Friday, February 24, 2017

Jim Barlow, Champion

Jim Barlow was sweating.

Like, a lot. Completely through his gray t-shirt. He had a white towel draped around his neck. He was being "interviewed," sort of, and he was trying to be sincere without making it seem like he was taking it too seriously.

For the 30 minutes before that, he was definitely all business. It was the championship match of the Dillon Gym ping-pong tournament, and it came down to an all-men's soccer final.

It was head coach Jim Barlow and assistant coach Steve Totten. Waiting for the winner would be Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan, the Jadwin champion.

Apparently, Totten and Barlow play all the time. They certainly looked like vets. This was a pretty high level of ping pong, even if it was just a departmental tournament. There were some big-time points, with two aggressive players who were in full attack mode, punching and counter-punching, as it were.

When it was over, it was Barlow who won, in four games of the best-of-five. His t-shirt told how much effort it was to take it.

TigerBlog would have no chance against either Barlow or Totten. If he played Barlow, his goal would be to win enough points to get Barlow to have to sweat, but he's not sure he could.

Barlow certainly earned the championship, beating the two-time defending king Mike Pallister and then Totten, who had beaten him the last few times they had played "friendlies," as soccer people like to say.

There will be another championship awarded on the Princeton campus this weekend. That would be in women's squash, as Jadwin Gym is the host for the Howe Cup, which runs from today through Sunday. Princeton opens the tournament by taking on Yale at 2:30 today.

It's a big weekend for Princeton sports - 25 events worth from today through Sunday. Or 26. Depending on how women's hockey goes.

Baker Rink will be busy all by itself, with either four or five games there this weekend. There will definitely be doubleheaders tonight and tomorrow, and there could be a single game Sunday as well.

The Princeton women will play Quinnipiac today and tomorrow at 3 in an ECAC quarterfinal playoff series. If they split those two games, then there will be a third game Sunday. The winner of the series advances to the league semifinals, which almost surely will be played at St. Lawrence.

The women's games will be followed tonight and tomorrow night by the last two games of the men's hockey regular season, with face-off at 7 both nights. Princeton will host Brown tonight and Yale tomorrow night.

The word "host" could come up again next week for Princeton, which would be an amazing accomplishment. The Tigers, who started the season 0-6-1, are tied for ninth place right now with 15 points, one behind eighth place Dartmouth and three behind seventh place Yale.

Dartmouth is home against St. Lawrence and Clarkson. Yale will also play Princeton's travel partner, Quinnipiac. The team Princeton is tied with, Colgate, plays Union and RPI.

There are quite a few combinations that could come out of the weekend. The bottom line is that Princeton will have home ice in the ECAC playoffs next weekend by finishing in the top eight. If TB has this right, Princeton has the tiebreaker with Yale but not Dartmouth or Colgate.

This is also a huge basketball weekend, for both Princeton men and women, who will play Cornell tonight and Columbia tomorrow. The women are home; the men are on the road.

Let's start with the men, who are 10-0 in the league, two games up on Harvard. The Tigers would clinch the outright league championship with any combination of their wins and Harvard losses that adds up to three, whether this weekend or next (when Harvard and Dartmouth come to Jadwin Gym).

Of course, the regular season will award the champion as always, but this year the path to the NCAA tournament requires winning the Ivy League tournament. Princeton has already clinched its spot in the four-team field.

Actually, if Princeton wins both of its games this weekend, it will clinch the top seed in the Ivy league tournament. 

The women have not, but they almost surely will. Like the men, though, the women would lock down a championship by winning out. In fact, Princeton is one game back of Penn, whom the Tigers play at the Palestra on March 7, four days before the league tournament will be played there.

There are other highlights of the weekend, one of which even involves Sacred Heart University - and TB isn't talking about the Pioneers' men's lacrosse game against Dartmouth.

Actually, speaking of men's lacrosse, Princeton's men is home against Hofstra tomorrow at 1. The Tigers are 2-0 on the year, coming off a really good win over Marist Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, back at Sacred Heart, it'll be Princeton at the Pioneers tomorrow (after Princeton plays at Harvard tonight. Right now, Princeton and SHU are tied for first in the EIVA at 3-1, and perennial power Penn State has already lost twice.

So yes, it's a busy weekend for Princeton.

TB isn't sure when the ping-pong championship will be. Having seen both play, he likes Barlow over Marcoux Samaan - unless he lets his boss win.

You know, like Totten did.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

On The Bus

TigerBlog drove onto Nassau Street on his way to Jadwin Gym yesterday when he saw a bus on the other side of the road.

Usually the sign above the driver says where the bus is going. You know, like "New York" or "Philadelphia." When Princeton teams travel, there is a sign that flashes "Princeton Basketball" or "Princeton Tigers" or something like that.

Princeton Athletics used to own two buses of its own, back when TB was still in the newspaper business. Even though he wasn't technically a University employee, he'd still travel on the men's basketball bus when the team would go on the road.

In all the time he's actually been at the University, he's almost never traveled with a team on the bus.

Back on those old University-owned buses, though, TB remembers the bus driver, a man named Steve Gandy. It's possible that nobody has ever been better at a job than Steve Gandy was as a bus driver.

Of all the trips he took on the bus with the men's basketball team all those years, the one that stands out the most was the ride back from Dartmouth in 1991 after the team clinched the Ivy League championship. It was a ride with singing and celebrating, and TB is pretty sure that Steve got the bus from Hanover to Princeton in 4:50.

And what did the 1991 Ivy League men's basketball champion Princeton men's basketball team chant as it neared its home campus, well after midnight? It wasn't "Ivy champs" or "we're No. 1." Nope, it was "Steve is the Man."

TigerBlog remembers it like it was yesterday, not like it was 26 years ago.

