Friday, March 24, 2017

Thoughts About JT3 On A Lax Game Day

TigerBlog was going to start out today with some memories of the 1991 Princeton-Yale men's lacrosse game.

Though the 1990 season was his first covering the team, he didn't go to any of the league road games. The first one he went to was when Princeton played at Yale in the 1991 season.

One of his biggest memories of that game, which was played on April 6, was that it had to have been 80 degrees. It was really hot that day.

He tried to find the temperature, first in the box score or postgame release - it wasn't there - and then by doing a search for things like "temperature in New Haven, Conn., on April 6, 1991." Yeah, he got nowhere with that either.

Then he got distracted by the news that John Thompson III was out as Georgetown men's basketball coach.

John spent the last 13 years as the coach of the Hoyas. The high-water mark was when he took the team to the Final Four in 2007,  but his resume also includes 11 postseason trips, including eight to the NCAA tournament, and three Big East regular-season championships.

Before he became the coach at Georgetown, he was the head coach at Princeton. He took over the program in September 2000 when Bill Carmody left for Northwestern, which left him with very little time to prepare for the coming season.

Despite that, and despite the loss of what he might have thought would be his starting five that year - including when Chris Young signed a baseball contract - Thompson led Princeton to the 2000-01 Ivy League title and NCAA tournament. He would win three Ivy titles in four years, and he would have an NIT appearance and then another NCAA trip in 2004, his last with the program.

His last two years at Georgetown saw the Hoyas have losing records and not make the postseason. He chose a tough profession in a tough league, the Big East, where long-term accomplishments fade into the "what-have-you-done-lately" way of looking at things.

 TigerBlog supposes he gets that piece of it.

Maybe John Thompson didn't match the success of the mid-2000s in recent years, though he did win the Big East title as recently as 2013. And the Hoyas didn't go deep in the NCAAs.

At the same time, he has won around two-thirds of his games as a head coach, at Princeton and at Georgetown. In fact, his career record stands at 346-193.

TigerBlog sat a table with John Thompson in an Outback Steakhouse in Muncie, Ind., after the first of all of those wins. It was on Dec. 1, 2000, when Princeton defeated Weber State 65-60 in overtime in the first round of a tournament at Ball State. Princeton had four players in double figures that night - Kyle Wente, C.J. Chapman, Mike Bechtold and Ed Persia.

Of all the teams that TB has been around during his time at Princeton, the 2000-01 men's basketball team is way up there among his favorites. It's largely because it was front-row seat to watch John Thompson in his first go-round as a head coach, with a team that wasn't expected to do much and yet won an Ivy championship.

And, before that, the championship at the First Merchants Classic, beating the home team 49-47 in the final. Nate Walton had 15 in the championship game.

TigerBlog, for some reason, remembers a lot about that trip to Muncie. His most vivid memory, though, is sitting at that Outback Steakhouse, after that first win, on that very cold Indiana Friday night.

John Thompson ordered a steak, one that came with a salad. He told the waitress he didn't want the salad, even though it came with his meal, and she said she'd bring it anyway and maybe someone else would eat it. TigerBlog did.

The salad aside, what TB remembers most about that night was the way Thompson carried himself. It was like he'd been a head coach for 20 years already, not three games. He wasn't really all that excited that they'd won. He was happy, of course, but the focus was really on the next game, who played well, what need to improve, other college basketball games, what was going on in the rest of the world.

He was already a veteran. He was, TB supposes, born into it and trained for it, with his Hall-of-Fame father (John Thompson) and Hall-of-Fame coach (Pete Carril).

That moment in the restaurant always stuck with TigerBlog when he saw Thompson coach, the rest of his time at Princeton and then at Georgetown. His record in close games was very good, and TB always chalked that up to the demeanor that he showed in the Outback Steakhouse that night.

If you don't know John Thompson III, he's about as high-quality a human being as TB has ever met. What words leap to mind to describe him? Genuine. Loyal. Smart. Dynamic. Deep.

He and his wife Monica have been leaders in the Washington, D.C., community for years with their foundation.  Who knows how many people they've helped?

TigerBlog is interested to see what John does next. TB has always thought he'd make a great NCAA president - or possibly U.S. President. At least Governor Thompson or Senator Thompson.

If he wants to coach again, he will. He'd be great on TV. He'd be a great administrator somewhere.

Anyway, the men's lacrosse team plays Yale today at 2. You can see the game on ESPNU if you can't get out to Sherrerd Field.

It won't be 80 degrees, but it is a very intriguing matchup, the rising Tigers against the preseason favorite Bulldogs. And throw in that the last three meetings between the teams have all been 11-10 scores and the last seven regular-season meetings have all been one-goal games.

TigerBlog was going to spend the whole day today talking about that game, but then he changed his mind. He wanted to talk about John Thompson instead.

When the news from Georgetown came out, TigerBlog heard from a lot of people, especially people who worked at Princeton when Thompson was there. They agree with what TB thinks.

You don't meet many people in your life who impress you the way John Thompson does.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Quite Puzzling

TigerBlog is a big fan of puzzles.

He plays a game on his phone called "Word Streak," where the object is to take four rows and four columns of letters and use those letters to make as many words as possible up and down, side to side and diagonally in two minutes. There are three rounds, and in the second and third rounds, some of the letters become more valuable.

TigerBlog also likes the Jumble. You've seen that one. Unscramble four words and then use the bonus letters to solve the riddle. And he plays Guess My Word, in which the player enters a word and then is told if the answer word is either before or after that word alphabetically. The goal is to keep entering words until you zero in on the correct one.

TigerBlog always starts with the same word. Hilarious. No, it's not hilarious that he starts with that word. Hilarious is the word he starts with each time. He's not sure how he picked that one.

There are also two good puzzles on the USA Today puzzle page. There's Seven Little Words, in which clues are given as to the word and how many letters it is and then there are either two- or three-letter blocks that are then combined into words. The other one is Up And Down Words, which is sort of like a mini-crossword puzzle.

The point of the puzzles is that they're fun, but it's also been proven that playing such puzzles helps with long-term memory issues. TigerBlog is all about that.

