Ivy League men's basketball.

As for the Princeton women?

Today is a day to have a party, to celebrate 30-0, to hope that the committee keeps the team in Jadwin Gym for the NCAA tournament.

No matter where they play, the Tigers will be the highest seeded Ivy League women's basketball team ever, bettering their own No. 9 seed two years ago. The 1998 Princeton men were a five seed.

After tonight, Princeton will know exactly what's up, who's next, what stands between them and extending this season more than one more game.

30-0 is perfect. 30-1?

About two months ago, TigerBlog asked Milena Flores, the women's basketball assistant coach, if she would take 30-1 for a final record or play it out from where the season was. She didn't even blink and said she'd play it out.

Now they're at 30-0, with the chance to play it out.

One more day to celebrate perfection. Then it's time for the serious work.