Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Guest TigerBlog - Obrigado, Part II

TigerBlog and John McPhee thought they could squeeze in a ride around Skillman Park before the rains came yesterday morning. They were wrong. 

About halfway through lap 2 of the 2.2-mile loop, it started to drizzle. About a minute later, it was a full-out downpour. At least Mr. McPhee was wearing a rain jacket. TigerBlog was wearing his "Denver Lacrosse" sweatshirt, and he couldn't believe that the sweatshirt - let alone the person wearing it - could get that wet. It probably doesn't get that wet in the washing machine, and TB felt like he did when he did junior lifesaving a long time ago and he had to tread water wearing a sweatshirt.

Despite this, the two were going to pedal on, until they heard thunder just as they finished Lap 2. It was a sign, TB suggested that perhaps there would be no Lap 3 on this day.

While still soaking wet, TigerBlog's thoughts were turned quickly from being drenched to what to write about and then quickly to the men's soccer program. The men's soccer team has just returned from Portugal, and Tiger head coach Jim Barlow emailed TB to take him up on his offer to do a guest blog about the trip.

And here is what Jim had to say: 


Obrigado.

The Portuguese word for “thank you” is the most appropriate word for the men’s soccer team today, as we recently returned from an amazing trip to Lisbon during spring break. We had an incredible time both on and off the field, and we were able to experience the culture, history, and passion for soccer in a beautiful and friendly city and its surrounding towns. Off the field, we visited much of historic Lisbon, and learned how it was rebuilt after the horrific earthquake and tsunami of 1755 that, according to some estimates, killed up to 90,000 people and destroyed much of the city.

We walked to the ancient cathedral that was built for the city’s first bishop in 1150 on top of a former mosque. Our guided and famous “tuk tuk” tours of Lisbon showed us a lot – castles, churches, monasteries, and towers/lighthouses the explorers used when departing from and returning to the Tagus River. The views from the top of Lisbon’s hills were gorgeous. We attended a Fado Show, and experienced first-hand the passion and depth of Portugal’s unique folk music. We traveled out of the city to the historic coastal towns of Sintra and Cascais, and we were able to see the Castle of the Moors built atop Sintra in the 8th and 9th centuries. We stopped by the Western-most point of Europe, Cabo da Roca, and walked along the scenic cliffs over the Atlantic Ocean.

In addition to the sightseeing, we also engaged in community service activities at the Helen Keller Center and the Casa Pia Social Institution.

At the Helen Keller Center, we observed a game of “Goal Ball” in which visually impaired children rely on their hearing to know where on the field the ball is located.  They then try to secure it, and attempt to score a goal by throwing it past the opposition. Our players played various games with the children at both locations, and it was incredibly rewarding for our players to interact with such amazing and brave children and the adults who care for them.


While the off-the-field activities were extraordinary and educational, the soccer experience was equally, if not more, rewarding.

We were able to train for two days at AC Porto Salvo’s facility, and we toured both Benfica Stadium and the Portuguese National Training Headquarters. Our players and staff were able to see what life is like for players like Christiano Ronaldo, Pepe, and Ricardo Quaresma when they are called into National Team duty. We also took a picture with the trophy that Portugal won at the 2016 European Championship.

Our coaching staff was invited to participate in a discussion about Benfica’s coaching philosophy and academy set-up with a member of the club’s Professional Staff. The lively discussion included topics ranging from educational opportunities for Benfica’s academy players to scouting networks, on-field tactics, and coaching philosophies.

The Benfica coach could not believe that our players had not played in a “real” game since November, and that they have only been training for two days a week. When we played Benfica (3-0 loss), we observed first-hand that there is still a sizeable gap between soccer at a top professional academy (where the players still have a full day of school), and college soccer. Everyone in the room agreed that the college rules are a big reason for this gap (yes, this is plug for supporting the current proposal to make college soccer a fall and spring sport).


In addition to our match with Benfica, we had a fun, back-and-forth game with Sporting Lisbon (who were without several players who had been called into National Team duty) that ended in a 2-2 draw.  Our last match was against Sacavenense, a lower-division club known for producing players who go on to succeed at the Benfica and Sporting academies.

With the score tied at 1-1 in the first half, one of our players received a second yellow card and was sent off. At halftime, the Sacavenense coach insisted that since the game was a “friendly,” we should not play a man down.  At full strength (because of their generosity) in the second half, we scored again and won the match 2-1. Regardless of results, though, the Portuguese matches gave us much needed opportunities to improve, to learn about ourselves, to grow as a team, and to strengthen the bonds between our players. We cherished this opportunity.


Finally, on the last evening of the trip, we witnessed a World Cup qualifier in a packed Benfica Stadium. Portugal defeated Hungary 3-0 behind two goals from Christiano Ronaldo. The passion, energy, and pride emanating from the stadium was electric.  Kristy McNeil from OAC said it was the “best day of my life.” What a way to end the trip!

So, obrigado.