In the area of things that TB is not all about, by the way, he got two emails this week that were a bit startling. One was advertising a product called the "germ-zapping robot," which of course TB wanted to immediately order. The other was an email from Miss TigerBlog's school, with the subject line "Important Health Notice." Nothing good was going to follow that, so TB simply deleted it.

Anyway, back at the whole memory thing, TigerBlog feels like he has a pretty good memory. He can remember scores and details of games from decades ago, going back to the first high school games he ever covered, which was a long time ago.

He can remember movie lines, song lyrics, even entire children's books. Seriously. He can recite the entire "The Cat In The Hat" from memory, and he does so every few months just to make sure he still can - "but i like to be here, oh i like it a lot, said the cat in the hat to the fish in the pot."

This is spring break at Princeton. There are teams all over the place, with tons of events. In fact, there are almost as many events today and tomorrow (15) and there are Saturday and Sunday (18).

As TB began to think about it, he couldn't help but remember that, for all the things in his life he can remember, he has absolutely no memory of what he ever did during spring break when he was in college. And not in the "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" way. In the "no idea, but whatever it was, it couldn't have been that exciting" way.

As for Princeton Athletics this week, the big event of spring break is the end of the winter season.

The men's and women's fencing teams are in Indianapolis for Day 1 of four of the NCAA championships. It's a co-ed championship, and teams earn points for each match in each weapon for both men and women. There are also individual championships for each weapon, with qualifying for the semifinals based on how each fencer does in the team competition.

Princeton will be looking for a top four finish for the sixth straight year. The Tigers won the team championship in 2013, and both the men's and women's teams won Ivy League titles his year.

Princeton has qualified 11 fencers, one short of the maximum. For much more information on the event from TB's colleague Andrew Borders, click HERE.

The fencing championships will mark the end of the winter sports season at Princeton. 

As for spring teams, this weekend will be the start of rowing season, with the men's lightweights and heavyweights and the women's open team all on Lake Carnegie Saturday.

The rowing, and the men's lacrosse game tomorrow against Yale (it's possible TB will have more on that tomorrow), are the only home events for the weekend. In fact, Princeton has as many teams, four, in California as in Princeton.

Those four are softball (who will go from California to New York for games this weekend), men's tennis, women's tennis and women's water polo. There's a huge game in women's water polo tonight, as Ashleigh Johnson and the Tigers are at No. 1 Southern Cal. The game can be seen on the Pac-12 Network.

The men's volleyball team is also on West, with matches at Grand Canyon tonight and tomorrow.

So to sum it all up, if you want to see Princeton play this weekend, your best bet is to either stay in town or fly 3,000 miles away.

But hey, it's spring break. Why not get away?

TigerBlog did when he was in school. Maybe. Or maybe not.

He can remember this: "then we saw him pick up all the things that were down; he picked up the cake and the rake and the gown" - but not what he did for spring break.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

All The Gin Joints In All The Towns In All The World

Your favorite part of "Casablanca" is probably when Rick tells Ilsa that they'll always have Paris.

Actually, it's probably his whole speech at the end. The best moment of that scene is when Louis points out to Rick that he was lying the whole time and that Ilsa knew it too.

It's possible that "Casablanca" is TigerBlog's favorite movie of all-time. If it isn't, it's in the top three, or maybe just two, along with another story of tragic romance - "The Godfather."

TigerBlog has a million favorite lines from "Casablanca." Maybe the best is the toast Rick makes - "Here's looking at you kid." Or when he tells Ilsa exactly what TigerBlog would have said in that situation: "I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray. You wore blue."

Or when Laszlo calls Rick out for his attempted cynicism, when he says "You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart."

There are others, including, of course, "Play it. Play it Sam." Not "Play it again, Sam," which Rick never says.

You know the end of "Casablanca," when the plane takes off, Rick takes care of outstanding business and then he and Louis walk off into the fog, talking about how this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

If you've never seen it, then TB probably just ruined some of it for you, for which he apologizes. On the other had, the movie was from 1942, and if you haven't seen it yet, then you're probably not going to.

One thing that TB always thinks is interesting is when he sees movies about World War II that were filmed before the war ended. "Casablanca" is one of them.

When the movie was filmed, the Germans were at their peak of European control, and the outcome of the war - and especially the future of France - were very much unknown. Signor Ferrari - played by the great Sydney Greenstreet - sums up what many people at the time were thinking when he says to Victor: "It would take a miracle to get you out of Casablanca, and the Germans have outlawed miracles."

Was the movie meant to help spur the war effort? Was it a sign that all was not lost? It's easy to look at it in the context of the end of the war. At the time? Who knew what was going to happen.

Here's a question for you: You saw the plane take off in Casablanca, but where was it going to land?

This one is easy. Lisbon. That was the route. To Lisbon, and then to America.

It was much easier for the Princeton men's soccer team to get to Lisbon than it was for Ilsa and Victor.

The Tigers are in the middle of their spring break trip to Portugal. The Tigers are staying in Lisbon for the entire time, playing a few games against local clubs, practicing, doing some community service and seeing a professional game and a World Cup qualifier Saturday between Portugal and Hungary.

TigerBlog can relate to this in two ways.

First, when he was with the Princeton men's lacrosse team in Costa Rica in 2012, he saw a World Cup qualifier between Los Ticos and El Salvador, and he can say that he has never been to anything quite like it. Second, last fall he spent a week with the men's lacrosse team in, of course, Portugal.

The trips were a little different. The first half of the lacrosse trip was in the South of the country, where, among other things, TB got to zipline from Spain back into Portugal. It wasn't until midweek that Princeton drove up to Lisbon for the rest of the tour, which included three games against the English national team.

The men's soccer team is staying in the same hotel that the men's lacrosse team did. It's outside of Lisbon, across the river, and it's on a hill above the beach.

When TB found out that the soccer team was going to Portugal, he had one recommendation for head coach Jim Barlow. It's the same recommendation that the entire men's lacrosse staff made - get Francisco to be your guide while you're there. And that's what he did.

TigerBlog wrote this about Francisco last fall:
To pull off a trip like the one Princeton is currently on, you need someone who can keep everyone organized and on schedule and most importantly who can read his audience. You need someone who laughs and makes the group laugh. You need someone who can teach you about the country without making it seem like you're in a classroom. Francisco is great at all of that. He's low-key. Nothing seems to bother him. He's just a nice guy.

