Tuesday, March 3, 2015

27-0

TigerBlog was walking out of Jadwin Gym yesterday afternoon when he saw what has become as much a part of the building as the statue of that guy all the way in the corner of the lobby.

Another day, another TV camera.

These days, the big story is the Princeton women's basketball team. And why woudn't it be?

The Tigers are now 27-0, just three games away from a perfect 30-0 regular season. Think about that. Three games away from 30-0.

Princeton is the lone undefeated team in Division I women's basketball. The Tigers are currently ranked 13th nationally.

These are unprecedented areas for an Ivy League women's team. A win Friday in Ithaca would tie the 1971 Penn men's team for the best start by an Ivy team; Princeton long ago shattered the women's record.

Were UConn or Notre Dame are undefeated this time of year - though neither one is - it's not abnormal in women's basketball. When it's Princeton?

It's a different story. And the media has embraced it completely.

The onslaught is, as TB has said, the same as it was for the men in 1998. Maybe this speaks to how much the women's game has been embraced in the last nearly 20 years. This kind of media attention would have been unthinkable back then.

Today? This season?

For Princeton's women, this has been a great by-product of this so far perfect season.

Yesterday it was channel 7 from New York, who will feature the Tigers tonight at 6 on the news. There was the familiar sight, a TV camera and reporter.

And the story is a bit different. TigerBlog doesn't like the implication that Princeton does it "right" and everyone else does it "wrong," because that's a bit snobby.

For TB, it's enough to say that Princeton is winning like this without having to in any way compromise its academic standing or the integrity of the institution. And its players? They are an extension of and reflection of the general student population, which is how it should be.

The media aren't the only ones who've noticed and bought in. Attendance at Jadwin from Saturday night's win over Brown was 2,097.

TigerBlog has wondered what Princeton would be ranked and how much media attention it would be getting if it had lost one of its non-league games and was 26-1 instead of 27-0.

Where Princeton is ranked now is 13th in the AP poll. The Tigers overwhelmed Yale 67-49  Friday night, leading 51-19 at one point before Yale closed in garbage time. Yale, as you recall, played Princeton to a six-point game the first time around.

Brown was peskier Saturday night, but Princeton still pulled away to win 79-67 after leading by only five at the half. Princeton has completely destroyed any reasonable expectations by demolishing pretty much every opponent.

About the only downside is ESPN's weekly bracketology, which for the first time in awhile didn't have Princeton at home in the NCAA tournament. Instead it had Princeton as a sixth-seed, playing in Iowa against DePaul.

And yet? TigerBlog will sound his weekly warning.

Standing between Princeton and perfection are Cornell Friday night, Columbia Saturday night and Penn next Tuesday.

The first time around, Princeton won those games by 28, 39 and 29 points. That averages to, well, a lot.

What does this mean for this weekend? Nothing. Before Princeton can worry about playing in the NCAA tournament - at home or anywhere else - it has to get to the tournament. And to do that, it has to win the Ivy League.

And to do that? Princeton would accomplish that with a sweep this weekend, or with a split and a Penn split. The really, really, really bad news would be if Princeton were to lose once this weekend and Penn would sweep, leaving Princeton only a game ahead of the Quakers with the game in Philly next week.

Penn, the defending champion, is having a really good year, with a 18-9 record overall and 9-2 Ivy record, with seven straight years. In a normal year - like last year, for instance, when Penn ended Princeton's four-year championship run - the Quakers would be right there in the mix.

Now? A 60-49 loss to Cornell is haunting Penn, who otherwise would be just a game back of the Tigers.

Princeton plays to finally wrap up the championship this weekend. And, beyond that, there is the at one time unthinkable goal of a perfect regular season.

You can see more about tomorrow on channel 7 in New York. And other places last week, this week - and hopefully next week.

Monday, March 2, 2015

More Titles For Fred And Rob

After a weekend that included as good a lacrosse game as he has ever seen, not to mention two more wins for the unbeaten women's basketball team and an incredible opening night performance by the baseball team, TigerBlog begins with two men who have been winning championships at Princeton since before he arrived there.