Anyway, the bus that TigerBlog saw on Nassau Street yesterday didn't have a specific destination in mind. Or maybe it did.

The sign above the driver said "Last Stop." Last stop? A tad spooky, no? Why not just put "Twilight Zone" on the sign?

As TigerBlog processed that, he drove a few more seconds and saw Mitch Henderson, the head men's basketball coach, as he got out of his car on Nassau Street. It made TB wonder if Henderson gets recognized as he walks around town.

That thought made TB remember something that happened in the airport in, of all places, Des Moines, Iowa. Princeton had just played at a tournament at Iowa State and was preparing to fly home, when an Iowan walked up to Carril, who happened to be standing next to TigerBlog.They had this actual conversation:

Iowan: "Coach, it was a real honor to have your team out here. We love the way you play basketball. Good luck the rest of the way."
Carril: "Thank you."
Iowan: "You must get that everywhere you go."
Carril "Everywhere except Princeton."

When TB first started writing this every day, he thought that if he ever ran into a day when he couldn't think of anything else to write, he should just tell funny Pete Carril stories.

As for the current men's basketball team, this is another big weekend as the team chases a championship. There are all kinds of outcomes possible for this weekend, which will see the Tigers at Columbia tomorrow and at Cornell Saturday.

It's possible that Princeton could earn the Ivy League championship and No. 1 seed in the Ivy League tournament - or it could come end the weekend tied for first with Harvard heading into its home game against the Crimson next Friday.

Oh yeah. Here's today's reminder. The Princeton-Harvard game next Friday is a 5:00 start, not a 5:30 one.

Princeton is 10-0 in the league. Harvard, at 8-2, is home against Yale (6-4) tomorrow and Brown Saturday. The math is far from complicated. The magic number is two for at least a tie and three for the outright championship.

Princeton plays like a team that really likes each other. How much of that comes from all the time they spend together away from the court, especially on the road?

Each team has its own traditions for bus travel. Who sits where. Who decides what movies to watch. What the protocol is when they arrive at the hotel. It's actually a fascinating dynamic.

The bus rides for Princeton teams - or all college teams - are a huge part of the experience that the athletes have while they're here. It's their chance to get away and be together, for hours at a time. It's as big a bonding experience as the teams have, honestly.

No matter what happens on the court this weekend, it'll be a long ride back from Ithaca after the game Saturday.
 This is how travel works in the Ivy League, especially for sports who play back-to-back. It's a lot of bus rides in the middle of the night.

It might seem like it's annoying.

In reality, friendships that last forever grow out of those rides, as much as they do from anything else.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Princeton Women's Water Polo On ESPNU

TigerBlog is going to mention this a bunch of times between now and the end of next week: The men's basketball game against Harvard on March 3 is a 5 p.m. tip-off, not a 5:30 one.

Again, that's 5. Your ticket probably says 5:30. It's actually 5.

Don't worry. TB will mention it again.

The basketball game is actually the back end of an ESPNU doubleheader that begins at 3 with the men's lacrosse game on Sherrerd Field against Johns Hopkins. This isn't the first time that there's been back-to-back Princeton events on ESPNU.

There are actually three ESPNU events in less than a week, including the women's water polo match against Harvard Saturday at 10:30. That would be one of only two home events this year for the women's water polo team, who also hosts George Washington on April 14.

The day of the basketball doubleheader will be the 52nd anniversary of the last time something happened on this campus, before the women's water polo game against Harvard. This is an easy one. TigerBlog isn't even going to give you a few paragraphs to think about it.

Back on March 3, 1965, Princeton defeated Penn 81-71 in its men's basketball regular-season finale at Dillon Gym. What was so significant about that game that it hasn't been repeated until now?

Yes, that was the last game in which a Princeton athlete who had already won an Olympic gold medal competed on this campus as a Tiger. In that case, it was Bill Bradley.

This time it's Ashleigh Johnson. It's easy to overdo the whole "returning gold medal" thing, but Johnson is one of the most special athletes Princeton has ever produced. With only two more chances to see her play on the Princeton campus, DeNunzio Pool should be jammed for both.

Bradley and Johnson are the only two Princeton athletes who have ever returned to compete for Princeton after winning Olympic gold. That's pretty impressive. 

When it came time to make the ESPNU schedule for the year, TigerBlog was going to be pretty insistent on trying to get a women's water polo game to be included. As it turned out, he didn't have to be. ESPN wanted to showcase Johnson as well.

The intimidation factor of having to play against Johnson must be fairly high. Here you are, playing in college, and the goalie for the other team is an Olympic gold medalist and the two-time world Player of the Year for the sport.

She's allowed 13 goals so far this year, while making 41 saves. TB is pretty sure that after each of those 13 goals, the scorer thought "I just scored on an Olympic gold medalist" and smiled.

Ashleigh Johnson is not the only one in her family on the Princeton team. Her sister Chelsea is the team's leading scorer, with 15 goals (on just 16 shots).

TigerBlog knows very little about water polo, other than he's a big fan of Luis Nicalao, the head coach. And he watched most of the U.S. games at the Olympics last summer, where it was impossible not to be struck with just how amazing a player Ashleigh Johnson is.

He's guessing a .759 save percentage and a .938 shooting percentage are pretty good.

There are 16 women's water polo players at Princeton. Of that group, 12 are from California, which is the epicenter of the sport in this country. Ashleigh, and her sister obviously, are Florida natives, and there is one other Floridian (freshman goalie Kasey Bersh) and one from New Zealand (Charlotte Valentine).

While it has to be intimidating to play against Johnson, she has to be just about the perfect teammate.

TigerBlog has met her a few times, but he hardly knows her well. Still, it's not hard to figure some things out quickly about her.