Barlow would second all of that now. Actually he did, when he texted TigerBlog the other day to say that Francisco said hi and that Francisco was great.

TigerBlog had a great experience in Portugal. He's assuming the men's soccer team is as well.

The Tigers played their first game on their trip yesterday, tying the Sporting U-20 team 2-2. TigerBlog wondered if they played American college rules or international rules, or perhaps some hybrid.

Of all of the experiences that teams have at Princeton, the opportunity to travel internationally is way up there. It's not something any of them should take for granted, but it is something that they'll remember forever - a week in a foreign country, with their teammates and best friends.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Statting With Zack

In some ways, the person Zack DiGregorio most reminds TigerBlog of is, well, TigerBlog.

No offense, Zack. And no offense to his parents, Steve and Nadia, either.

TigerBlog means it well. Zack is a nice guy. Funny. He has some healthy sarcasm to him. He never really seems like he's taking things too seriously, even when he is.

TigerBlog has known Zack since Day 1 of Zack's life. Steve used to be an assistant football coach at Princeton, and he and TB have stayed very close since Steve left here nearly 20 years ago.

Zack grew up in Princeton, and he was a regular his whole childhood at Jadwin Gym. He was a longtime Princeton ballboy for men's basketball in what his dad would call the "Golden Age of Princeton ballboys," along with Lior Levy, son of former Princeton player and coach Howard Levy, and TigerBlog Jr.

Back in 2014, TigerBlog wrote this about Zack, shortly before he left for college:
As for Zach, he's TigerBlog's favorite kind of kid, or young adult, or adult, or whatever kids his age are. He calls TB by his first name, but not in a disrespectful way. He fits in naturally in a group of people his age, but he can also fit in with the group of parents too, without coming across as a suck-up or phony. He laughs at all the right times. He speaks enough to let you know he's comfortable making his point but not too much that he becomes a pompous know-it-all, like a lot late teenagers do. He has a strong handshake, and he looks adults right in the eyes.

Other than the fact that Zack is no longer a teenager, all that still stands.

These days, Zack is a junior at, of all places, Penn. Again, that's something he and TB have in common.

When Zack was first leaving to be a Penn student, TigerBlog connected him with his colleagues in the Penn athletic communications office, and Zack has been a regular there from the start of his college career. That is, when he's not playing sprint football or writing well-thought columns for the Daily Pennsylvanian on a variety of sports and issues, columns his father forwards to TB.

The Princeton men's lacrosse team played at Penn this past Saturday, and it was a busy day for the Quaker athletic communications staff. Knowing full well that TB would never refuse such a request, Penn asked if TB would help out by doing the stats for the game from Franklin Field. Usually, it's the home team who will keep the stats, but TB said sure, not a problem.

The only issue was that he needed a spotter. And so he enlisted the only Penn student worker he knows.

Zack, being the hard-worker he is, said of course he was in. There was only one small detail - Zack knows next to nothing about lacrosse.

That's okay, TB told him. He just needed someone who could uniform numbers.

And so there they were, the two of them, in the broadcast perch side of Franklin Field, which for lacrosse means opposite the benches. Franklin Field is a tremendous, historic old facility, one in which the Philadelphia Eagles used to play and in which TB used to play intramural sports.

If you've ever been in the broadcast perch, you know that it 1) gives a perfect view of the field and 2) has zero frills. And on a cold rainy Saturday, it provided very little protection from the elements.

Still, even with the shaky weather, it was still fun. And a little different.

Before the game started, TigerBlog told Zack to keep an eye on No. 22 from Princeton and that he was a special player. That became obvious early, when No. 22 - Michael Sowers - put up three goals and two assists in the first 23 minutes, en route to a five-goal, four-assist day in the 17-8 Tiger win.

Even Zack figured that part out.

As the game went along, Zack didn't really have to do much. When TB did ask him for the number of a player who had a ground ball or caused a turnover, it usually went something like this:
TB: What number is the guy on the crease who knocked the ball away?
Zack (pointing 50 yards in the wrong direction): Him?
TB: Never mind. Got it.

In truth, Zack was very helpful. And, as someone who has worked in college athletic communications for a long time, TB can tell you that when you find a student-worker you can trust to handle basically all of the responsibilities of a game, you have something really rare. It's obvious that the people had Penn have their full faith in Zack.

As for the game, it was also a running commentary back and forth between Zack and TB about anything and everything, lacrosse and otherwise. TB couldn't help but laugh every time Zack would say something that sounded like what TB might have said - like when Zack praised his own calf muscles.

And of course, TigerBlog was once again struck by how time has gone by, and now the next generation of his friends' families are starting to take their places in the world - just like his own kids are.

First it was Patrick McCarthy, Tom McCarthy's son, with whom TB did several men's basketball games on the radio this winter. And now it was Zack DiGregorio, Digger's son, with whom TB was now doing, of all random things, lacrosse stats.

TigerBlog remembers when they were born. He'd seen them grow up, and when he hadn't seen them, he heard from their fathers - two of his best friends - how they were doing, what was new, what they were into, where they were headed.

For Zack, that could be law school. As a Penn junior, TigerBlog thought the same thing for his own future, until he was distracted for, oh, nearly 35 years by what he does now.

Wherever he's headed, Zack will get there. Some kids, adults, whatever - you can just tell. Zack is one of them.

In the meantime, he can keep going down the path of his life at Penn. He's an athlete. He's a writer. He's a student-worker. He's a pre-law student.

And for one damp Saturday, he was a lacrosse spotter. TigerBlog was there too, back at his alma mater, with the son of one of his best friends.

TigerBlog has kept stats at a few hundred lacrosse games.

This one he'll remember for a little longer than most.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What A Difference A Week Makes

TigerBlog was in Franklin Field when he remembered that he had left something important in his car.

It was his sandwich. Tuna, on a plain bagel, to be exact.

This actually the second time he had to go back to the parking lot. The first was to get his umbrella, the big one that says "Education Through Athletics" on it.

The second time, he went out at the closed end of the stadium, through an old rusty gate. He walked around the sidewalk, past some football practice equipment and then towards the bridge to Penn Park.

He walked back to his car, got the sandwich and started back to the stadium, which would be the site of the Princeton-Penn men's lacrosse game, scheduled to start in exactly 90 minutes.

