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.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Final Cut

Because the men's basketball game was played at the same time Saturday night, there was no radio for the men's lacrosse game at Johns Hopkins.

For TigerBlog it was a bit weird. He's used to doing radio at road games and stats at home games. At Hopkins he had nothing to do.

TigerBlog can't begin to imagine how many games he's done on the radio at Princeton, dating back to a 1989 men's basketball game against Arkansas-Little Rock. He's done a lot though.

Does that qualify him to be a local radio personality?

He asks this because of the story he saw in which Rich Kimball - who is called "a local radio personality" and not a doctor accused of killing his wife who was freed while being transported to prison and forced to constantly switch identities while he searches for a one-armed man who actually committed the crime (it was a way better series than movie) - reported that Richard Barron would be named the head men's basketball coach at the University of Maine. As it turns out, Kimball was right (so, too, was Richard Kimble).

Maine announced yesterday that Barron would in fact be the new head men's coach for the Black Bears. You can read about it HERE.

Barron should be familiar to Princeton fans. He was the women's basketball coach here for the six season before Courtney Banghart took over.

You're not going to find too many nicer people than Richard Barron. And now he's in an interesting spot. TB hoped to see how many former women's coaches have taken over men's teams, but he couldn't find a list anywhere.

There are a lot of men who coach women's teams. It's harder to find women who coach men's teams. A local Mercer County high school has had a woman who has coached the boys' team for years with great success, but that's a rarity.

Why is that?

Would Courtney be able to coach a men's team? She certainly wouldn't be intimidated, and they certainly would listen to her. Perhaps TB will bring this up on the next episode of "The Court Report," the weekly podcast they do.

TB and Courtney have done their podcast each week this season. The most recent one, which is up today, talks about Princeton as it heads into the Ivy League tournament.

In case you forgot, the Tigers are the top seed in the tournament, and they will take on fourth-seeded Yale at 6 Saturday at the Palestra. The other semifinal matches No. 2 Penn and No. 3 Harvard at 8:30, and the final is Sunday at 4.

To the winner goes the NCAA tournament automatic bid. Princeton will be the Ivy champion for 2018, regardless of what happens in the tournament.

If you want to buy tickets, you can do so HERE.

TB and Courtney will do "The Court Report" through the end of the season. On the men's side, the series "Hard Cuts" has reached its conclusion, after 21 episodes that took you through the entire season.

If nothing else, "Hard Cuts" shows how long and grueling a college basketball season is. Hopefully the series gave you a sense of the people involved in Princeton men's basketball and what they're like beyond just what you see on the court.

The driving forces behind "Hard Cuts" were Director of Men's Basketball Operations Chris Mongilia and Princeton Athletics filmmaker John Bullis. Together they came up with the different episodes each week, and the finished product was done by Bullis. Judging by the number of people who watched, it was a very successful endeavor.

The men's basketball team didn't have the kind of season it would have hoped. It is perhaps a small consolation at least that senior Amir Bell earned the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Award and that juniors Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens were second-team All-Ivy picks.

Even after the grind of the season, there probably isn't a returning player who doesn't want to get going on 2018-19 already. For seniors everywhere - and in Princeton's case, that's Bell, Alec Brennan, Mike LeBlanc and Aaron Young, the subject of the final "Hard Cuts" - the immediacy of knowing that their college careers have ended is hash and unforgiving.

And sometimes very public. And that brings TB to Sydney Johnson, the 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year here who then coached the Tigers to the 2011 NCAA tournament and a two-point loss to Kentucky. Sydney is now the head coach at Fairfield, and he found himself in the middle of a rather poignant moment with Tyler Nelson, the Stags' all-time leading scorer, as the final seconds were about to tick away on the MAAC final, which Fairfield would lose to Iona.

You can see it HERE.

March is known for its emotions. And there are a lot more of them to come. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Okay Smart Guys

You remember Ernie, right?

TigerBlog has mentioned him a bunch of times. He's the amiable head of athletic communications at Johns Hopkins, and he and TB go way back.

It's always good to see Ernie, either at a Princeton-Hopkins game or at an NCAA game, like this past Saturday night, when TB was in Baltimore for the 88th meeting between the Tigers and Blue Jays.

It was a busy night at Hopkins. And a windy one.

If you've ever been to Hopkins, you know that the lacrosse/football stadium is called Homewood Field, and it's one of only two places in college lacrosse that has more NCAA men's lacrosse championship banners than Sherrerd Field here at Princeton.