First, she's taller than you think. Second, she is one ripped muscle on top of another.

Beyond that, she is definitely humble and soft-spoken, and it's easy to tell from being around her that she really values the Princeton part of her athletic experience.

It's a great opportunity for Ashleigh Johnson and for Princeton women's water polo to be at home, and on national TV. TigerBlog has to thank his colleagues at ESPN for being open to showing water polo, which the network seems to love.

Princeton will be away from DeNunzio after its game Saturday until the George Washington match on March 3, playing in such varied locations as Cambridge (including a Harvard rematch), Lewisburg (at Harvard), Oneonta (in upstate New York) and out to California.

So it's Princeton-Harvard women's water polo at 10:30 Saturday on ESPNU. And then the following Friday, it's Princeton-Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse at 3, followed by Princeton-Harvard men's basketball at 5.

Not 5:30.

Say it with TigerBlog - 5, not 5:30.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

At Home On The Road

TigerBlog wrote about Dave Leach yesterday, about how he's leaving for Penn to head up the Campus Rec department there.

Do they still play intramural softball on Franklin Field, like they did when TB was in school? TigerBlog also played intramural flag football and co-ed flag football on Franklin Field, with the rule for the co-ed team that a woman had to be the quarterback.

TigerBlog's team had a quarterback named Donna who could throw a ball a long way and as such made it all the way to the championship game of the league. Waiting there was a quarterback with long fingernails with bright red nail polish who could throw 50-yard spirals without breaking any of them. As such, TB's team lost in the final.

As for intramural softball, TigerBlog had a friend named Andrew who somehow had never played baseball or softball in his life, or for that matter seen the sport. When he smacked a ball deep into the outfield, he literally did not know what to do next. TB's friend Charlie had to yell at him to run, and to run counter-clockwise.

That really happened.

TigerBlog has played intramural sports at Princeton as well. Advice - don't run into angry grad students. He's pretty sure that it was against the grad students that Senior Associate AD for Finance and Administration Chris Brock had his nose busted in what remains one of the bloodier spectacles TB has ever witnessed.

Meanwhile, back to last Friday afternoon, that's when the meeting was called so that Dave could tell everyone he was leaving. TigerBlog was struck by the difference between that Friday afternoon and basically any other Friday afternoon in February in Jadwin Gym in the last, oh, 33 years or so.

There were no basketball games to be played here last weekend. That had to be a first for February.

The first year of a full double round-robin in Ivy League women's basketball was 1982-83, but it doesn't appear that it was until a year later, the 1983-84 season, that the league went to its current format of having teams play at reverse sites. In other words, if the men were, say, at Harvard and Dartmouth, the women would be home with Harvard and Dartmouth.

Since then, TigerBlog knows of no weekend where both teams were away. It may have happened; TB just doesn't know about it. Or why it would have happened.

If you remember back to January, Princeton hosted Yale and Brown for both men and women because of the finals schedule. As a result, both games were away this weekend, and as a result, Jadwin had a much sleepier feel to it than it would normally have on a Friday February afternoon.

Being away was not a problem for either basketball team. Both won twice, at Yale Friday and Brown Saturday, and both seem to be playing their best as they head into the key weeks of the season.

Back a few weeks ago, the women were 1-2 in the league heading into a home weekend against Dartmouth and Harvard. With seven of the last nine games to be played on the road, that weekend was critical. It seemed like making the Ivy tournament might be iffy.

Now? Princeton is 7-2, and if the Tigers win out, they'll have at least a share of the Ivy title. Princeton has not mathematically clinched a spot in the league tournament, with Cornell and Brown both at 5-5, but it will take a lot to keep Princeton out.

Princeton figured to get better as the season went along. The Tigers graduated four starters from last year, so it was going to be awhile until the team fully gelled. Now that it has, it's going to be a tough out.

Penn was unbeaten in the league heading into this weekend, but the Quakers lost at Yale Saturday. Now the standings have Penn at 8-1, followed by 7-2 Princeton and 7-3 Harvard. Princeton, Penn and Harvard all play each other again before the regular season ends, so the race could go in a lot of directions before the tournament.

Interestingly, Princeton is at Penn on Tuesday, March 7, four days before the Ivy tournament will be played on that court. That game could decide the champion, which will be whoever wins the regular season, or could be meaningless.

As for the men, Princeton is 10-0, two games up on Harvard and four games up on Yale. The Tigers continue to get better week-to-week, and this is a team that has everything figured out - right now. There is still a lot to do, though.

Were this any other year, then Princeton would be focused on winning the championship and then turning its attention to the NCAAs. This year, there's the Ivy tournament, with its own set of challenges.

In some ways, it's a good insurance policy to have. Princeton still has to play Harvard, who will be here March 3. If Harvard wins that game, then it would need Princeton to lose once more to have a chance at a co-championship. With no tournament, that would make for a winner-take-all playoff game in which Harvard would have all the momentum. With the tournament, it's just Step 1.

The tournament has certainly changed a lot of the dynamics in the league. In any other year, nobody would really be paying attention to the move that Penn has made, going from 0-6 and out of it to 4-6 and very much in control of what happens the rest of the way. That's one of the things the tournament was supposed to do, make more late-season games meaningful. There's no way to dispute that.

Oh, and should Penn get in the tournament, then it would be a red-hot team that would be playing on its home court.

The tournament is looming, for both Princeton teams, presumably. For now, there's the coming weekend, with the women home against Columbia and Cornell and the men on the road.

And before he goes, TigerBlog wonders if the Ivy League would ever consider going to doubleheaders in basketball, instead of men and women at opposite sites.

