Wednesday, March 21, 2018

It's Enough With The Snow Already

Hey, it's springtime.

You can tell by the 12-18 inches of snow in the forecast for today. Nothing says spring quite like that.

TigerBlog speaks for everyone when he says enough with the snow already. The average temperature around here now is supposed to be in the 50s. The record is 83. TigerBlog will settle for average for right now.

Hopefully this is it for this winter. And hopefully it warms up enough to melt a lot of it quickly. Snow on the ground into spring. Not good. 

The snowstorm is expected to mess around with the Princeton Athletic calendar this weekend. The baseball and softball teams are supposed to have their home openers, and Ivy League openers for that matter. TB isn't sure what the plan is yet.

The women's lacrosse team has a home game Saturday against Dartmouth. It's actually just the second home game of the year for the Tigers, by the way.

Sherrerd Field already has leftover snow on the sidelines from the last major Nor'easter, and the one before that. Getting more won't help, especially the wet, heavy kind that is expected.

TigerBlog isn't a huge fan of lacrosse pictures with snow in the background, but they're an unavoidable part of the "spring" sport.

The women's lacrosse team is 4-2 overall and 1-0 in the Ivy League. The Tigers had a great win Monday over Penn State, rallying from own 7-1 to win 13-12. It was Penn State, you might recall, who ended Princeton's season a year ago in the NCAA quarterfinals.

If you're looking for an important stat from the game Monday, look no further than the draws. Princeton won just one of 14 first-half draws and then won nine of 13 in the second half. That means that 22 of 27 were won by the team facing to the right on the TV screen.

Kyla Sears has been as-advertised this year, as the No. 1 high school player in the country from a year ago had another five points against the Nittany Lions, with three goals and two assists. Sears now has 21 goals and seven assists through her first six college games, and she is in the top 25 in Division I in both goals per game and points per game.

Sam Fish, another freshman, gave Princeton a big lift off the bench in goal, making 11 saves while allowing six goals. Will Sears and Fish be the next Olivia Hompe and Ellie DeGarmo, a pair of graduated first-team All-Americas at their positions?

That's for time to tell. In the meantime, it was a really good win for Princeton, something to build on as the schedule turns to league games and home games - and preferably better weather.

Of course, the calendar says spring and the weather says winter. Why not? It's been crossover season around here, and the last remnants of that, along with hopefully the snow, are here.

There are two remaining winter championship events for Princeton, the NCAA men's hockey tournament and the NCAA fencing championships.

The men's hockey team plays Ohio State Saturday at 3:30 in Allentown, Pa. If you want to buy tickets, you can do so right HERE.

The other NCAA championship event is the NCAA fencing finals. Princeton has qualified nine fencers as it tries to extend its run of top four finishes to eight; the Tigers current seven-year run is the longest in the country.

The fencing and the hockey NCAA events are both being hosted by Penn State, even if the hockey games are about three hours from Penn State.

For more information on the fencing championships, read THIS. TigerBlog's colleague Andrew Borders is all over it.

TigerBlog also wanted to mention sophomore Matthew Kolodzik, who finished third in the 149-pound weight class at the NCAA wrestling championships last weekend. On his way to third, Kolodzik beat the second, third, fourth and sixth seeds.

Kolodzik is already a two-time All-America, which, given the Princeton wrestling lore about the elevator, means he can ride up and down if he wants. More importantly, he has two years left to chase an NCAA title, and he is the only one in the top five in his weight class who returns next year.

He also joins John Orr ’85 and Greg Parker ’03 as Princeton wrestlers to finish in the top five at the NCAAs  in the last 40 years.

The next few years will be pretty exciting ones for Princeton wrestling, as the Tigers look to finally end Cornell's Ivy League run (someone will have to some day) and produce an NCAA champion.

The next few hours? They're probably going to be less exciting, unless you're into shoveling snow on your spring break. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Some Madness

Well, this concludes the fun part of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Before he gets to that, TigerBlog will start out with the parts of the tournament that are just torturous.

First, there are the Charles Barkley/Samuel L. Jackson/Spike Lee commercials. They were cute a few years ago. Now they're just awkward and stale. And endless.

Then there are the CBS productions. Why does it have to be a competition to see which play-by-play guy can end the game with the more trite, forced, cliche-driven declaration?

And, TB knows this is blasphemy to some, but he doesn't get the love for the work Bill Raftery does. His act is also stale, too. How many times can he say "these kids are so well-schooled in the fundamentals" or "xxx coach does such a great job with his kids?" TB will add, in the interest of fairness, that Raftery is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. Just dial back the gushing and analyze the game.

None of that, though, is even close to the worst part. Nope, the unquestioned worst part of the NCAA tournament is the pathetic overuse of the monitor.

Anytime the ball goes out of bounds in the final minute and a player from each team is close to it, the officials must now "go to the monitor." This, of course, is in the interest of "getting it right," which every announcer parrots by saying "I'm okay with this so they can get it right."

But then are they really getting it right? There are two kinds of "go to the monitor" trips. The first is where it is so obvious that you wonder why they went to the monitor in the first place. The second is when even the video is slowed down to microscopic levels, it's still not clear whether or not it went off of one hand without grazing the other one's thigh before it went out.

The trade-off is that the game grinds to a stop and, with apologies to loyal reader and basketball ref Matt Cicciarelli, the refs become the biggest part of the game, when they're supposed to be unnoticeable part of the game.

Also, if they are going to stop the game like that, the teams should be required to stay on the court on the side opposite the other team's bench, so these don't become free timeouts. 