There was nobody else in the parking lot. There were no other people anywhere, it seemed.

As he walked past the back of the Palestra, there was no excitement in the building, only a few workers finishing some project or another. It dawned on TB as he walked by that at that moment exactly seven days earlier, Princeton and Penn were tipping off in their Ivy League men's basketball semifinal.

There had been buzz there at that moment. The same was true six days to the minute earlier, as Princeton at that time was starting to pull away from Yale in the Ivy championship game.

At this one? There was just gray, cold drizzle.

Oh what a difference seven days can make.

When TB had been on that spot a week earlier, there was buzz. When he came back, there was nothing even close.

The NCAA men's basketball tournament is definitely unique. As TB has said many times before, it is the only major sporting event that he can think of that gets worse as it goes along.

In fact, the best part of the NCAA tournament is over. The best two parts, actually.

First is the build up to the selections. The teams have no idea where they're going, and any speculation is just that, speculation. If you've never been around a team that's about to find out its fate, there are few things to compare in college athletics as when its name comes up and the entire group explodes.

The absolute best part of the entire event is Thursday and Friday, when there are 32 games, 16 each day, starting at noon and running deep into the night. If this game isn't good, that one on the next channel is.

It's wall-to-wall, different venues, different stations, different announcers, teams you don't usually see, teams from smaller conferences who never get a chance to play teams from the power conferences anywhere other than the power team's home court.

It's the best part.

Now it's down to the Sweet 16, which is still okay. And then the Final Four, which is overhyped.

Nope, the best part of the tournament has come and gone.

But not without a few thoughts about what TB has seen to date:

* TB's favorite part of the games he did see this weekend was during North Carolina-Arkansas, when the TV camera showed John Thompson - the other one, not the Princeton one - as he did the Westwood 1 radio feed. And who was there with him? Former Princeton play-by-play man John Sadak, who is certainly on the rise in his broadcasting career, well-deservingly so. 

* What is the point of instant replay in college basketball? Is it to put tenths of seconds back on the clock or is to correct clearly wrong calls? Northwestern was hurt - but not beaten - by an obvious non-call of goaltending, which was compounded by the technical foul called against Wildcats coach Chris Collins for protesting. The worst part about the replays is that they grind the game to halt, often for no reason at all. Reset the clock to 28.2 instead of 28.5? But here was a legitimately wrong call, one that the rules prevent from being corrected. Why can't calls like that be reviewed? The argument is that it would slow the game down, and there are already way too many reviews. TB would suggest that any review consist of one look. If it's not obvious then, the game goes on, with the call standing.

* TigerBlog told you he had no confidence in his Final Four picks, and Villanova and Florida State are already gone. Oh well. He was technically right on his prediction that his predictions weren't good.

* The wedding singer guy who was pretty funny in "The Hangover" is unwatchable in the DirecTV commercials. That's the same guy, right?

* It's amazing how few players TB has heard of on the teams in the NCAA tournament. It's not because of the one-and-done thing either, because that affects so few teams. He really hasn't been paying attention.

* To follow up on that point, he had to be among the very few people who was happy that the Wichita State-Kentucky game ended, because it meant it was time for Ohio State-Denver lacrosse to start on ESPNU.

* The end of some of these games gets to be excruciating, between time outs, fouls and replay reviews. TB has no idea how many times a team has ever erased even a two-possession deficit in the final minute by fouling and having foul shots not fall. If it happens, it doesn't happen a lot. College basketball needs to figure out what to do about this. TigerBlog will help - how about tinkering with timeouts. Add a fifth media timeout to the first half and eliminate some of the team timeouts. Or limit when they can be called, perhaps only when your team has possession, which it no longer does after a made basket.

* Donnie Marsh, whom TB mentioned earlier this month, got to the NCAA tournament with Texas Southern, who lost to North Carolina 103-64 in Round 1. Still to this day no No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1 in the men's NCAA tournament, and it just shows you how incredible Princeton's 50-49 loss to Georgetown in 1989 was. 

* Like all Princeton fans, TigerBlog wanted to see Notre Dame win in the second round against West Virginia. You always root for the team that eliminated you to do well.

Speaking of Princeton, the basketball season has come to an end. The last game was Friday night, when the women's basketball team played a close and entertaining game against Villanova in the WNIT, falling 59-53.

The Princeton women finished second in the Ivy League in 2017, behind Penn, and then reached the Ivy tournament final, falling to the Quakers. The Tigers return a lot next year, including Ivy Rookie of the Year and first-team All-Ivy selection Bella Alarie and second-team selection Leslie Robinson.

One of the best parts of the women's game Friday was at the end of the first quarter. About half of the members of the men's basketball team had come in, and there was a PA announcement recognizing them on their great season, something that drew a huge ovation from the Jadwin crowd.

It was well-earned.

Princeton had a great 2016-17 season, one of the best it's had in the last, oh, 35-40 years. Not the best, but certainly in the conversation. And, again, these Tigers went 16-0, something that hadn't been done before because of the Ivy tournaments.

No, the game against Notre Dame didn't end the way Princeton and its fans would have loved to see, but that's just a minor thing to TigerBlog. It doesn't take away from what this team accomplished, and how much fun it was to watch these guys play.

And hey, they got to be part of the very best part of the NCAA tournament. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Little Madness

TigerBlog will take a three-point attempt by Devin Cannady for the win in any game, any time, any place.

Pickup game. Early season in Jadwin Gym. NCAA tournament. Today. Tomorrow. A year from now. Doesn't matter.

Princeton was outstanding yesterday in its NCAA tournament opener against Notre Dame, and in the end, there was next to nothing that separated the Tigers from a team that played in the championship game of the ACC tournament a week ago, a team that has been to the final eight of the NCAA tournament each of the last two years, a team that has been ranked all season.

In the end, there was just a basketball, released from Cannady's hands. It looked all the world like it was headed in; instead, it caught the rim, and ND held on, 60-58.

Again, give TigerBlog a shot by Devin Cannady in that situation and he'll take it every single time.

Afterwards, TigerBlog read this about Cannady in the New York Post, and it sums him up perfectly: "He went to the podium and answered questions and then trudged to the dressing room and faced the music standing at his locker. A champion in defeat."