Would that be better? It would be less stress on department staffs, with every other weekend off. TB would want to have the men play before the women some weekends and the women play before the men on others.

Would it attract bigger crowds? Would there be a greater number of crossover fans?

Hmm. TB would be on board with it.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Good Luck To You, Dave Leach

It was around 3:30 or so Friday afternoon when TigerBlog's office phone rang.

For every time TB's office phone rings these days, it probably rang 100 times 10 years ago and 1,000 times 20 years ago. The dynamics of why tell a large part of the story of the evolution of communications, so TB will just leave you with the obvious basics - cell phones, texting, greater availability of online information, etc.

Anyway, at this particular time, it was Kim Meszaros, the assistant to Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux. There was to be an impromptu meeting in Mollie's office.

What could it be, TB wondered as he came up the stairs. Maybe Mollie wanted to see him so that she could double his salary? Hey, he could hope.

When TB walked into Mollie's office, he saw an interesting cross-section of his colleagues. There was Greg Paczkowski from facilities, Allison Rich of compliance, Dave Leach from campus recreation, Kim and Mollie. What did these people have in common?

Eventually, that group was joined by others. What was the occasion?

Well, as it turns out, it was a very unexpected one. Dave Leach was the center of the meeting, called so that Dave could tell his colleagues that he was leaving Princeton.

If you're a Princeton varsity sports fan, you probably don't know who Dave Leach is. If you're almost anyone who works on the campus, then you do.

Dave Leach seems to know everyone. And everyone seems to know him. Better than that, everyone seems to like him.

Dave is a hard guy not to like. He's personable, always upbeat, always with a smile and a handshake and a few minutes to say hi and see how you're doing. And more than that, he seems to be genuinely interested in the answer.

His title at Princeton is Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Campus Recreation. In is position, Dave interacts with people from basically every corner and constituency of the Princeton campus.

The programs that are run out of Campus Rec are massive, and they bring together thousands of people in Dillon Gym. There are club sports, intramural sports, physical education classes, workouts rooms, exercise classes, games, contests and everything else under the sun. It seems like Dillon is jammed with people from before the sun comes up until late into the night.

It has to be a logistical nightmare to keep it all coordinated.

Maybe TigerBlog's favorite thing about Dave Leach is the way he never, ever takes credit for anything. He always talks about his "team," the people with whom he works in Campus Rec. He gives them all the credit, never even considering taking any for himself.

Of course, there are great people who work with Dave in Dillon Gym. The Campus Rec crew is very proud of the work that they do and the programs they put together, and they're constantly working to create new opportunities for the campus community.

It's easy to tell that they love Dave Leach as much he loves them. It had to be an emotional moment for him to break the news to them. Certainly it wasn't easy for Dave to tell everyone in Jadwin Friday afternoon.

So where is Dave going? Well, uh, yeah - he's going to Penn to take over the Campus Rec program there. Dave has always been a Philly guy at heart, and he's stepping onto a campus that has more undergraduate students, a larger campus-wide staff and a huge number of graduate students, including a med school and law school.

It's a great challenge for him, and he's the right person for the task. Seems like a fair trade too - Princeton got TigerBlog from Penn, and now Dave Leach is going from Princeton to Penn.

In the meeting Friday, Dave pointed out that TigerBlog always says the same thing when someone leaves Princeton, that TB always says that from then on, that person is "dead to him." It's a joke, of course.

The truth is that it's never an easy decision for someone to move on from Princeton. Dave is right - he has a great team in Dillon Gym. And he's been a big part of the overall athletic administration, not to mention a huge fan of Princeton's varsity teams.

The Princeton Department of Athletics is a great place to work. It's a small group, and it's one that works hard together and pulls for each other in every way. Dave has been one of the main faces of that effort for the last decade or so.
 There aren't too many people TB has ever met in his life nicer than Dave Leach. TB was a bit stunned to hear he was leaving, though he understands it and is happy for him.

He wishes him the best. And TB thinks he can speak for all of Princeton, not just those in athletics, when he says good luck Dave. You'll certainly be missed.

Friday, February 17, 2017

98 vs. Now, And The Rest Of The Coming Weekend

TigerBlog was broadcasting the Princeton-Cornell men's basketball game on the radio with Patrick McCarthy last Friday night when he remarked about the members of the Princeton team of 1998 who were at the game.

Gabe Lewullis. Darren Hite. Sean Gregory. Mike McDonnell.

It wasn't surprising. The two head coaches in the game, after all, were also members of that team, Mitch Henderson from Princeton and Brian Earl from Cornell.

The 1997-98 Princeton men's basketball team went 27-2 overall and 14-0 in the Ivy League. By season's end, the Tigers were ranked in the top 10 nationally - seventh, actually.

Come NCAA tournament time, Princeton was a fifth seed. The first round matched Princeton and UNLV, and then Runnin' Rebels coach Bill Bayno sat next to TigerBlog at the pre-tournament meeting the day before. When TB introduced himself and said where he was from, Bayno didn't flinch and said "nice to meet you. We have no chance of beating you."

As it turned out, Bayno was right. Princeton won 69-57, behind 21 from Earl and 19 from Henderson. Two days later, that magical season ended with a tough 63-56 to a Michigan State team that two years later would win the NCAA title. Princeton and Michigan State were tied in the final minute before Mateen Cleaves untied it with a long three-pointer that TB can still, sadly, see splashing through the net.

By the way, both Henderson and Earl played all 40 minutes of both of those NCAA games.

Anyway, part of the conversation TigerBlog had with Patrick - who was around three or so back in 1998 - involved what would have happened if that Princeton team, in its prime, played the current Princeton team. These Tigers are 15-6 and 8-0 in the league headed into this weekend's huge trip to Yale and Brown.