For all that, though, it's really hard to beat the first four days, though the first two are the best. It's wall-to-wall basketball, with amazing comebacks and dramatic finishes everywhere. Even if there's one game that isn't any good, there's another one on the next channel that is.

TigerBlog didn't even consider that Nevada had a chance to come back in that game and was shocked to see the final score. The play Michigan ran at the end to beat Houston was tremendous, especially the presence of mind to make one more pass before the winning three-pointer.

Loyola, the one in Chicago, was exciting, even as TV did its best to overplay the story of the 98-year-old nun. Not having a top four seed reach the Sweet 16 in a regional is pretty interesting. And what happened to Auburn against Clemson? Those teams should only play in football.

And of course, the big story from weekend No. 1 was, of all things, the UMBC Retrievers, who became the first 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed, destroying No. 1 Virginia 74-54 in what was just a shocking performance from both teams.

The win by UMBC eclipsed after 29 years Princeton's 50-49 loss to Georgetown as the best 1 vs. 16 game the tournament has seen.

UMBC tried its best to keep it going in the second round Sunday but came up short against Kansas State, 60-53. If UMBC played Kansas State during the regular season, it would have been in November or December at Kansas State and would have been a 20-point game minimum. That's what home court means.

The person who got the most attention for UMBC might have been its Twitter man, Zach Seidel. If you missed this, Seidel tweeted in a way that might not quite have been what you'd expect from an official athletic department Twitter feed.

In doing so, he - and the way the game was going - also drove UMBC from 5,000 followers before the game started to 110,500 when the game against Kansas State ended. That's extraordinary.

The Princeton women's basketball team saw its season end with a 77-57 loss to Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday. The loss ended a season in which Princeton went 24-6, won the Ivy League title again and played in the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in nine years.

If you're keeping score on Courtney Banghart, her record is now 232-93 overall and 125-29 in the Ivy League. Those records include her first two years, when she was 21-39 overall and 13-15 in the league.

Doing the math, Courtney is now 211-54 and 112-14 in the last nine years. That comes to winning percentages during that time of .796 overall and .889 in the league.

Think about that. Courtney's teams have lost 14 Ivy League games in nine years. You'll win a lot of championships that way.

As for this championship, it was done with a team with three seniors - first-team All-Ivy selection Leslie Robinson and teammates Tia Weledji and Kenya Holland, both of whom were steady contributors for four years.

The bulk of the team is coming back, led by Ivy League Player of the Year Bella Alarie, who, you remember, is just a sophomore. Freshman Carlie Littlefield started every game this year and is the kind of player who is the glue of championship teams.

And then there's Abby Meyers, whose improvement as the year went along was extraordinary. Robinson finished her career with a nine-point, six-rebound, five-assist game against Maryland, and Alarie had 12 points and six rebounds in her first NCAA game, but it was Meyers who led the Tigers with 13 in the game.

With those three back, as well as the rest of the current group and another strong incoming class, Princeton will open next year as the Ivy favorite, it would seem.

And, with Alarie, Meyers and Littlefield for two more years together, Banghart may reach her stated goal of a Sweet 16 appearance once of these years.

TigerBlog is certainly rooting for it. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Never Look Back

Only Ron Fogarty and the members of his Princeton men's hockey program knew exactly what was being said between the end of the third period and the start of the overtime.

In the collective Princeton locker room, yes. And in their individual minds.

There were the Tigers Saturday night in the ECAC championship game against Clarkson, automatic NCAA bid on the line, up by a goal, the minutes of the third period going by, one by one.

With a little more than two minutes to go, Princeton was whistled for a penalty. Clarkson pulled the goalie, playing 6x4, and Princeton killed that off.

Suddenly there were just 12 seconds to play. The Clarkson net was still empty. Face-off in the Princeton end. Just clear it out once, and that would be that.

Only it wasn't that. Clarkson controlled the puck, and then shockingly it was in the Princeton net. And only 6.4 seconds remained.

There's no way to know what they were all thinking in the break that ensued. Human nature would have been something along the lines of "we were so close, and now they have all the momentum and now they're going to win and we're going to have an awful bus ride home" or something like that.

Or maybe it was simply this: "Never look back." Actually it would be a good mantra for the 2017-18 Princeton men's hockey team.

If the Tigers did look back, they would see a team that just three years ago set the program record for fewest goals in a season, with 39. Or just two years ago finished 12th in the 12 team ECAC. Both of those teams lost 23 games.

If they wanted to look back, they would know that they'd only won this championship twice, exactly 10 and 20 years ago. They didn't have to go back that far. They could have gone back only to last year, when Princeton started out 0-6-1 and became the last Division I team to win a game.

So why look back at any of it? How about looking straight ahead, right into the overtime. There was a championship out there waiting for this group, which had come so far so quickly, led by a coach whose persona suggests toughness and confidence, without a shred of phoniness mixed in.

Now, instead of struggling to score goals, this was the highest-scoring team in program history. Think about that. They'd gone from 39 goals for the season three years ago to the program record for most goals in a season, with 128.

And then, just 157 seconds later, that would get pushed to 129 goals. Princeton 2, Clarkson 1. And the celebration would begin.

For fans of numerical coincidence, Princeton had won its previous ECAC championships in 1998 and 2008. This was the next time year ended in that number, and as he watched the overtime start, TigerBlog thought to himself that it would be really fitting for the Princeton player who wore the number 8 to score the game-winner.

That would be Max Becker. And that's exactly who scored it.

Whatever the players and coaches said and thought, they came out focused and aggressive. Princeton outshot Clarkson 7-1 in the overtime before the game-winner, which featured an extraordinary pass from below the goal line from Jeremy Germain and the composure from Becker not to rush it.