If you're on the press box side of Homewood, then to your right is the baseball field. It's a FieldTurf field, and a really nice one. This past Saturday, there was a doubleheader on it, which meant a very long, very frozen day for the Blue Jays baseball team.

Homewood hosted a lacrosse doubleheader, as the women's team defeated Furman 19-0 before Princeton's 16-9 loss to the Hopkins men.

And behind Homewood was the building that also is home to the basketball arena. The men's lacrosse game began at 6. At 8 was an NCAA second-round men's basketball game between Johns Hopkins and MIT.

What did Ernie have to say about that game?

"First one to 1600 wins."

If you need TB to explain the joke, then chances are you didn't get 1600.

MIT would end up winning the game, which was a pretty good one. TigerBlog wrote his lacrosse story from press row there, so he got to see about 15 minutes of the game.

Like most Division III facilities, the gym at Hopkins is relatively small, which means it gets relatively loud when it's filled, like it was for the NCAA game. It was the first Division III basketball game TB has seen in a long time, and it took him back to when he covered Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) games for five years.

Back then, there'd be Princeton on Friday and Saturday nights, with TSC (or TCNJ) games and Rider games mixed in during the week. There were also days when he'd be at one of the other two Saturday afternoon and Princeton at night.

Anyway, Princeton's lacrosse locker room was down a stairwell, where it always is. MIT's was next to Princeton, with a shared common area at the bottom of the stairs.

TB was standing in that common area as the Princeton players started to leave and head up the stairs after showering. This was also halftime of the basketball game, so the MIT players were coming down the stairs and passing the Princeton players as they did.

Princeton and MIT. At Johns Hopkins.

That's a lot of smart athletes in a small space.

Yes, the lure of playing in games like the Big East men's basketball championship game at Madison Square Garden is huge. The problem is that too many people think of college athletics simply as that, or big-time college football - and with both come all the excesses that cause all the very familiar problems.

Most of the people playing college sports are doing so because they love the sport they play and are honored and lucky to be able to continue to play it. Some, like the athletes TB saw Saturday night from all three schools, are doing so while at some of the most difficult academic schools in the world.

And they love to play just as much as any athlete who is wearing an Oklahoma football uniform. And it's just as important to them.

If you want to see some more smart guys, you can come to Sherrerd Field tonight at 6. It'll be Princeton against NJIT in men's lacrosse.

If you don't know much about NJIT, it's an elite engineering school. It's also one trying to make its way in the world of lacrosse.

The team is in its fourth year. This will be the third meeting with Princeton, who has won the first two by a combined 43-12.

Up next for Princeton will be Rutgers here Saturday at 1, followed by Penn in the Ivy opener a week from Saturday at 4. The season has just started, but it will zoom by.

Speaking of zooming, Michael Sowers has zoomed to the brink of 100 career points. He enters tonight's game with 97 of them, with 46 goals and 51 assists, in 18 career games.

Should he get three points within the next three games, he will become the fastest Princeton player to reach the 100 point mark. Currently the record is 22 games, set by Wick Sollers and David Tickner, who both did it in the same game, back in 1976.

Anyway, it's Princeton and NJIT tonight at 6.

It's another matchup of smart guys.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Windy And Wild

As extraordinary weekends go, it's hard to beat this past one, and not just because the winds around here threatened to blow Mercer County into Monmouth County and Monmouth County into the Atlantic Ocean.

The storm that came through here wasn't remarkable because of the amount of snow (not a lot) or rain (annoying but dealable, if that is a word, which it isn't) but for the wind, which was incredible and long-lasting.

If you've ever driven down I-95 from Princeton to Baltimore, you know of the Millard Tydings Bridge, which crosses the Susquehanna River and connects Cecil County and Harford County in Maryland. The winds were so bad Friday that the bridge was closed, which turned the trip for the men's lacrosse bus from Princeton to Johns Hopkins from its usual two-plus hours into a nightmarish 6:30.

And that was nothing compared to what happened to Georgetown's men's lacrosse team, who apparently was on its bus for nearly 24 hours in an attempt to get to Hofstra, only to not get anywhere near Hempstead and have to turn around.

Millard Tydings, by the way, was a longtime U.S. Senator from Maryland whose granddaughter Eleanor played lacrosse at Princeton.