TigerBlog asked Mitch the same question yesterday, and Mitch said that TB wasn't the first person to ask him. So what's the answer?

Well, obviously there isn't one. The 1997-98 team was a great one, obviously, one that shot 50 percent from the field and from three-point range. Its center, Steve Goodrich, played in the NBA.

This team isn't ranked nationally, let alone ranked in the top 10. But it's a different world. For starters, would the 1998 team get all the same great shots it got with a 30-second clock? Would that team have been able to slow down this team, which plays at a much faster tempo.

The current team routinely shoots transition three-pointers off a fast break less than 10 seconds into the shot clock. The 1998 team almost never did that.

It's one of those unanswerable questions that people love to debate in sports. For TB, the real answer is this: the fact that it's debatable at all shows you how much better Ivy League men's basketball has gotten across the board since 1998.

That team, by the way, is one of the special teams in Princeton history, certainly in the last 30 years, since TB has been around here. 

The current team is part of a year unlike any other in Ivy history, and that is because of the advent of the Ivy League tournament. Princeton is two games up on both 6-2 Harvard and Yale and four games up on fourth place Columbia.

There's a four-way tie at 2-6 for fifth place. It's possible Princeton has already clinched a spot in the Ivy tournament field, as the best any of the fifth place teams can do is tie Princeton, and Princeton may already have the edge on all of them in the tiebreakers. Even if it hasn't clinched a spot already, it would do by winning any of its remaining six games or by having none of the four fifth-place teams go 6-0 the rest of the way.

Princeton has its sights set higher, though. Goal No. 1 is the championship, which goes to the regular-season winner. Goal No. 2 is the NCAA tournament, which goes to the tournament winner.

On the women's side, Princeton sits in third place at 5-2, just behind 6-2 Harvard. Penn is 7-0. The fourth place team is Brown at 5-3; fifth place would be Cornell at 3-5.

Princeton still has a game with Penn and would love to play for a championship on the final night of the regular-season at the Palestra, which is also the site for the tournament. Presumably, though, there would be a big advantage to finishing second or third, and that would be avoiding Penn on its home court in the opening round.

This is also a rare weekend for Princeton basketball in that both teams are on the road, at Yale tonight and Brown tomorrow. Why? Because final exams scheduling meant that both teams were home with Yale and Brown the first time around, back in January. TigerBlog isn't sure this has ever happened before.

There are still three weekends of Ivy basketball left. The hockey seasons are closer to the finish line.

So here's your women's hockey question: would you rather be a point ahead in the race for home ice in the playoffs heading into the final weekend but have to play the top two teams or a point behind (with the tiebreaker in your favor) but playing two teams below you in the standings?

The top four teams will host best-of-three playoffs next weekend. Right now, Colgate has 27 points and is in fourth place. Princeton has 26 and is in fifth. Quinnipiac has 25 and is in sixth. All three are home this weekend, which is the last of the regular season.

Colgate, though, has to play Clarkson and St. Lawrence, who are in first and second. Princeton and Quinnipiac both host RPI, who is in eighth place (three points up on Harvard for the last playoff spot), and Union, who is in last.

Princeton has the tiebreaker over both Colgate and Quinnipiac, should it come to that. What does it mean? Princeton would get fourth place and home ice unless Colgate gets more points out of the weekend than Princeton does or unless Quinnipiac gets two more points out of the weekend than Princeton does.

As for the men, all 12 teams make the playoffs. Princeton is in eighth with two weekends to go, and the Tigers are 11-5-2 in their last 18 games after an 0-6-1 start to the year. Princeton is clearly in the turnaround stage for the program, and hosting a playoff series this year would mean the Tigers are way ahead of schedule.

Ron Fogarty, the Princeton head coach, said something interesting yesterday. It took them 800 days to win nine games (in his first two-plus years) and now 76 days to win 11 more. That's pretty cool.

There's a lot of other stuff in Princeton sports this weekend. There are 23 events in all. The full schedule is HERE.

The Ivy League women's swimming and diving championships conclude at Brown. Men's squash is in the national team championships.

Hmmm. Is there anything else?

Oh yeah. It's opening day for lacrosse tomorrow, with Princeton women against Temple at noon and the men against NJIT at 3.

And the weather is supposed to be great.

Back at the question of the 1998 team against the current one, TigerBlog thinks there'd be too much Goodrich in the middle, too many made shots - and two guys who would be like head coaches on the court.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rambling Man

Some days, TigerBlog can't think of anything to say.

Others, he has so much to say he doesn't know where to start. And once he does start, who knows where the conversation will go.

Today is one of those days where he's just going to ramble. So where to start? With Bob Bradley.

Actually, let's start with Grant Wahl. Do you know who Grant is? He is probably the foremost American international soccer writer of all time. And he is a Princeton alum.

In fact, he's a former student worker in the Princeton Office of Athletic Communications, along with such notables as current Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan and someone who could possibly replace her one day, sprinter-turned athletic administrator-turned lawyer John Mack.

TigerBlog never thought of that before. If Mollie stays 10-15 more years, then maybe John Mack would be the right guy for the job at that point. Mark that one down.

So meanwhile, back at Grant, he covers soccer all over the world for Sports Illustrated. Way back before then, though, he worked here in the OAC, and he wrote what was an eye-openingly great story about a Princeton football running back named Bill Jordan, which ran in the Daily Princetonian and in the football game program.

Grant was buddies with Nate Ewell, another member of the OAC student-worker Hall of Fame. Nate is one of TigerBlog's favorite people, and this is one of TB's favorite stories about Nate:

Back in 1996, the men's basketball team defeated Penn in the Ivy League men's basketball playoff game at Lehigh on a Saturday. Pete Carril then announced he was retiring after the NCAA tournament. The selections that Sunday paired Princeton with UCLA, the defending national champ.