The win over Clarkson completed one of the most extraordinary playoff runs TigerBlog can ever remember for a Princeton team. Keep in mind, Princeton's current seniors won four games as a freshmen on that team that scored 39 goals. In the recently completed ECAC tournament alone, Princeton won six games and scored 29 goals.

Fogarty has turned Princeton into one of the highest-scoring teams in the country, and one of the most exciting. For all of the goals, though, the MVP of the ECAC tournament was freshman goalie Ryan Ferland, who allowed two goals, one each to Cornell and Clarkson, while making 58 saves.

To win the championship, Princeton swept Brown at home by a combined 15-3 and then swept Union on the road in the quarterfinals, beating a team twice in two nights that it had not beaten in 20 attempts prior to that.

Then it was off to Lake Placid, where Princeton beat Cornell 4-1 Friday after giving up the first goal and then Clarkson in the OT. If you don't remember the final ECAC standings, Princeton beat the second seed (Union), top seed (Cornell) and third seed (Clarkson).

The reward for Princeton is an NCAA tournament appearance. The Tigers will be the fourth seed in the Midwest Region, taking on top-seeded Ohio State Saturday at 3:30 in Allentown, Pa., and on ESPNU.

As TB watched the NCAA selections yesterday, he learned that a four seed has beaten a one seed each of the last seven years. He also heard more than once that Princeton is the hottest team in the country.

For the Tigers, these are the best of times. Fogarty has built his program quickly, with players who have bought in and who are among the best in the country. Their tournament championship was no fluke, and their spot in the NCAA tournament is legit.

That's what Princeton men's hockey can look forward to now, playing in the tournament for the first time since 2009 and fourth time ever.

The Tigers got there the hard way, giving up a crushing goal within seconds of the finish line and then regrouping really quickly to win it anyway.

Yeah, it's been an extraordinary run. With more to come.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Big Friday

Courtney Banghart said one of the first text messages she got after winning the Ivy League women's basketball tournament championship was from men's hockey coach Ron Fogarty. Chris Ayres, the wrestling coach, was at the women's team's selection show party.

They're close, those three. And they also know what they're doing, as evidenced by what will be going on today.

All three are competing today in major championship events, with teams that aren't just happy to be there. So where to start?

How about at the site of the greatest moment in the history of American sports?

There's no chance that the Princeton men's hockey team will play the greatest game in the history of the building in which its plays this afternoon against Cornell in the semifinals of the ECAC hockey tournament. The game starts at 4 and can be seen on Eleven Sports, on the ECAC hockey website or for free on the Twitch app, which you'd need to download first.

The game is being played at the Olympic Ice Center in Lake Placid. It's the site of the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament, where the USA defeated the Soviet Union 4-3 and then won the gold medal by beating Finland to complete the "Miracle On Ice."

It's the greatest sporting event that's ever been played or ever will be played. There's nothing that will ever come close to even being able to be compared to what happened in that arena 38 years ago, so don't even bother trying.

It doesn't make the Princeton-Cornell game any less exciting, especially for Princeton.

Maybe Ron Fogarty should use this as he pregame speech:

The Tigers are in the ECAC semifinal for the first time since 2009. They're also one year removed from being picked to finish 12th, and last, in the league, which is where they were in the 2016-17 preseason poll.

Now the Tigers are in the semifinal, being played in a building where something legendary happened. Cornell is the top seed, and the winner of this game will take on the winner of the Harvard-Clarkson game (starts at 7:30 tonight) in tomorrow's championship game at 7:30.

The winner of that game gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Fogarty has transformed Princeton from a team that struggled to score goals to one of the most exciting offensive teams in the country. The challenge today will be Cornell freshman goalie Matthew Galajda, already one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey and the first freshman to be the ECAC goalie of the year.

There are six players who made first-team All-ECAC, and all six will be in Lake Placid today. 

Harvard and Clarkson have two each. Cornell has Galajda; Princeton has Max Veronneau, who is the nation's leader in assists per game and is second in points per game. He also led the ECAC with 37 points in 22 games. Ryan Kuffner was a second-team selection and is second in the country in goals per game.

The hockey game is the second game of a huge Princeton doubleheader. The first starts at 12:30, when the women's basketball team takes on Maryland in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. That game is on ESPN2.

Princeton is making its seventh NCAA tournament appearance in the last nine years (the other two years ended with WNIT bids). Unlike Princeton's 2015 NCAA game against Maryland, this one will not be played on the home court of the Terps. Instead, it will be the Reynolds Coliseum, on the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

The winner of the Princeton-Maryland game gets the winner of the host team and Elon in the second round.

Should Princeton have been better than a 12-seed with a 29 RPI? Maybe. Who cares anymore though. It's time to play the game.

Maryland is the Big Ten runner-up, and not the champion, like it was in 2015. Still, Maryland is one of the premiere teams in women's basketball, a team that is focused on deep runs this time of year.

Princeton will have the tallest player in the game with Bella Alarie, the Ivy League Player of the Year and Ivy League tournament MVP. Princeton is more than just a one-woman show, though, with the kind of depth which means that on any given night, any one of six or seven players could be the one who steps up. Maybe today it'll be Gabrielle Rush or Tia Weledji.

It's postseason game day for women's basketball and men's hockey. It's also a huge day for the wrestling team, who qualified four to compete in Cleveland looking for the ultimate honor for Princeton wrestling - the right to ride the elevator.