It's takes guts to do what Cannady did during the game, and it takes someone of the highest character to do what he did afterwards. He has not one thing to hang his head about.

Let's not lose track of what Princeton had to do in this game. Notre Dame is a team that doesn't make mistakes. The Irish rarely turn it over and rarely miss foul shots. They are toughened after going through the entire ACC season.

This is what happens in the NCAA tournament. There are no easy opponents.

Princeton's challenge was enormous. The first challenge in a game like this is to establish that you're not going anywhere, that you're in it for the full 40 minutes.

What did the Tigers do? They did what was necessary in that situation - they put themselves in a position to win the game at the end.

It wasn't Princeton who struggled in the moment. It was Notre Dame, who uncharacteristically missed foul shots and didn't look sharp down the stretch.

Princeton trailed by 11 with 13:46 to go, but there was no panic by the Ivy League champ. There was no feel that the game was getting away either.

Back came to Tigers, getting within one twice - first on a Stephen Cook three-pointer with 3:20 left and then a tip-in off a missed shot by Pete Miller with 16 seconds left. Then it was a foul and a missed foul shot by Matt Farrell, an 81 percent free throw shooter.

Now Amir Bell brought it up the court, time ticking away, a chance to win it. Bell looked like he wanted to turn the corner, but there he was doubled, so he got the ball back to Cannady.

Open for the three, Cannady let it go. It was the right play all around by everyone on the court.

Once Cannady caught it, he didn't have enough time to drive. Could Bell have gone to the basket? Maybe, but he was probably just as likely to have gotten trapped in the corner as time ran out.

As far as Cannady goes, he's a special player. He carries himself with total confidence and composure, and it's reflected in his play on the court. He caught it with confidence and shot it with confidence, and that's all you could ask.

TigerBlog has seen Princeton teams lose close NCAA tournament games before. It started in 1989, when the Tigers lost 50-49 to No. 1 Georgetown. He's seen a four-point loss to Arkansas, with their three first-round NBA picks, and by two to Villanova. And by three to Cal. And seven to Syracuse and Michigan State. And by two to Kentucky.

The game yesterday gets added to the list.

And so the book on the 2017 Princeton Tigers has been closed. Where will history remember this group?

Well, this team, as TB wrote earlier this week, had to do something nobody else ever had to, and that's win the Ivy League tournament to get to the NCAAs. In doing so, Princeton went 16-0, a record that obviously is unmatched.

Princeton showed along the way an ability to do things that required great toughness, whether it was winning on the road at Harvard, or at home against Penn on a night when shots weren't falling and a 21-point lead disappeared and winning at Penn in the Ivy semifinal while never having the lead at any point of regulation.

It's a team that had three first-team All-Ivy players - Myles Stephens (also the defensive Player of the Year), Stephen Cook and Spencer Weisz (also the league Player of the Year) - and at times the best player on the team was none of those three but instead Cannady and Bell.

Princeton's season actually goes all the way back to last summer, when the Tigers went to Italy for an international trip. They also played in Hawaii in December.

They put together a 19-game winning streak, one that ended yesterday to Notre Dame.

By any measure, this was a special team and a special season. And one that made history, as the first team ever to be asked to - and then win every one of - 16 Ivy games.

In the end, Princeton fell just short, to one of college basketball's elite. If Notre Dame is the 14th-best team in the country - as it is ranked - then what does that make Princeton? You do the math.

They gave, as former coach Pete Carril said, a good account of themselves.

There's something else Carril once said, after the Georgetown game, after there was no foul called on Alonzo Mourning on his blocks of Bob Scrabis and Kit Mueller. Was there a foul, Carril was asked?

"I'll take that up with God when I get there," was his famous response.

This game shouldn't cause that kind of livelong angst. This was a great NCAA tournament game, one that could have gone either way, one that came down to literally the final second.

Give TigerBlog Devin Cannady in that spot, ball in his hands.

Win or lose, TB is fine with that every single time.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Scouting Irish

TigerBlog spoke yesterday about the experience of participating in the NCAA men's basketball tournament and how he hoped Princeton was cherishing the opportunity.

Now, this afternoon, it becomes more serious. Actually, early this afternoon, since Princeton and Notre Dame tip off the whole two-day basketball frenzy at 12:15. You can see the game on CBS or hear Derek Jones and Noah Savage on WPRB.

Speaking of the experience piece, TigerBlog saw a picture on Twitter of the entire Princeton team at the Anchor Bar restaurant, whose Twitter feed says that it is home of the original Buffalo chicken wings. The person in the picture closest to the camera was Derek Jones, who seemed to be enjoying his wings.

TigerBlog, for the record, is not a fan of Buffalo chicken wings, for several reasons. One, they're really messy. Two, you really have to fight with the wings to get the chicken meat out of them. It's like eating crabs and lobster - they're good, but they're too much trouble. And three, TB isn't a huge fan of the Buffalo sauce.

Oh, and speaking of Buffalo sauce and before all the basketball stuff, can TB tell you what happened to him on the way the men's lacrosse game at Rutgers yesterday? He asked his RU colleague Jordan Ozer where to stop to get a good sandwich, and he told TB to go to Hansel 'N Griddle on Easton Ave.

So TB pulls up in front, parks and goes inside, where he was confronted by one of those giant menus with all kinds of choices. Usually in that situation, TB is looking for a key word, like "avocado."

The guy behind the counter, who looked a little like Opie from "Sons of Anarchy," asked if TB had ever been there before, and when TB said no, he recommended the Buffalo chicken crisp, which is their version of a quesadilla. TB opted for the BBQ chicken crisp and the potato/bacon soup, which both were off the charts good.

Anyway, he went back outside to his car, started it up, went to pull out of his parking space - and went nowhere. He was stuck. He tried rocking the car, turning it, everything. Nothing worked. He finally had to go back inside and get a shovel, and he began to dig himself out. Then one of the other guys behind the counter came outside and pushed TB's car out of the snow.

So yes, TB recommends Hansel 'N Griddle, for a lot of reasons.

And now, let's talk hoops.

The Princeton men's basketball team spent yesterday doing all of the things that are such a big part of the experience. There were the press conferences. There was the shootaround. There was all of the preparing.

All of that leads up to today, and the big question - Can Princeton beat Notre Dame?