None of this should be all that unfamiliar to you if you're a Princeton fan.

Anyway, that Monday was one of the busiest days TigerBlog has had in all his time here. Everyone wanted to talk to Carril. Oh wait, that reminds TB of another story, and hey, since it's rambling day, let him tell you that one.

Speaking of great writers, do you know who Jerry Izenberg is? Jerry was the longtime columnist for the Star-Ledger, and he is the best sportswriter TB has ever read. TB hasn't seen Jerry in years, but back when TB used to see him at various events, Izenberg had this great ability to be the hard-hitting cynical rough old-fashioned sportswriter while also being a wonderful guy to be around. He always had a kind word and greeting for TB, who was somewhat awed by him, to be honest.

After the win over UCLA in Indianapolis, TigerBlog was again swamped by requests for Carril. Like, hundreds of them. Literally hundreds of phone messages. He would check his voicemail (on his work phone, nobody had cell phones yet), and by the time he cleared his messages, his voicemail would be full again.

Pete was actually really good about getting back to as many people as possible, but then it was time for practice. As Carril took the court, TigerBlog said that he had one more request for him. This is the actual conversation:
TB: There's one more writer who wants to talk to you.
Carril: I don't care who it. I'm not talking to him.
TB: It's Jerry Izenberg.
Carril: Well, I gotta talk to that guy.

Izenberg is 86. He's a few months older than John McPhee. It appears that was a good time for American writers to be born.

The last time TB and Mr. McPhee rode their bikes outside, it was a little over 40 degrees and there was a wind in their faces as they rode up the small hill in the park. Mr. McPhee always was able to get up the hill much easier than TigerBlog, who assumed that Mr. McPhee must have had a better bike than he did.

Where was TB? John McPhee. Jerry Izenberg. Pete Carril. 1996. Oh yeah. Nate.

Back on that Monday, as TB tried to finish his NCAA tournament guide and take care of the media, in the back of his mind he knew he had to do three things for men's lacrosse, whose season has just started.

Speaking of lacrosse, there's a doubleheader Saturday on Sherrerd Field, with the women against Temple at noon and the men against NJIT at 3. Opening day for both.

Back in 1996, TB knew he had to stop what he was doing with basketball for the lacrosse stuff, but he just didn't have the time. Nate then walked up to him and casually said "don't worry. I did Ivy Player of the Week nominations, wrote the release for Player of the Week and updated the notes for the Virginia game."

Ah Nate. One of the best ever.

Okay, so 1996. Nate. Grant.

TigerBlog saw on Twitter that Grant had mentioned something about Bob Bradley and being an American coach. As it turns out, Bradley had written a piece for The Players' Tribune about his experiences coaching all over the world and how he never really put so much stock in the idea that he was taking a lot of Americanized ideas with him until after he left Swansea.

You can read it HERE. It's very good.

Bradley has had quite a life. He's coached in the World Cup as the head coach for the U.S. men's national team, and won the group stage, by the way. He has coached in Egypt, Norway and France. He became the first American ever to be a head coach for an English Premier League  team, something that will always be on his resume.

Bradley's resume also includes a time as the head coach here at Princeton. Bradley, a 1980 grad, is the deepest thinker for a coach that TigerBlog has ever met, and he says that with great respect.

Bradley is also the brother of Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley. Has Princeton had any other sibling teams who have been head coaches here? TB can't think of one off the top of his head, though he's probably overlooking someone obvious.

The baseball season starts soon, and Princeton baseball and softball are the both the defending Ivy champs. TigerBlog went with the baseball team to Lafayette, Louisiana, for the NCAA regional. That was a great trip.

At about 5 yesterday afternoon, TigerBlog was in his office when there was a commotion in the outer office.

From TB's desk, he can't see around the corner into the main area. When people come in, they're usually here to see the IT guy, Bryan Fitzwater, whose office is next to TB's. When they come in, TB can usually see their shadows or hear them but not see their faces.

Yesterday TB assumed it was someone looking for Fitz. Instead, it was a Princeton baseball player, in full uniform, looking for the Zanfrini Room, which is two floors up. Seeing a baseball player in full uniform, holding a bat, was not near the top of the list of things TB would have guessed as to who was standing there.

Grant, by the way, wasn't the only one to call TB's attention to the piece that Bob Bradley wrote. Current head coach Jim Barlow, who played for Bradley and was his replacement here, emailed TB the link.

Barlow is still going strong in the Dillon ping pong tournament. So is his assistant coach, Steve Totten. Mollie is the Jadwin winner, awaiting the Dillon winner in the championship match.

And there you have it.

What did the Allman Brothers say? Oh yeah.

"Trying to make a living and doing the best I can."

That was it.

And that's it for today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Hockey Resurgence Continues

Being a high school junior, Miss TigerBlog is very much in the middle of her college search.

This past Saturday, it took her and her father to Wesleyan University in Connecticut. TigerBlog had never been there before, and he liked it, except for the pictures of Bill Belichik everywhere.

TigerBlog has been to a lot of Division III schools in his life, and Wesleyan's athletic facilities are way up there. In fact, TB would love Princeton to have the setup that Wesleyan does, though on a larger scale.

If you walk into the main athletic building from the back, parking lot side, the first thing you'll see on your right is a glass facade above the basketball court. Through the double doors is the hockey rink.

They're both very nice places to watch a game. And they're right next to each other.

The rest of the building houses an indoor track with a large infield that can be used for a practice facility for most outdoor team sports, a pool, squash courts, meeting rooms, locker rooms, a large workout area - all surrounded by pictures from three centuries of Wesleyan athletics, from the 1800s through the current teams.