Only those wrestlers who have earned All-America honors are allowed to ride the Jadwin Gym elevator. The others all have to take the stairs up and down from A level to the wrestling room on E.

The NCAA wrestling championships started yesterday. Princeton sent Matthew Kolodzik (141), Mike D'Angelo (157), Jonathan Schleifer (165) and Patrick Brucki (197). Schleifer has already made history as the first Princeton wrestler ever to qualify for four NCAA championships.

The NCAA wrestling event will be on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU all weekend. You can get all the information you need HERE.

The events for women's basketball, men's hockey and wrestling are what they compete all year to be a part of, and there are obviously never any guarantees that any of them will make it this far.

It's a big Friday to be sure.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

No Guys In Mickey Mouse Shirts

If you work in college athletics, then you know that being involved in an NCAA tournament pool that includes money is a really, really bad idea.

Here in the Office of Athletic Communications, there is an office bracket challenge, though there is no money at all involved. You hear that compliance staff?

TigerBlog filled out a bracket. He can't remember which teams he picked where, except that he has Purdue over Michigan in the final, for a rematch of the Big 10 championship game.

He doesn't really think Purdue is going to win it all, since it seems like the Boilermakers might have peaked a little too soon. Maybe they were the best team in late January and early February.

If they can get back to where they were then for six games, they'll win it all. Either way, TB is rooting for them.

Remember, he was there back in January, when they destroyed Wisconsin at home. That was as good a college basketball atmosphere as TB has ever seen.

After the four play-in games, the NCAA tournament begins for real today, with wall-to-wall games all day and night today and tomorrow. TigerBlog has said this many times - the NCAA tournament is a unique event in that with each successive round, it gets less and less interesting.

Today and tomorrow will be the best days. The weekend will be okay, to see if the teams that won in upsets in the first round can get to the Sweet 16.

After that? All the games will just start to look alike and be overhyped, all the way to the final. So enjoy today and tomorrow.

Penn, the Ivy League champion, is a No. 16 seed, playing Kansas at 2 this afternoon in Wichita. There has never been a 16 seed that has beaten a one in the men's tournament.

Princeton, of course, came really, really close, losing 50-49 to Georgetown in 1989. That game was played 29 years ago Saturday.

TigerBlog has been to the NCAA men's basketball first- and second-rounds many times. If you're a college basketball fan, it's well worth your time to go check one of them out if you'e never been.

When you work in athletic communications, your view of the NCAA tournament is vastly different than that of your average fan. It's an all-consuming few days, from the clinching of the bid to the selections to the preparation to the travel to the games themselves.

During that time, you're dropped into the biggest event going in sports, surrounded by media people everywhere, many of whom you've seen on TV for years. They all have questions, all want to talk to your coach and players, all want to know everything there is about a team that you've seen all year and they know nothing about.

Oh, and the famous media people? Some of them you like and some you don't from watching them on TV all those years, and often the opposite becomes true when you meet them.

You know which TV person TigerBlog liked a lot? Billy Packer.

The busiest time is actually the day before your team plays. There's a shootaround that's open to the public, so it's not really much of a practice. Instead, it's just a chance to get familiar with the arena and have an expectation of what the game itself will be like. For an actual practice, the team will be someplace else in the area, at a local college or high school gym.

In addition to the shootaround, there's also a press conference for each of the eight teams at the site. This takes place in the giant media room and features questions that range from astute to simplistic to stereotypical to funny.

And of course, there's the down time, the chance to go out someplace nice to eat before game day. TigerBlog's advice - never, ever agree to go out to eat with a huge group. Then it becomes 20 people at a table, adding an extra hour to dinner by the time the waiters and waitresses get everyone drink orders and everthing else. And heaven forbid you want to get soup but nobody else wants an appetizer. It's never fun.

TigerBlog did that once, in 1996, the night before the UCLA game. The day after the UCLA game, Harvey Yavener, the longtime local sportswriter and gourmet, took TigerBlog to a fancy steakhouse and said it was limited to a very small group. Back then, there was another writer who covered Princeton who was fond of wearing Disney shirts, and he had been there the night before at the huge group dinner. When Yav mentioned the steakhouse, he said "just us. No guys in Mickey Mouse shirts."

When TigerBlog thinks back to the NCAA tournaments he's gone to with Princeton, he of course starts in 1996, with the win over UCLA in Indianapolis. That was quite a moment for Princeton, a win over the defending national champion after Pete Carril announced his retirement.

TigerBlog couldn't get back to the media requests fast enough. Every time he checked his voicemail, it was full. Everyone wanted to talk to someone from Princeton.

The 1998 trip to Hartford was good, at least until the infuriating loss to Michigan State in the second round. Really each trip to the tournament had something special about it.

Among the non-game related memories:

* shipping football media guides instead of basketball media guides to the Superdome in New Orleans in 2001 before Princeton-North Carolina

* being introduced to then-UNLV coach Bill Bayno at the pre-tournament meeting in 1998 in Hartford and having Bayno say "nice to meet you. We have no chance of winning." He turned out to be right

* being at the same site as Air Force in 2004 - Denver - and hearing Joe Scott being asked to defend his team's at-large bid, after it won the regular season but lost in the league tournament: "I mean, we won the Mountain West Conference," he said.

* when Vinnie DiCarlo, an OAC intern, swiped the sign that read "this is not a public entrance to the RCA Dome" in Indianapolis in 1996

* having to buy extra clothes in a mall in Indianapolis in 1996 because TB didn't pack with the consideration that Princeton would beat UCLA and have to stay for three more days

* watching 15th-seeded Richmond beat second-seeded Syracuse in a Syracuse sports bar in 1991 the night before Princeton-Villanova

TigerBlog has had way more than his share of championships and NCAA tournament trips, in many sports.