Wait, before those two guys, there were other things this weekend that stood out, most notably two women's squash players who reached the semifinals of the individual national championships, one of whom, 11th-seeded Nicole Bunyan, defeated third-seeded Danielle Letourneau of Cornell 11-9, 10-12, 11-9, 17-19, 12-10 in an epic quarterfinal.

Still, TigerBlog starts with men's track and field coach Fred Samara and men's swimming and diving coach Rob Orr.

There are only five coaches who predate TigerBlog at Princeton. Fred and Rob are two of them. The others are Susan Teeter (women's swimming and diving), Peter Farrell (women's track and field/cross country) and Chris Sailer (women's lacrosse).

This past weekend, Fred and Rob each added another championship to his respective mantel. Fred led the Tigers to the Ivy League Heptagonal indoor championship, while Rob added another Ivy title of his own. Both championships were blowouts.

Want to guess how many them have between them?

Let's start with this: Between them, they have coached for 74 years at Princeton.

They're very different people, Fred and Rob. If you want TigerBlog to give you one word to describe Fred, it's "strong." He's strong physically - anyone who has seen his workout regimens through the years can attest to that.

Remember, this is a man who competed alongside Bruce Jenner at the 1976 Olympic Games in the decathlon, finishing fifth despite a hamstring injury a few weeks before that kept him from being 100%. Now it's nearly 40 years later, and he looks like he is in the exact same shape he was back then.

He's also strong mentally. He tolerates no BS. He's direct, to the point, even when it means having a difficult conversation about something. TigerBlog has been on the receiving end of a handful of those - not many, but more than one - in his time at Princeton, and he came away with a respect for Fred's ability to be direct and, well, strong in his opinions.

As a result of all of this, Fred runs a strong program, one filled with athletes who reflect his mental toughness, and physical demeanor. Programs like that are ready to go when the times get the toughest.

He's tough, Fred, but he's fair. And he's funny. He can laugh at himself when the moment calls for it, and he has a very subtle sense of humor. He is a great foil for Farrell, in a Butch and Sundance sort of way, minus the bank robbery and such.

As for Rob Orr, if TigerBlog had to pick one word to describe him, it would be, well, TB isn't quite so sure. He asked his OAC colleague Craig Sachson, who knows Orr way better than TB does, to pick out a word, and Sachson came back with "beloved."

As in, beloved by his guys.

TigerBlog knows that Rob is a laid-back guy, one who follows "how are you" with some sort of funny quip as his response. He's a bit eccentric, but not really. He appears like he's not really fazed by anything going on around him and that all of this is one big joke.

Sachson said this about Orr, with whom he's worked for more than a decade: "He doesn't want to be interviewed, but he'll usually throw balls at the people I am interviewing." That's about right.

At the same time, he's definitely serious, especially when it comes to what goes on in his pool.

In that respect, he's a competitive man. TigerBlog has heard speak about issues that are important to him and his program, and, like Fred, he's very direct and strong. It's no wonder his swimmers love him. Like Fred he always has their backs. Like Fred, he's set the standard very high for them.

The final margin of victory for the track and field team was 63 points, which as TB understands is a lot. The final margin for the swimming and diving team was 232.5 points, which similarly is a lot.

These were dominant performances by teams coached by men who has lost nothing off their fastballs in all those years. Each year continues to be its own challenge for them, and year after year they meet that challenge.

In case you were wondering, that's 22 straight years of finishing first or second at the indoor Heps for Fred Samara. The last time Rob Orr didn't finish first or second in the Ivy League? How about never in his 36 seasons.

Oh, and how many championships? That's 18 indoor Heps titles and 36 Heps titles overall for Fred, and that's 22 Ivy titles for Rob.

That's a record of success that is really hard to fathom, for both men.

And so on this busy, successful weekend at Princeton, they're the two who stood out.

This isn't the first time.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Full Friday

TigerBlog has a theory that elementary and middle school concert bands and orchestras play songs that nobody has ever heard of so that if they do it wrong, nobody knows.

At least he's operated on that theory every since TigerBlog Jr. started playing the sax back in fourth grade.

Last night, TB went to watch Miss TigerBlog play her cello with the high school orchestra. This time, finally, they were playing songs TB recognized.

In fact, they were playing movie themes. Like "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which you are now reflexively hearing in your head. That was the first one. Then there was the theme from "Star Wars." And "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings."