It's a pretty impressive setup. It probably wouldn't be easy for Princeton to build the same type of facility, since it would need to be gigantic from the standpoint of the basketball and hockey venues alone. Still, it would be great.

At one point, TigerBlog was sitting by himself on the bleachers in the back of the indoor track when the Colby men's hockey team came in to warm up. Colby would be taking on Wesleyan in another 90 minutes or so.

One of the Colby players was stretching out on the floor in front of him, and TigerBlog asked him how long the ride was from the school in Maine to Wesleyan. Turns out it's about 4.5 hours.

It also turns out that the player TB randomly spoke with was a transfer to Colby at the start of the semester. He had played at his old school - Quinnipiac - last semester, which means he played against Princeton twice, not that long ago.

Princeton, TigerBlog reminded him, beat Quinnipiac twice this year. And a lot of other really good teams.

If you haven't been paying attention to Princeton men's hockey this year, then you're really missing out on something special. TigerBlog would also throw in words like amazing and incredible.

Princeton had a record of 34-106-16 in the last five full seasons, including a 5-22-3 season a year ago that saw the team finish last in the 12-team ECAC. Picked to finish last again this year, Princeton got off to an 0-6-1 start, which meant that the Tigers were 34-112-17 in their previous 163 games, for a winning percentage of .261. They were also the only winless team in Division I men's hockey at Thanksgiving.

Since then? It's been a completely different team.

This past weekend was another great one for Princeton hockey. The Tigers took out No. 18 St. Lawrence - who came to Baker Rink tied for first in the ECAC - by a 3-1 score Friday night and then came back to beat Clarkson 3-2 Saturday night in overtime after trailing 2-0 midway through the third period.

So what does it all mean?

Princeton has followed up that 34-112-17 stretch and 0-6-1 start to this season by going 11-5-2 in the last 18 games. Think about that. Princeton has gone from a .261 winning percentage to a .667 winning percentage.

And it happened quickly. TigerBlog would say things turned on a dime, but maybe not. This is Year 3 for Ron Fogarty. He has really good young players. He has his system in place. He has the goalie. Maybe it's better to say that it finally clicked.

It's one thing for a team to know that it's better by seeing how much better everything is in practice or how much more competitive the games are. It's not until they actually start to see it turn into wins, though, that a team can really grow in confidence.

And Princeton has gotten wins against some of the best teams in college hockey. What is it? Seven wins over ranked teams already? 

That's where Princeton is now.

Suddenly, Princeton is at .500, with an overall record of 11-11-3. The Tigers are in eighth place in the ECAC, one point ahead of Dartmouth and only one point behind Yale.

The top eight teams in the league get home ice in the playoffs, with a bye into the quarterfinals for the top four and then the right to host the opening round best-of-threes for fifth through eight places.

The idea that Princeton is in the hunt with two weekends left would probably have been unthinkable to any objective observer of ECAC hockey. And yet here Princeton is, right there, with a trip to RPI and Union and then home games with Brown and Yale to be played.

Union is currently in first. Princeton is one point back of Yale, as TB said, and the Tigers are ahead of RPI and Brown.

When you're where Princeton is, no team is unbeatable, and no team is a guaranteed win. It makes every night exciting, and that's certainly what Princeton hockey has become.

Just like that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Gotta Love It

For Valentine's Day, here's a question to start things off:

Why do you love someone with all your heart? How was it that the heart beat out all of the other organs to be the symbol of love?

TigerBlog looked in a few different places for an answer, and actually he found a few. It either dates to ancient Greece or Egypt or Europe in the 1250s, and there are also a few different explanations about why the familiar heart-shaped symbol of love emerged, as opposed to the actual shape of a human heart.

It probably wouldn't have made as much sense to say that you love someone with all of your brain. The brain is the center of logic, and love isn't always logical. Maybe it's rarely logical.

The heart seems more of a natural. It is much less logical and much more mystical, with the flow of blood in and then sent back out, to touch every cell of the body. The brain may have a mind of its own; the entire body will always follow the heart.

Maybe that's it. That's pretty good. Maybe TB should be in the greeting card business.

As for the holiday itself, it's apparently named after a pair of third-century AD Roman priests, who later became saints and were honored with a religious holiday, though there is nothing that suggests either priest was heavily invested in promoting love. It wasn't until Chaucer in the 14th century that there were romantic poems about "Valentines."

At least that's what it says on Wikipedia.

Somewhere along the line, Valentine's Day evolved to what it is today, a slightly over-commercialized holiday loved mostly by greeting card companies, chocolatiers, stuffed animal designer, florists and restaurants.

You know. A day for love.

Whether you're a romantic like TigerBlog or a cynic like, uh, TigerBlog, if you're a Princeton fan, you had to love a few things from this past weekend.

First, there was the performance of the fencing teams at the Ivy League championships, where the women won outright and the men finished in a three-way tie for first. If you want to see happy people, click HERE to see the recap on goprincetontigers.com.

Once you're there, scroll down to see the video of the winning point from Katharine Holmes.

The Ivy fencing championships bring all of the men's and women's teams together for head-to-head matches over two days. It's actually a great idea, though there aren't too many other sports in which it would work.

Columbia came into the event ranked No. 1 in both men's and women's fencing. That's in the country, not just the Ivy League.

The Princeton men had wrapped up at least a share of the league title after Penn beat Columbia and Princeton beat Penn. The Lions made it a three-way championship with a 15-12 win over Princeton.

The women's side was more dramatic. Princeton and Columbia were both undefeated heading into their match, the final one of the day. Then that match came down to the last individual match, where Princeton just happened to have Holmes, a 2016 Olympian.