Obrigado to the many friends and alumni of Princeton Soccer, whose generosity and support made this trip possible.

Obrigado to our videographer Miguel, and to our host and tour guide, Francisco Mendes, who both became our friends instantly and made us feel like we have known them for years. Francisco’s sense of humor, his passion for his job, and his willingness to go above and beyond our expectations to make our trip as good as it could be will not be forgotten.  And who can forget our political discussions or watching him perform “Guilty Trigger” with his rock band on YouTube!

Obrigado to our coaching staff – Steve Totten, Ryan Hayward, and David Goldstein (we missed you Moff – get better soon) – and those who accompanied us on the trip for fitting in with our team so seamlessly. From family members of the coaching staff, to former Friends of Soccer President Wayne Paglieri ’78, to Kristy from the OAC, Jessica Muroff (and her husband Dave) from the business office and John Furtado from athletic medicine. Obrigado for your friendship and support, and for ensuring a great experience on and off the field for our players.

Finally, obrigado to our players, who represented Princeton Athletics proudly on this trip by the way they played and the manner in which they conducted themselves. Whether it was touring the ancient cathedrals, playing our Princeton Soccer assassin game, practicing for the matches, competing against top level academies, filming or writing our travel blog or participating in team meetings or discussions, it was fun being around you.

If you read this blog every day, you know that TigerBlog was in Portugal with men's lacrosse in the fall. He, and others, recommended Francisco to us, saying that he would really help make the experience better, that he was a great guide and that he would greatly enhance our understanding of the country. They were right on all counts.

Francisco sent me a nice note after we arrived home. It's easy to tell that he really enjoyed working with both Princeton teams and that they were also, for him, special experiences. It's also easy to tell that the athletes and staffs from both teams made a really positive impression on him.

He was a big part of a great week.

Thanks for the memories, Portugal.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Good Guys

TigerBlog has watched 10 episodes of the current season of "Homeland," and he has no idea what he thinks.

Does he like it? He's not sure. Were this Season 1 instead of Season 6, would TB have stayed with it?

How long do you go with a show that you loved at one point, that at one point was producing the highest-quality television ever?

The highest rated episode ever of "Homeland" was the last episode of Season 3. That's the one that included a certain scene in a certain Iranian public square.

Ratings for this season are pretty much half what they were that season, though they're pretty much in line with where they were for Season 1, which is as good a season as any show has ever had.

TigerBlog has read that there will be a Season 7 and a Season 8. He'll watch them, hoping the show regains its magic.

This season has had some interesting developments. It certainly has some intrigue and some "hmm, is that really how it works" moments.

It's just that it lacks the tempo of the first two seasons. Plus, TB hates what the show has done to Quinn, turning him from a complex morality-challenged good guy into a cartoon character.

And, he doesn't get the whole Dar Adal thing. There's something about the plot line that just doesn't work.

Lastly, there's Carrie and Saul. She's too driven by her passion for the CIA to ever have accepted any other kind of life, like the one she seemed to drift into, and he's way too smart ever to be used the way he's been used.

But hey, TB keeps watching. As long as there's a "Homeland," he'll probably be glued to it.

If nothing else, it's the only show he still watches the old-fashioned way. You know, at a specific time on a specific day. He'd much prefer to be able to watch an entire season in three or four days, but that's not how Showtime releases the show.

There are two more Sundays of this season of "Homeland." The best part, TB supposes, is that even after 10 episodes, he has no idea where the show is going.

His advice for the next two seasons - have a better defined bad guy.

As for good guys, goprincetontigers.com had a few stories yesterday about some of the Tiger good guys.

One is Steven Cook, of the men's basketball team. You can read about him HERE.

TigerBlog can sum it up: Cook is amazing.

From the story:
Beginning Friday, Cook will take part in a weekend of events around the Final Four in recognition of his place on the Good Works Team, which he earned through volunteer efforts, including fundraising for a Sudanese hospital and interning at an anti-poverty organization in Chicago, his academic accomplishments, including becoming the Princeton men's basketball program's first CoSIDA Academic All-America since 1998, and his athletic achievements following a season that saw Cook named to the first-team All-Ivy League and the Ivy League All-Tournament Team while leading Princeton in scoring on the way to the outright Ivy League title, the inaugural Ivy League Tournament championship, and an NCAA first-round game against Notre Dame that came down to the final seconds.

Yeah, that's a pretty impressive resume.

By the way, Cook finished his career with 1,148 points, 15th-best all-time at Princeton. His teammate and fellow senior, Spencer Weiz, finished in 12th place, with 1,241 points. That's two of the top 15 scorers in program history.

They also rank fifth (Weisz) and ninth (Cook) in career three-pointers made. Weisz had 209, while Cook had 156. That's, let's see, 365 three-pointers between them.

Extra credit if you can name the four players who have made more three-pointers in their career at Princeton than Weisz. The answer will be at the end.

Add their point totals together, and you get 2,389. That's 114 shy of the total that Bill Bradley had by himself, in three seasons, without a three-point shot. That's extraordinary.