He's greedy, though. He still wants more of them.

Still, the ones he's been to have been the source of great memories, the ones he mentioned here and many others.

If you can go watch an NCAA tournament regional, make sure you do. If you can work for a competing team, it's even better.

And good luck to the Quakers. Hopefully the Tigers will be back next year.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Good To See Kit And Sean

TigerBlog's colleague Cody Chrusciel was taking video during the Ivy League basketball tournament this past weekend.

At one point at halftime of the women's final between Princeton and Penn, Cody worked his way up to a vantage point above the team room where the Tigers were gathered. As he pointed his camera down, he was hoping to get a shot of the Princeton women as the they came back on the court.

As he waited, there were three men who were standing in the landing area below him. Cody had no idea who two of them were, so TB explained it this way:

"There are five Ivy League Player of the Year awards standing there."

One of the men was Craig Robinson, the 1982 and 1983 Ivy Player of the Year. That's the one Cody knew. His daughter Leslie is a current Princeton senior and herself a first-team All-Ivy League selection.

Actually, that gets TigerBlog thinking. Are there any other father/mother/son/daughter first-team All-Ivy combos out there? It has to be someone obvious that he's just overlooking right now.

Anyway, as for the other two, they were Kit Mueller and Sean Jackson. Kit was the Ivy Player of the Year in 1990 and 1991, and then Sean won the award the next year, 1992.

That was a lot of Princeton basketball greatness in a short space.

TigerBlog left Cody and went down to say hello. Back when TigerBlog was a Princeton basketball novice, Kit Mueller and Sean Jackson were major pieces of a four-championships, four-year run for the Tigers, along with players like Bob Scrabis, Matt Lapin, Matt Eastwick, Matt Henshon, Jerry Doyle, George Leftwich and others.

Those were great teams. That's the group that almost beat Georgetown in 1989, losing 50-49 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, in the so-called "billion dollar game," as an ESPN 30-for-30 short film said, and that's the group that also had great games against Arkansas, Villanova and Syracuse.

That run - four NCAA losses by a total of 15 points - came after a three-year stretch in which the Ivy League champion (Brown in 1986, Penn in 1987, Cornell in 1988) lost three NCAA games by a combined 120 points. There was talk about taking away NCAA bids from small leagues, until that Georgetown game, which saved those bids and got CBS to pay $1 billion for the entire tournament.

Back then, TigerBlog was a newspaper reporter. He rode on the team bus to away games, always finishing his stories before the team got on the bus. That was a function of how long Pete Carril would keep them in the postgame lockerroom - as well as a function of how fast TB can write.

TB wrote a lot about Kit Mueller and Sean Jackson. If you never saw them play, Kit was the classic Pete Carril/Princeton center. He was a bit undersized, listed at 6-7, but he could score in the low post on anyone. He was also a great dribbler and passer, from the high post or low post. And tough.

Jackson was tough too. He played a little less than 2.5 seasons, making 212 three-pointers in that time. He was more than just an outside shooter though. He was tireless, a great defender, a great ballhandler and, as his coach always said, an incredibly hard worker.

Kit lives outside Philadelphia. Sean lives in Nashville. It was great to see them.

Of those four NCAA loses, the one that TigerBlog hated the most was the 50-48 one to Villanova in 1991. He wanted to see Kit's class get an NCAA win, and that was the last chance. Mueller and Jackson went 40 minutes each, and Kit ended up with 14 points and eight assists in the game.

TB watched Lance Miller's game-winning leaner in the lane with two seconds left from the football press box at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. He was the only one up there, far removed from his courtside seat, but he needed the analog telephone line to send his story through his Radio Shack word processor.

He was already annoyed, and got even more annoyed with each word he wrote. Then, after getting in a first edition story (that's stuff that newspaper people used to say), he went down to the lockerroom, where he talked to Carril and Mueller, which only made him still more annoyed.

In fact, the only other NCAA basketball loss that bothers TigerBlog more is the 1998 second-round loss to Michigan State. That game, in fact, bothers TB more than any other in any sport since he's been here.

Princeton was a top 10 team that year. Michigan State was a very tough second-round matchup, and the Spartans brought back four players from the team that beat Princeton as starters in their national championship run two years later.

Much like Miller's game-winner in Syracuse in 1991, TigerBlog can still see Mateen Cleaves' tiebreaking three-pointer from the top of the key in that 1998 game in Hartford. 

Grrrr. It still bothers TB.

Oh, and how long ago was that Princeton-Michigan State game.

It was 20 years ago today. And TB is still annoyed by it.

The Princeton-Villanova game was played on March 15, 1991. That's 27 years ago tomorrow.

Kit Mueller and Sean Jackson? They look like they could still be playing today.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tournament Thoughts

Have you ever come across one of those randomly placed sculptures on a street corner or in the middle of a college campus?

If so, then you know what TigerBlog is talking about when he says that the Ivy League basketball tournaments are like one of those sculptures. His point? You can ask the first 10 people who walk past it what they think, and you'll get 10 different answers.

That's the Ivy tournament.

You ask a bunch of people what they think, and you a bunch of answers:

"It's a beautiful sculpture."
"It's a beautiful sculpture, but it shouldn't be here."
"I don't like that they put it here, but I think it's a nice sculpture and I'm not sure where else I'd put it."
"It shows the inherent unfairness of the universe.
"It's just ugly."
"Why'd they have to put up a sculpture at all? That space was just fine for decades before that."