TigerBlog has seen about five minutes of Notre Dame basketball this season on television. That's it. In fact, he saw more college basketball last weekend at the Palestra than he saw on TV all season. Actually he saw more basketball on the Ivy League Digital Network than he did on TV.

It doesn't make him an expert heading into the NCAA tournament. He will offer a prediction of UCLA, Oregon, Villanova and Florida State in the Final Four, with no confidence at all in these picks, unlike some of his recent predictions, which as you know have been pretty spot on.

As he said last week, TigerBlog can see the future, and in this case, he sees his Final Four choices not coming true. Unless they do, right?

TigerBlog does know that Notre Dame has one of the best players in the country, Bonzie Colson, a 6-5, 225-pounder who is a first-team All-ACC selection, a likely All-America and the only ACC player to average double figures in points (17.5) and rebounds (10.2).

What else is there about Notre Dame? TigerBlog went to the Fighting Irish webpage to find out.

There are a few things that jumped out him.

First, Notre Dame reached the final of the ACC tournament, falling to Duke 75-69 in the championship game. The Irish played eight players in the game, but only one player off the bench played more than four minutes and four starters went at least 35.

Of the five starters, none is taller than 6-8. Notre Dame isn't huge - the team goes 6-8, 6-7, 6-6, 6-5 and 6-1 - among its starters. TB isn't sure if they play bigger than they are, but Princeton should be able to use its lineup of Myles Stephens, Amir Bell, Devin Cannady, Stephen Cook and Spencer Weisz without being vulnerable to someone 6-10 or 7-0 or someone like that.

If Princeton can play those five together offensively for large stretches and not get hammered defensively in the process, that's a big plus.

Second, Notre Dame is one of the national leaders, second to be exact, in assist to turnover ratio. This suggests a team that doesn't hurt itself with bad mistakes and is hard to rattle. It also suggests a team that doesn't just rely on its star. This could be a huge advantage for Notre Dame.

Also, it's impossible to notice the edge that Notre Dame has in NCAA tournament experience.

Princeton has no player who has ever played in an NCAA tournament game. Its head coach, Mitch Henderson, played in five of them and played well in all of them. And a lot in all of them - with at least 37 minutes in all five and two 40-minute games.

His best game was a 19-point, six-assist, three-steal effort in a 69-57 win over UNLV his senior year, 1998.

As for Notre Dame, it has six players who have played in at least four NCAA games and three who have played in eight.

Is that an edge?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Princeton won its first round NCAA tournament game in 1996, with a team that didn't have a player with any experience, against a UCLA team that was the defending national champ. Henderson "only" played 37 minutes in that game, with eight points, three assists and four steals.

Did NCAA experience matter in that one? Not in the least. In fact, you can make the case that UCLA self-destructed a few times during the game, most notably when it went up 41-34 with six minutes left and then never scored again.

There are two ways to win this game.

First, there's what Princeton did to UCLA in 1996, which is completely take the Bruins out of their rhythm. Princeton hardly played a perfect game, which is a fairly common myth. What did Princeton shoot in that game? How about 37% from the field and 29.6% from three-point range.

The other way is to shoot 15 for 27 from three-point range. Should Princeton come out on fire and start making threes from all over, it'll win.

At its most simplistic level, the idea that the Ivy League champ should be able to compete with the ACC runner-up, a team that has been nationally ranked all year, seems a little much. But hey, this is what this time of year is all about, and Princeton has earned its shot.

Now it can just make a lot of them, it'll get another one after that.

Either way, it's Princeton-Notre Dame, today at 12:15. Make sure you watch.

Princeton has a great team, the first 16-0 team in Ivy history. And it's a good group of guys, and it's really easy to root for this team. It's an exciting moment, an exciting opportunity. 

Hey, you never know when history is going to happen.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Welcome To Buffalo

Well, the 18-24 inches became way less than that, though with a healthy dose of ice and sleet mixed in, it became a traveler's nightmare.

Princeton's men's basketball team was on its home campus Monday, transitioning from the euphoria of winning the first Ivy tournament to finish off an obviously unprecedented 16-0 run through the league to getting down to the business of the task at hand - an NCAA tournament opening round game against Notre Dame Thursday at 12:15 (on CBS).

Ah, but that game is in Buffalo. And Princeton is in, well, Princeton.

With the looming storm, it made getting from Point A to Point B the first priority, and not an easy one to solve.

Fortunately for the Tigers, they were able to get on a bus at 4 and head to Philadelphia Airport, where they then chartered to Buffalo. Time in the air was apparently 47 minutes.

HERE is a video of the trip. 

TigerBlog did not make the trip. He'll be with men's lacrosse at Rutgers tonight and Penn Saturday.

He has, though, gone to enough NCAA tournaments in his time here to know that there is nothing quite like it, for anyone involved.

The question is often asked if it's better to make a run in the NIT than it is to lose a first-round NCAA tournament game. TB alluded to that last week, before the Ivy League tournament, when Princeton knew if it didn't win twice at the Palestra that it was at least guaranteed a trip to the NIT.

TigerBlog has been to a few NITs as well. The ones in 1999 (when Princeton won games against Georgetown and North Carolina State before losing to Xavier) and 2002 (an epic game at Louisville that Princeton lost by one) were great experiences.

The answer to the question, though, is that no, it is not better to make an NIT run than it is to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. For so many reasons.

For starters, there's the chance to do something that will be remembered forever, like what Princeton did in 1996 against UCLA.

There are very, very, very few experiences that TigerBlog has had in all his time associated with Princeton Athletics that are on a level with those five days in Indianapolis 21 years ago. As he thinks about it, there are maybe two that can compare. Certainly no more than three.

The potential for a history-making result on the court isn't the only thing that makes the NCAA tournament special. It's the entirety of the moment, beginning the second a team knows it'll be participating.

It's a complete whirlwind, with one memorable moment after another. There is the drama of the selection show, with the great unknown as to where a team will go and who the opponent will be. There's the thrill of seeing the name "Princeton" as it pops up.

That just transitions a team into the next phase. It's the scramble to complete so many different tasks in a really, really short time - for so many different people in the department.

There are travel arrangements to be made, which isn't easy even when there is no major winter storm. There is scouting. There are social events to be planned on site. There needs to be a postseason media guide. There are countless media requests. Tickets need to be sold. It goes on and on.