If you saw Bradley play, did you sense when he graduated that he was putting up numbers that nobody would ever approach?

As for the other good guys, Princeton had two baseball players - Zack Belski and Chad Powers - among the 30 nominees in all of Division I for the 2017 Senior Class Award.

You can read about them HERE.

Belski and Powers helped Princeton to the 2016 Ivy title and NCAA tournament. They start their defense of that title this weekend, when the Tigers open Ivy League play at home against Yale Saturday and Brown Sunday.

And the answer to the question?

That would be Brian Earl (281), Douglas Davis (276), Sean Jackson (235) and Gabe Lewullis (212).

Monday, March 27, 2017

National Champs

TigerBlog received an email from not one, not two but three different people who had the answer to what escaped TigerBlog on Friday - the temperature in New Haven on April 6, 1990.

Turns out it wasn't 80. It was 68. Seemed a lot hotter.

How did they find this? On THIS website. Click on "history" or "calendar" to find out what it was on any given day.

It got TigerBlog thinking about other days and what the temperature might have been. Like, was it really cold in Muncie, Ind., back on Dec. 1, 2000, like he said it was Friday? Yes. It was 28 degrees with snow (he didn't remember the snow).

And how about in 1992, when the Princeton men's lacrosse team won its first NCAA championship. The high Saturday was outrageous, and then the temperature dropped in half for Monday.

Right?

Well, the high for the semifinal win over North Carolina was 91. TB got the scalding part right.

It says that Monday the high was 86, but the low was 58. TB just remembers that it was a lot cooler. He doesn't remember that it got anywhere near 86.

So that's the weather.

Also, his prediction that his NCAA tournament predictions weren't going to be good turned out to be accurate. Either that, or he can say that he nailed his pick of Oregon, which is famous for its florescent uniforms and for one of the nicest beaches TB has ever been to, Cannon Beach.

Of his four Final Four picks, Oregon is the only one to have made it. Two others (Florida State, Villanova) got bounced in the second round, though one of them, Florida State, will play in the regional final tonight in the women's tournament. The fourth team, UCLA, reached the Sweet 16.

TigerBlog's new favorite team is South Carolina. For one thing, the Gamecocks beat Duke, which always wins you points. Second, he likes Frank Martin, the coach.

Martin, the son of Cuban exiles and the first American-born member of his family, seems pretty intense, but he also was really nice to a youth reporter from Sports Illustrated For Kids, who asked him about whether technique or attitude was more important while playing defense.

He also had this to say:
"You know what makes me sick to my stomach? When I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids haven't changed. Kids don't anything about anything. We've changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We expect less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We're the ones that have changed."

It's an interesting Final Four. Gonzaga and South Carolina both are there for the first time, and Oregon is there for the first time since 1939. They're joined by North Carolina, who TB is pretty sure has been there at least once since 1939.

So that's the basketball tournament.

TigerBlog watched some of the NCAA hockey this weekend. The field starts out with 16 and it makes its way to four in the first weekend before waiting two weeks to play its Frozen Four, so as not to compete with the basketball Final Fours.

It's pretty smart, TB supposes, since the average sports fan wouldn't watch it next weekend and might the next. On the other hand, TB isn't sure he'd love it were he a college hockey coach.

He may have to ask Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty what he thinks. TB also is pretty sure that he'll see Fogarty and Princeton in the NCAA tournament one of these years. At least he hopes so, and nothing that happened this year leads him to believe that the program isn't pointed to bigger things.

As for this year, he went into the weekend rooting for Denver, the No. 1 overall seed. It's the Bill Tierney effect.

So that's the hockey tournament.

Basketball and hockey weren't the only NCAA championship events from this weekend. The fencing championships were held in Indianapolis, and Princeton had itself a stellar performance, as the Tigers brought 11 fencers on the trip, and seven came back as All-Americas.

The team title is a co-ed one, with points accrued from the results of men's and women's individual bouts in all three weapons. Princeton would finish fourth nationally, marking the seventh-straight time the program has finished fourth or better.

All of those individual bouts during the team competition also decide the top four in all three weapons for the men and women, and those four in advance to the six different individual semifinal rounds.

Princeton was assured of an NCAA champion when Anna Van Brummen met teammate Katharine Holmes in the épée final, which Van Brummen would win 15-10.

What did Princeton head coach Zoltan Dudas think of what he saw?

"When teammates are fencing, I'm not even going close," Dudas said. "I was watching the bout with the bout committee a little bit. I will watch the bout, of course, later and we will learn from it. I'm not getting involved when teammates are fencing."

The NCAA title was Princeton's first since Julie Ratcliffe won the women's hammer throw at the 2014 track and field championships. Princeton didn't have a national champion in 2014-15 or 2015-16, but Van Brummen changed that.

For Princeton, it's one national championship in the last three years.

Or, if you like, it's at least one national team or individual champion in 44 of the last 46 years.

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.