This past weekend was the second Ivy League tournament. Before anything else, TigerBlog would like to say that if you think putting on an event like that is easy, you're wrong. It's an incredible amount of work on the part of the Ivy League staff and TB's colleagues at Penn, and they are to be commended for the job they did.

As for the tournament itself, the first two years have seen pretty much every bad scenario possible as far as hosting the event at the Palestra is concerned. It started a year ago, when 14-0 Princeton had to play a 6-8 Penn team that was hot at the end of the year on Penn's home floor in the semifinal.

Then it continued this year, when Penn was the No. 2 seed in both the men's and women's tournament but got to be the host for both championship games. As someone who saw all of the men's game yesterday in person, TigerBlog can tell you that there is no question that the home court and the home crowd was a major factor in the 68-65 Quaker win over top-seeded Harvard.

TB, by the way, has to give Tommy Amaker credit for not changing his pre-tournament position of being in favor of having it at the Palestra once the game ended. 

On the other side, Princeton, the top seeded women's team, defeated Penn 63-34. Did home court matter there? Maybe being the top seed there was more important than being the host, since Princeton's game against Yale in the semifinal ended around 7:45, while Penn had to tough out a semifinal win over Harvard that didn't end until 10:30 or so. As a result of that, plus the changing of the clocks to daylight savings time, the Quakers had to tip with Princeton in the final 16.5 hours later.

Or maybe all things being equal, the home court would have meant everything, except all things weren't equal in the women's game, since Princeton had already beaten Penn twice, by 15 and 20 points, whereas Penn and Harvard men were obviously a very close matchup, and had split their regular season games.

For TigerBlog, there are two main issues that will drive all other discussions, and neither of those is the fairness of playing it on Penn's home court.

First, should the women's and men's tournaments continue to be held in the same place? Second, should the start times be dictated by TV.

Once you answer those questions, the rest will start to fall into place. What would TigerBlog do? He'd do what Courtney Banghart said in her press conference before the tournament and what he wrote he'd do years ago here: three plays two, winner plays one, on both sides. Two games one day. Two more the next. Gives the No. 1 seed a huge advantage.

Anyway, for two years, your Ivy tournament champ has been the No. 1 seed three times and the No. 2 seed once. And it was a No. 2 seed that tied for the league championship.

And that's enough about the Ivy tournament for now. It's time to look ahead at another tournament.

The NCAA tournament. The one that is the goal each year for Banghart and her team, and the one she will be taking Princeton to for the seventh time in nine years.

The women's Selection Show was held last night. TigerBlog didn't see the men's show Sunday night, but he's heard it was awful.

The women's wasn't awful. It was just a half-hour too long. Instead of using 30 minutes to reveal the matchups, ESPN took an hour and added in a bunch of short features that not one person watching wanted to see. Yes, the network has a captive audience and yes it will lose that audience once it announces all the teams and games.

So what do they do? Drag it out. And what is the result? Nobody likes the show.

Princeton had to wait longer than most teams to find out where it was headed. In fact the Tigers were in the last region announced.

Princeton is a No. 12 seed, perhaps a little lower than it might have deserved given its 27 RPI. Creighton, the No. 11 seed in the same region, has an RPI of 49.

But hey, Princeton has to play the team it's matched with, and that's Maryland, the No. 5 seed. The game will be Friday at noon in Raleigh, N.C.

Princeton, back in 2015, was 31-0 when it played in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and Maryland was the team that ended that run of perfection.

So maybe it would have been better karma to play someone other than Maryland. Of course, back then, Maryland was a No. 1 seed, and the game was played on Maryland's home court.

Plus, if you were a Princeton fan who was watching the selections, you couldn't have been too disappointed. First, Jay Bilas came on to talk about the tournament field, and he started to talk about how good Princeton's Bella Alarie is. UConn great Rebecca Lobo confirmed that thought, saying she'd watched Princeton's Ivy tournament final.

Then Bilas let on why he was so in tune with Alarie - she's his goddaughter. Her father, Mark, was Bilas' roommate at Duke.

Alarie, the Ivy League Player of the Year and tournament MVP, also came up against when Bilas was talking with UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who said that he'd seen Bella last summer with the U.S. U19 team and that she was the real deal.

And with that, the Ivy tournament talk is over and the selection show is over.

Now it's time to focus on the game. This is the goal from Day 1 for every Courtney Banghart team at Princeton. Play in the NCAA tournament.

For the seventh time in nine years, that goal will be achieved.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Where To Start? Men's Hockey? Women's Basketball?

TigerBlog is feeling a bit indecisive right now.

He can't even decide whether to nominate Austin Sims or Michael Sowers for Ivy League men's lacrosse player of the week. How is he supposed to decide whether to start today with women's basketball or men's hockey after the weekends they had?

At least he knows not to start with men's lacrosse, even after the dramatic 15-14 win over Rutgers Saturday in which both Sims and Sowers were dominant. Or does that count as starting with men's lacrosse?

No. It doesn't.

Since he can't make up his mind, he'll just start with Abby Meyers. The freshman on the women's basketball team nearly outscored Penn in the first half of the Ivy League tournament championship game by herself yesterday at the Palestra.

The final score was 63-34 Princeton, and this was one that basically over after the Tigers led 19-3 after the first quarter. By halftime it was 35-16, by which time Meyers had 15 all by herself on her way to a game-high 18.

She plays with complete control, composure and confidence, not to mention extraordinary skill. As great a shooter as she is - and it was almost stunning yesterday when the ball didn't go in when she shot it - she might be a better ballhandler. 