Then there's the travel itself, the arrival at the site. TigerBlog has never gone to an NCAA tournament yet where there weren't signs in airports and hotels that welcomed people to that regional.

Today is a big day in the whole experience. There are press conferences at the site the day before the games, and they draw media crowds that no regular season game in any conference can match.

There are open practices in the arena, which are mostly just a way to get familiar with the venue and get a bunch of shots up. Or down, as in the case of basically every team that TB has ever seen at one of these open practices, which almost always become dunk contests.

Then there is another gym, maybe at a local college or high school, where the serious work of preparation finishes. These are real practices, far away from the media.

Then it's back to the hotel, for more preparation, and some down time.

It all builds to Game Day, and the chance to make history. Regardless of the outcome of the game, no player on any team in the NCAA tournament will ever forget being a part of it.

Anyway, this is what Princeton's men's basketball team is doing today. It's far, far superior to anything the NIT can offer.

The NCAA men's basketball tournament is as much about the experience it provides as it is anything else. As he said, TB has been lucky enough to get to go to more than his share, and every one of them has been special.

Princeton is in Buffalo now, preparing for a big challenge in Notre Dame.

TigerBlog hopes - and he's reasonably sure - that the Tigers are also enjoying the moment.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

More Than Just Hoops And Snow

The big story in Princeton Athletics this week is the men's lacrosse game against Rutgers, which is now going to be tomorrow night instead of tonight.

TigerBlog is kidding of course, though he will give you one thing about this game: Did you realize that Rutgers is ranked fifth this week?

Anyway, the big story this week is the men's basketball team, which is in the NCAA tournament for the 25th time.

By now you know that Princeton will be playing Notre Dame in Buffalo. It will be the game that starts off all of the madness (not the Ivy madness kind; that was this past weekend), as the Tigers and Fighting Irish tip at 12:15 Thursday. It reminds TB of 1997, when Princeton and Cal did the same thing.

If you live someplace other than the Northeast, then you're probably having better weather today than there is around here. It's supposed to be a blizzard, the biggest one by far of this winter. TigerBlog has seen predictions of as low as eight inches and as much as 24. He's hoping for zero.

As always, the news is filled with stories of people on lines in supermarkets hoping to stock up before the storm, as always. It had to be a bad day to think "hey, let me run into the store to grab one thing."

The threat of snow, other than forcing long lines at the store and the men's lacrosse game to be moved back a day, has caused endless headaches for the people who plan NCAA and NIT travel. What a nightmare that must be.

The Princeton men were fortunate to get on a charter flight to Buffalo last night. As an aside, TB is sure that the people who live in Buffalo must hate the song "Shuffle Off To Buffalo," which is from the show "42nd Street," by the way. TigerBlog saw a version of the show on Broadway a long time ago that starred Jerry Orbach, who was Detective Briscoe on Law & Order.

The men's basketball NCAA tournament is the dominant event in college athletics. The college football national championship semifinals and final are huge - and in certain parts of the country approach religious fervor - but even they don't touch the entire national fabric - sporting and otherwise - that the basketball tournament does.

TB has said this for years, but he'll repeat it here. The NCAA tournament is the only playoff system that gets worse at it goes along. The first rounds are the best part. The Sweet 16 is okay. The Final Four is usually anti-climatic.

The first round is the best, because it's just a slew of games, all day, Thursday and Friday. If one game isn't good, another one will be. And it's where the upsets happen.

There will be plenty of time to talk about men's basketball as things get going. TB will save that for the rest of the week.

First, TB wants to talk about some other Princeton teams.

There was a bus parked in the Jadwin apron when TB got to work yesterday morning. It was here to take a Princeton team to the NCAA championships as well, this time for wrestling.

Princeton's remarkable ascent among the national wrestling elite continues this week in St. Louis, where a program-record seven Tigers will take to the mats. With that large of a contingent and the quality it brings, Princeton has a legitimate chance to finish in the top 20 in the team standings.

Freshman Matthew Kolodzik is the fourth seed at 141 pounds, making him the fifth Princeton wrestler all time to be seeded in the top four. Jordan Laster, a senior, is the 16th seed at 149. Both Kolodzik and Laster won EIWA championships two weekends ago.

Princeton has had one NCAA champion in wrestling, and that was Bradley Glass in 1951. Before this year, Princeton had seven wrestlers all-time who qualified three times for the NCAAs. This year, there are three who will be there for third time: Laster, Jonathan Schleifer and Brett Harner, an All-America last year.

HERE is more information on Princeton at the NCAA wrestling championships. A lot more.

The Princeton men's hockey team, in the words of Pete Carril, gave a good account of itself this past weekend at the ECAC quarterfinals at Union. Princeton dropped Game 1 and then fell behind in Game 2 2-0, a script familiar from last weekend's opening round series at Hobey Baker Rink against Colgate.

This time, like against the Raiders, Princeton tied it and took a 3-2 lead - only to see Union score in the last 30 seconds to tie it and then win it on a real rarity, a penalty shot in OT.

Princeton's season ends at 15-16-3. Princeton won 15 games the last three years combined, with a record of 15-72-6.

The 2016-17 Princeton men's hockey season was a special one. If you want to throw the 0-6-1 start into that above record, Princeton went from 15-78-7 to 15-10-2 in a span of a few months.

That's remarkable. It's not just that they did that. It's how they did it. They played fast. They were exciting. They had an army of young players. They beat ranked teams. They beat highly ranked teams. They came from behind.

In the end, Princeton was probably disappointed about how it ended, especially coming so close to forcing a Game 3. But that should be fade, and what the Tigers should be left with is a pretty good feeling about just what they did this year - and where the program is headed.

There was also the NCAA track and field indoor championships this weekend, in which Princeton's Allison Harris was ninth in the pole vault and Adam Kelly was 10th in the weight throw, earning both All-America honors.

The NCAA fencing regionals were also this past weekend. Princeton will hear today how many of its athletes qualified for the NCAA championships, which will be next weekend.

And the Princeton women's basketball team will be continuing its remarkable postseason streak, which now will reach its eighth straight year. And, adding to the experience, Princeton will get to to play at Jadwin Gym again, as it hosts Villanova in the first round of the WNIT Friday night.