Holmes won that one and every other one she fenced, going a perfect 18-0 individually. The championship was Princeton's seventh in the last eight years in women's fencing.

The wrestling team didn't win an Ivy League title, falling to Cornell in Ithaca Saturday in a matchup of league unbeatens on the final day of the regular season. Still, if you don't understand where Princeton wrestling was and what Chris Ayres and his staff have done to bring the program to where it is, you're missing the big picture.

Ayres has done as good a rebuilding job of a program as any coach Princeton has ever had. Ever. One day, that championship will be his.

The women's basketball team swept Cornell and Columbia, improving to 5-2 in the league and pretty much solidifying itself in the Ivy tournament race. Right now, the standings are this: Penn 7-0, Harvard 6-2, Princeton 5-2, Brown 5-3, Cornell in fifth at 3-5.

There are all kinds of things that can happen still, obviously, but it's looking like the divide between the top four and the fifth place team is taking shape.

Interestingly for Princeton, it has a game at the Palestra against Penn on Tuesday, March 7, a few days before the start of the Ivy tournament. It's possible that game could be mean nothing for both, something for one and nothing for the other, or something for both.

Lastly, there is the men's hockey team. If Chris Ayres has done a great rebuilding job for wrestling, Ron Fogarty is trying to do likewise with men's hockey - and is probably ahead of schedule.

TigerBlog will revisit that tomorrow.

For now, Happy Valentine's Day. Make sure you get the flowers/candy/stuffed animal/etc. today.

And make sure you tell them you love them tomorrow too.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Pretty Good Weekend For Princeton Men's Hoops

It was a very good weekend for the Princeton men's basketball team, to say the least.

TigerBlog would like to stat out back when there were about four minutes left on the countdown clock pregame Friday night at Jadwin Gym.

TigerBlog stood near Princeton's team room. Both Princeton and Cornell had already gone past him, out onto the court, and now TigerBlog, who had radio to do in a few moments, was waiting for Princeton's newest cheerleader, though he'll get back to her shortly.

As he was stood there, he saw a familiar face turn the corner as he was headed to the court. A very familiar face. 

"How do you like my tie," he said to TigerBlog. "It's red."

The familiar face was that of Brian Earl, who came to Princeton in 1995 and now, 22 years later, is in his first year as the head coach at Cornell. The game Friday night was his first back at Jadwin with his new team.

The list of Princeton athletes that TB has met in all his time here that he likes more than Brian Earl is not very long.

About two hours later, Brian had TigerBlog very antsy. His Cornell team had been down 10 at the break and then up five in the second. Princeton would regain the lead, but Cornell would never give up. By the final five minutes or so, all TB wanted was the game to be over and to get out of there - with a win.

Princeton would go 6 for 6 from the foul line in the final 37 seconds, all on one-and-ones, and it would basically need all of those in what became a 69-60 win. If Princeton had missed any of them, it would have been dicier. If Princeton had missed all of them, Cornell probably would have won.

Devin Cannady, the leading free-throw shooter in the Ivy League, made four of them. For the year, Cannady has missed only four of 55 foul shots.

The other two were made by Aaron Young, who prior to that had attempted only four foul shots on the year. Young played two minutes in the game, and he came off the bench only in the final seconds of the second half.

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson inserted Young because he knew Cornell had to foul, and he knew Young would make them. And that's exactly what happened. It is of such moves, by the way, that championships are won.

At some point during the radio broadcast, TigerBlog mentioned the list of future head coaches that Earl either played or coached under at Princeton - Pete Carril, Bill Carmody, John Thompson, Joe Scott, Howard Levy, Sydney Johnson, Mitch Henderson. It's quite a remarkable list. How many other head coaches in Division I have played or coached under that many others?

TigerBlog watched Brian from across the court during the game, to see his reactions. He usually didn't have any. He stood there, arms folded, with a look that said "you can't tell what the score is by looking at me" and "whatever just happened is exactly what I thought was going to happen."

And of which of those others did it most remind TB? John Thompson. It was right out of his playbook.

Speaking of Thompson, Friday night's game marked the Princeton cheerleading debut of Morgan Thompson, John's daughter and a current freshman.

As for Princeton, the win over Cornell was followed up by an easy-turned-really-hard 61-59 win Saturday night over Columbia. Princeton led by 20 at 46-26 early in the second half and then survived, for the second straight Saturday night, a three-pointer at the buzzer that had a chance that would have turned a win into a loss.

The standings, though, do not reflect "almosts" and "maybes." They reflect only wins and losses, and right now, Princeton stands at 8-0 in the league. Every other team has at least two losses, after Harvard beat Yale Saturday night.

The wins this weekend gave Princeton something rare and not very easy to do. The Tigers won Friday, Saturday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday - five wins, eight days, three on the road.

Not every Princeton team has had the opportunity to do that, since Princeton has often played Penn not on a Tuesday in midseason but on a Saturday to start the league season.

Princeton did play its first game against Penn on a Tuesday in mid-year every year from 1997 through 2011. Only three times in that stretch did Princeton go 5-0 in that stretch - 1997, 1998 and 2011. In none of those years did Princeton win three on the road.

Next up for the Tigers is two consecutive road weekends, at Yale and Brown this weekend and at Columbia and Cornell the following weekend.

Of course, this year is a different animal in Ivy basketball because of the tournament. Goal No. 1, though, is to be No. 1 and win the league championship, which will be decided in the regular season.

There is still a long way to go for Princeton to get that goal. These past five games, though, were a huge hurdle.

Wins at Dartmouth (after a 20-day layoff), at Harvard (first since 2010), at Penn (90th anniversary of the Palestra), home against Cornell (down five in the second half) and home against Columbia (20-point lead vanished).

That wasn't easy.

It was very impressive.