The way she plays reminds TigerBlog of someone he's seen wear a Princeton uniform. He sort of thought it all along, but it was really solidified by one move she made yesterday against Penn.
She started to drive the baseline and, finding it cut off, turned back the way she came. Then, without ever picking up her dribble, she doubled back, finishing with a reverse layup.

Mix that with the three-point shooting with the someone unorthodox release and the way she carries herself on the court, and she is the women's team's version of? ... TigerBlog will let you think about that for a few seconds.

Hint - this is really, really high praise.

As for the women, they couldn't have been more impressive in the Ivy tournament. They are the definition of a team, one that plays together so well, with pieces that complement each other exactly as necessary, all with a head coach - Courtney Banghart - who sets very high standards and never backs away from them.

The challenge this weekend was a Yale team that had beaten Princeton once this year already and then a Penn team that was the defending champ.

It started out with a 17-point, 17-rebound game from Bella Alarie in a 78-57 win. Then it was the game yesterday, in which Alarie, the tournament MVP, pulled own 17 more rebounds, while adding eight points and six blocks.

Princeton went 3-0 this year against Penn, with a 15-point win on the road (the Palestra), a 20-point win at home (Jadwin) and then a 29-point win on a neutral court (the Palestra). That's three wins by a total of 64 points.

Princeton played 16 games against Ivy teams this year. All 16 were decided by double figures, included two losses. Even with those, though, there was no doubt who the best team in the league was in 2017-18.

The reward is a seventh trip to the NCAA tournament in nine years - the other two featured WNIT bids. The selections will be announced tonight at 7.

And then there is the men's hockey team. And don't worry. TB is still letting you think about the Abby Meyers comparison.

The women's basketball team was the favorite all weekend. The men's hockey team was an underdog all weekend, not that it mattered.

Not to Ron Fogarty anyway. Like Banghart, Fogarty has set very high standards for his program. Like Banghart, he is not backing away from them.

The goals for both are very high every year. And then it becomes a matter of working to achieve them.

In the case of the men's hockey team, there was a very steep hill to climb. And yet climb it the Tigers have.

In fact, you want to hear a great stat? Princeton's current seniors have won as many ECAC playoff games this year as they won games their entire freshman season.

Princeton is 4-0 in the ECAC playoffs, following up the sweep against Brown in the opening round with a ridiculously impressive sweep at Union this weekend. Princeton was 0-17-3 in its last 20 games against Union, dating back to 2009, and 0-6-0 against Union the last two seasons combined, including a two-and-out in the ECAC quarterfinals last year.

This time? Princeton swept Union, advancing to Friday's ECAC semifinals in Lake Placid, where the seventh-seeded Tigers will take on top-seeded Cornell. It's Princeton's first semifinal appearance since 2009; the Tigers won the ECAC title in 1998 and 2008.

Princeton did this the hard way, twice snapping a tie game late, first in the final 2:09 on a goal from Liam Grande (followed by an empty net goal) in a 5-3 win in which the Tigers trailed 3-2 after two.

Then, in Game 2, the winner came with just 9.5 seconds left, the heroics provided by David Hallisey, in a 3-2 win.

You know what that's the sign of? A really, really tough team. That wasn't easy, what Princeton did this weekend.

Right now Princeton is an up-and-coming team, one that's playing with nothing to lose and a lot of confidence. It's a team that can score goals with any team in the country.

The game Friday should be a fun one.

The women's basketball team could also be playing Friday. Whenever they play, it will also be a fun one.

So congratulations to both teams. They both had extraordinary accomplishments.

And Abby Meyers?

She's the female Brian Earl, the 1999 men's Ivy League Player of the Year.

Like TB said, that's really, really high praise. 

Friday, March 9, 2018


Remember when TigerBlog was talking about how there's always a movie that you assume everyone has seen, so when you find someone who hasn't seen that movie, you immediately say "wait, you haven't see that?"

Well, TB had that interaction with Miss TigerBlog the other night. The movie in question? "Rocky."

Who in the world hasn't seen "Rocky?"

Turns out, Miss TigerBlog had not. This was stunning to TigerBlog, who saw it while flipping through the channels, while MTB was doing her homework with her earbuds in. When he finally got her attention, she said she hadn't seen it and "weren't there a lot of of these movies anyway?"

Yes, TB said. This was the original though. As he told her, this is the only movie that can be in the conversation with "Casablanca" and "The Godfather" as the greatest movie ever. And she hadn't seen it.

TigerBlog interrupted her homework to show her three scenes. The first was when Rocky drinks the raw eggs and then can't make it up the stairs of the art museum. The second was the famous training scene, set to the iconic "Gonna Fly Now."

It's HERE, if you need a little pick-me-up for your day.

MTB had never seen it before. When it was over, she said one word: inspiring.

Lastly, of course, there was the fight scene. She liked that one too, though it left her a bit confused as to whether or not he'd won.

TigerBlog, by the way, saw "Rocky" in the movies when it first came out. That was in 1976.

It dawns on TigerBlog that Courtney Banghart hadn't even been born yet. The Princeton women's basketball coach, who is not yet 40, has packed a lot of winning into her 30s.

In fact, the Ivy League title that Princeton just won was the sixth under Banghart, and her teams have made eight straight postseason appearances, including six in the NCAA tournament. This season will be her ninth in nine years, though which postseason tournament remains to be seen.

The Ivy League tournament begins tomorrow. The Princeton women are the top seed and as such will play fourth-seeded Yale in the first semifinal, at 6. No. 2 Penn plays No. 3 Harvard in the second semifinal at 8:30, and then the final is Sunday at 4.