If you're counting, that's six NCAA tournaments and two WNITs in the last eight years for Princeton women's basketball.

So it's more than just men's basketball, even if it's the NCAA tournament.

As TB said, there will be plenty of time for that the rest of the week.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sixteen And Oh

TigerBlog stood in Section 209, looked down at the celebration in front of him and couldn't help but smile.

It was a sea of orange on the Palestra floor in front of him. The net was being cut down. It was a party unlike any other in the history of Ivy League basketball, being celebrated by a team that had been asked to do something that no other team ever had to face.

It can be summed up simply.

Sixteen and oh.

Are the 2017 Princeton Tigers the best team in the history of Ivy League basketball? Probably not. Can they put their toughness up there with any team that has ever played basketball in this league? Yes.

Maybe another team will put up another 16-0 run someday. Hey, maybe it'll happen next year.

The 2017 Princeton men, though, will always be the first.

This was Year 1 of the Ivy League basketball tournaments. It was Year 1 of knowing that, unlike in every year that came before it, the 14-game regular season would not be the ticket to the NCAA tournament. No matter what a team did from January through early March, it would have to win two games in 24 hours at the Palestra to get the league's automatic NCAA bid.

It was going to be especially hard for the Tigers, who had to first beat a surging Penn team on Penn's fabled home court. Then it had to come back the next day and beat the defending league champ, who was coming off a win over its own biggest rival and who, in fairness, was also playing on less than 24 hours rest.

This wasn't easy.

Princeton first beat Penn 72-64 in overtime Saturday. Then it came back to beat Yale 71-59 yesterday. Those scores don't tell the story at all of what it took to pull this off.

Between the two games, Princeton would trail for just about 50 full minutes. It wouldn't be until late in the first half yesterday that Princeton would have a possession in regulation in which it had the lead and the ball.

Princeton was pushed hard Saturday in what was unquestionably the best of the six games that TB saw at his alma mater this weekend. Penn led almost all the way, and it took incredible team desire - and some good fortune - to get that game to overtime.

Yale looked like a confident, hungry, determined team for most of the first half and threatened to sprint away. Princeton, again, dug in. When it got to intermission, the Tigers led 31-29.

Would it be another down-to-the-wire, possession-by-possession stress-fest? For some reason, this didn't seem like a game that was destined for that. Not to TB anyway.

TigerBlog was on the radio with Derek Jones at halftime, in the unfamiliar role of guest, rather than interviewer. It was fun, and TB was happy to sit in for Noah Savage for a few minutes at the break.

What did TB see for the second half, Derek asked him?

One team will take control, TigerBlog said. He added that he'd be surprised if the final margin was closer than 10, one way or another.

As he said last week, he's been right a lot lately. And he was right again. Princeton clicked in the second half, and, finally, built the lead to double figures after seven minutes of the second half.

There would be no hairy moments down the stretch for this one, only the build-up to the celebration, one that allowed a team that clinched at least a tie for the Ivy title 15 days earlier and the outright title nine days earlier to know for sure that it was heading to the NCAA tournament.

As the Tigers would find out a few hours later, that would mean a trip to Buffalo to take on Notre Dame out of the ACC Thursday.

Before looking ahead to that, though, let TigerBlog make a few other points.

* first, the tournament was a celebration of the wondrous talent that is sophomore Myles Stephens, whose basketball resume this week swelled to include all of these: first-team All-Ivy League, Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and now the first-ever Ivy League tournament Most Valuable Player. As he took his turn to cut down the net, the crowd on the court chanted "MVP, MVP." Stephens had 21 points against Penn and then 23 more against Yale, but it's not how many he had, it's how unstoppable he was when Princeton needed him to be and how he did all this within the normal flow of the game.

* if you need someone to make a foul shot for you, have Devin Cannady take it for you. Cannady, also a sophomore, went 14 for 14 from the foul line in the tournament, with all of those foul shots either late in the second half or in OT. Princeton does a great job of getting the ball to Cannady when the other team is in foul mode.

* to TigerBlog, the concept of "team leadership" can be overstated. Usually teams with the best players do the best. This Princeton team, though, clearly has great leadership, especially from Spencer Weisz and Stephen Cook.

* and then there's the head coach, Mitch Henderson. If TigerBlog is correct, he's now the third person to win an Ivy League championship as both a player and a head coach, along with his former Princeton teammate Sydney Johnson and Penn's Craig Littlepage (let him know if he's leaving anyone out; Butch van Breda Kolff doesn't count, because the Ivy League hadn't been formed yet). Going one better than that, Henderson is the only person who can say he's played for and been the head coach of an Ivy League team that went 14-0 in the regular season. Henderson and TigerBlog go back to Henderson's earliest days at Princeton, back when he was a kid from Indiana who was always upbeat and seemingly a little shy - and yet with a burning competitive desire that was obvious from Day 1 as a player and which still is just as obvious today. In many ways, he reminds TB of Bill Carmody, for whom he played at Princeton for his final two seasons and with whom he spent a decade coaching at Northwestern before coming to Princeton. As TB listened to Henderson talk to his team in the locker room after both games this weekend, he couldn't help but think of Carmody, who probably would have said most of what Henderson was saying. This championship is a tribute to the players, of course, but Henderson has had to guide his team through a gauntlet that no other coach has ever had to, with the regular season and the tournament. He had to have his team ready to go all season to get to 14-0 and then he had to have the ready to win the make-or-break games in the Ivy tournament to get to the real prize, the NCAAs. And he had to do this with no precedent. That he succeeded is obvious.

And that's it for the first Ivy tournament.

There are those who loved and those who never wanted it. To the loved it crowd, they can point out that half the league got to participate in a postseason format and that the two regular season champs - Princeton's men, Penn's women, who also were the preseason favorites - are going to the NCAA tourament.

The anti-crowd can point out that Princeton's men and Penn's women are going to the tournament, so what was the point of having a league tournament.

This debate can go on and on, and that's fine. TigerBlog can tell you that, whatever your take, there's no denying that the tournament format was new, fresh and exciting.

It was also a different hurdle, one that no league champ has ever been asked to clear before.

Princeton's men? The 2017 Princeton men went 16-0.

Sixteen and oh.

It sounds pretty good, right?