Anyway, that's not the extraordinary stuff that TigerBlog meant earlier.

He's talking about Princeton basketball.

Princeton's women's team went into the weekend needing one win (or Penn loss) to clinch at least a share of the Ivy League title and the top seed in the upcoming Ivy League tournament. With a combination of two Princeton wins or Penn losses, the Tigers would get the outright Ivy title.

The drama about getting a share of the championship and the top seed vanished relatively quickly, as Princeton built a 16-point lead at the end of the first quarter Friday night against Brown. The Tigers were never really threatened from there, en route to a 79-44 win.

In the end, it was a night for history at Jadwin Gym, and not just because Princeton won another Ivy title. If you're keeping scoring, that's six under Courtney Banghart.

The real history came from Leslie Robinson, who finished with 10 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, giving her a triple double. A rare triple double. Probably an unprecedented triple double.

A triple double, by the way, is when a player has double figures in three statistical categories in the same game. TigerBlog has researched the men's side, and no men's player has ever had one - though assists weren't kept as a stat until after Bill Bradley played.

As for the women, there's nothing to suggest that this wasn't the first triple double in Princeton history. In fact, it is believed to be the second in Ivy history along with one by Carla Kelly of Cornell back in 1988. If further investigating reveals otherwise, then TB will issue a correction here.

Triple double aside, Robinson's passing has been extraordinary this season. She is part of a lineup that is deep and balanced as it heads into the Ivy tournament.

Not that it'll be an easy trip to the Palestra this coming weekend. First up, Saturday at 6, will be Yale, a team that has already beaten Princeton by double digits this year. The winner of that game gets either Harvard, the other team to have defeated Princeton in the league, or Penn, the host team and defending Ivy tournament champ.

While Robinson was putting up her historic numbers, the men's team was going through something extraordinary as well.

When the weekend started, the men needed five outcomes to get them into the Ivy tournament - wins at Brown and Yale, a Cornell loss to Harvard and Columbia losses to Dartmouth and Harvard.

TigerBlog kept checking his phone for updates as he watched the women's game and then the men's hockey ECAC opening round game. The men's hockey team, by the way, would outscore Brown 15-3 in the two-game sweep.

It became clear quickly that Princeton was going to beat Brown. It seemed to be clear that Columbia was going to lose to Dartmouth, since the Big Green were up by about 15 or so every time TB looked. It also was clear that Harvard-Cornell would be close.

The next thing TB knew, Dartmouth had beaten Columbia by two. Close, yes, but it was what Princeton needed.

With the win over Brown completed and the Columbia loss, Princeton now needed Harvard to beat Cornell. This put Princeton fans everywhere in the really, really weird position of rooting for Harvard to knock off Brian Earl, the former Princeton great who is now the head coach at Cornell.

Harvard would eventually do so, even if it took two overtimes. The entire time, every Princeton fan had to be thinking like TB: "Sorry Brian. Sorry Brian. Sorry Brian."

And so that brought about Saturday night. Now Princeton needed a Yale win and a Columbia loss to Harvard, something that seemed pretty likely, given that the Crimson were playing for the top seed and a share of the championship. That game was never a total blowout, but Harvard was in control start to finish.

By that time, Cornell had finished off Dartmouth, and that meant the Ivy tournament was down to this: Harvard the top seed, Penn (the co-champ) the second seed, Yale the third seed and then either Princeton (with a win at Yale) or Cornell (with a Yale win over Princeton) as the fourth seed.

The men's lacrosse game at Johns Hopkins was wrapping up at the same time, and so TB was trying to follow hoops on his phone. He saw Princeton was behind pretty much the whole way, but when he checked it one last time, he saw that the Tigers had forced OT. The wild weekend continued.

In the end, Yale made the backbreaking three to snap a tie in that OT, and Princeton would eventually fall just short. The Tigers' absence sends Brian Earl and his Big Red to Philadelphia instead.
For Princeton, it's a disappointing end to a season that had some great moments, one year after the Tigers went 16-0 to win the regular season and first tournament. Those kinds of seasons don't happen every day, as it were.

For Brian Earl, it's a remarkable coaching achievement in Year 2 in Ithaca. No, his team didn't win the league or even reach .500 in the league, but getting the Big Red into the tournament warrants Ivy Coach of the Year honors in TB's eyes.

And now Princeton fans are free to root for him guilt-free next weekend.

TigerBlog certainly will be.