Princeton played 14 Ivy League regular season games, and all 14 of them were decided by double figures, including its losses to Yale and Harvard. In other words, to get to the NCAA tournament, Princeton needs to first defeat a team that it has already lost to once by double figures and then, if it wins, beat either another team that it has already lost to by double figures or the defending champ on its home court.

Of course, Princeton also has double figure wins over Yale and Harvard and two of them over Penn. TigerBlog's prediction for the tournament is that by the time it ends around 6 on Sunday evening, the winner will have had some moments where it needed to gut it out.

Princeton is led by its two first-team All-Ivy League selections, Bella Alarie (not unanimous? C'mon. She's a completely rare talent in the Ivy League, and is there really a coach who thinks she's not one of the top five players right now?) and Leslie Robinson. Alarie was also the Ivy Player of the Year, the eighth sophomore to win the award. She joins Addie Micir, Niveen Rasheed twice and Blake Dietrick as Princeton players to win the award under Courtney Banghart.

As for TigerBlog, he'll be at Sherrerd Field tomorrow at 1 for the 96th meeting between Princeton and Rutgers in men's lacrosse and then will hustle to the Palestra for the Princeton-Yale game. Princeton and Rutgers have met every year since 1921, except for the World War II years of 1944 and 1945.

It's a big game for Princeton, an opportunity to get one over a Big 10 team that is a Top 10-type team. It should be a really good game. And then a ride to Philadelphia.

Beyond that, it's a typical busy weekend in Princeton Athletics. You can see the whole schedule HERE.

The Ivy League is in Year 2 of having its NCAA bid go to the Ivy tournament winner. There should be a lot of drama in Philadelphia.

You know. Just like in "Rocky."

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Snow And Ice

Did you know Princeton has the nation's leaders in both goals and assists in men's hockey?

TigerBlog will get back to that. First, he'd like to sum up the entirety of the frantic, breathless local news coverage from yesterday:

It snowed.

Okay, so it snowed a lot. It obviously snowed a lot. Why do the TV news people not just say how much it's going to snow, when it's going to start and when it's going to end? Why does every major snowstorm have to include lots of remotes to reporters who are demonstrating that it is, in fact, snowing. Or that it's heavy wet snow. Or just slushy.

TigerBlog doesn't like snow. He especially doesn't like when the snow lingers and lingers long after the storm ends. He measures winters not by how cold it is or home many inches of snow there are but how many days you have to see snow on the ground.

With that as a measurement, winter is going to hang on for awhile, he's guessing. Oh well.

All of this takes him back to Groundhog Day. The groundhog predicted that it would be six more weeks of winter, which means that winter should extend to March 16. That's another week or so.

The winter season at Princeton will extend beyond that, going to at least the NCAA fencing championships, which will be in another two weeks. There are other teams who want to be competing beyond that, including two who will be playing this weekend.

One is the women's basketball team. The Tigers are in the Ivy League tournament starting Saturday at 6 against Yale at the Palestra. There will be a ninth straight postseason for the Tigers, since as the league champion Princeton is guaranteed at least an WNIT bid.

Princeton, though, would like to play in the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in nine years. To make that happen, the Tigers need to win the Ivy tournament first.

TigerBlog will talk more about the Ivy tournament tomorrow. For today, he'll focus on another team who competes in the league playoffs this weekend.

The men's hockey team defeated Brown 8-2 ad 7-1 a week ago in the opening round of the ECAC playoffs. The reward is a trip to Union for the quarterfinal round, with the hope to advance to the ECAC semifinals in Lake Placid.

It's a repeat of sorts of a year ago, when Princeton won an ECAC series at home (against Colgate) and then lost in two straight at Union. The difference between a year ago and now is that the Princeton-Colgate series went three very intense, very close games in a series where neither team ever led by more than two at any point of any game.

Princeton was swept at Union last year, losing 4-1 and 4-3 to the Dutchmen. Those scores, by the way, are the ones by which Princeton lost to Union during this regular season, 4-3 in overtime way back on Nov. 10 and then 4-1 on Feb. 17, when Princeton honored its 1998 and 2008 ECAC championship teams.

Here's an interesting little note about Princeton men's hockey: Princeton is 30-22-6 in its last 58 games; during that time, Princeton is 0-6-0 against Union and 30-16-6 against everyone else.

Going back further, Princeton has not defeated Union since the 2009 season. That's a span of 20 games without a win and a record of 0-17-3 during that time.

Princeton is the seventh seed in the tournament. Union is No. 2.

The other quarterfinal series have No. 6 Colgate and No. 3 Clarkson, No. 9 Quinnipiac at No. 1 Cornell and No. 5 Dartmouth at No. 4 Harvard.

Princeton, at 3.71 goals per game, is the No. 1 scoring offense team in the ECAC.

And then there are the individual numbers.

Ryan Kuffner leads Division I in goals per game with 28 goals in 31 games. Princeton also has the three, four and five leading goal scorers in the ECAC with David Hallisey, Max Veronneau and Eric Robinson.

Veronneau leads Division I in assists per game at 1.13, with 35 in 31 games. His 35 assists are second in a season at Princeton, behind John Messuri in the 1988-89 season.

Princeton actually has three of the top 16 assist leaders in the NCAA and the top three in the ECAC, with Josh Teves and Jackson Cressey not all that far behind Veronneau.

So yes, Princeton can score goals. And maybe Princeton is due for a win, or hopefully two, against Union.

TB has had enough of the snow. He'd be fine with a few more weeks of ice though.