TigerBlog has mentioned this before, but he has good stories about "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Star Wars."

He saw "Raiders" in the movies in 1981 with BrotherBlog. Sitting behind him were three young women TB didn't know, and when the movie ended, everyone got up to leave.

As is usually the case after a movie, everyone asked the people they were with if they liked it. And what did one of the young women say? "That was sooooooooo unrealistic." TB can still hear her, as she said one of the dumbest things TB has ever heard. Of course it was unrealistic. It was supposed to be.

As for "Star Wars," TigerBlog went to the movies to see the original and got there too late, so he saw only the second half. That's it. He's never seen the first half of the movie or any other "Star Wars" movie.

Of course, had the band director asked TigerBlog for his suggestions for movie themes, he would have referred her to the three best ever - "Rocky," "Patton" and "The Great Escape."

Anyway, the concert last night was very good. And TB was able to get out of there in time to be in front of ESPNEWS by 8:30, when Princeton women's basketball coach Courtney Banghart was going to be on live from the Lewis Library broadcast center.

When TB turned on the TV, he saw the list on the left side of the upcoming that "Princeton Undefeated" was the next story. Then it disappeared. Then it came back as the next story. Then it disappeared again.

Eventually, because of some issue on the Bristol end of the connection, Courtney was only able to be on the phone, as opposed to video. Instead, the screen then was filled with women's basketball highlights as the coach's voice was being heard.

Princeton women's basketball has been deluged by media attention of late. Not a day goes by when someone - or multiple someones - want to tell the story of Division I's lone unbeaten women's basketball team, one currently ranked 14th.

It's very reminiscent for TigerBlog of the 1998 men's team, who went 27-2 and reached the national top 10. That year they came out of everywhere as well, and TB was the teams' athletic communications contact. For the record, the current women's basketball contact is named Ben Badua, who in addition to doing things like downloading every single Princeton game from the Ivy League Digital Network onto a portable hard drive to overnight to ESPN and coordinating all of these interviews also had to write previews for baseball and Heps track and field.

It's helped Princeton that Kentucky's men's team is unbeaten, so every time the high profile Wildcats are mentioned, the Princeton women are also brought up.

Among the questions asked of Courtney last night was whether or not her team would match up well with once-beaten UConn. Courtney handled it well, talking about how good UConn is but that she can only "control the controlables" and worry about who is on the schedule.

Princeton is 25-0, and the closest the Tigers have come to a "1" on the right side of its record was two weeks ago at Yale, when Princeton won 56-50 in a game that was one possession in the final minute.

The rematch comes up tonight at 7 here at Jadwin Gym, where TigerBlog is currently sitting. He has no intention of going outside between now and the start of that game, except when he goes to work out and has to get over to Caldwell to change. So he'll be outside for about 10 seconds walking over to the field house and 10 more walking back.

Other than that, he has a pretty good planned here. There's squash (individual national championships) and men's swimming and diving (Ivy championships) that can watched, though he might be outside for another 10 seconds each way if he goes over to the pool.

Speaking of the pool, Princeton had a great night in it last night, to open up the early lead over Harvard after Day 1. There is still a long way to go.

There are preliminaries this morning and finals this evening on Day 2. It repeats tomorrow, with the champion to be crowned at night.

As for the squash tournament, TigerBlog was walking in before just in front of three athletes from St. Lawrence, one of whom said "how about this weather?" TigerBlog couldn't figure out if that meant that they couldn't believe that it wasn't warmer in Princeton or that it seemed warm to them, after their own winter near the Canadian border.

The squash men's individual final is Sunday at 11:45. The women's final is at 1. Princeton has two legitimate contenders on the men's side, Tyler Osborne and Sam Kang. The women's side figures to belong to Amanda Sobhy of Harvard, who is the heavy favorite to win her fourth straight individual championship, which would make her only the second woman and third person overall to do so. The other two? Princeton head women's coach Gail Ramsay and, on the men's side, Yasser El-Halaby.

As for TB's day, at 4 this afternoon he will be in front of his computer or the TV in his office (computer is a better bet) to watch No. 1 Denver play No. 4 North Carolina in men's lacrosse. That would be Denver, coached by Bill Tierney, and North Carolina, with assistant coach David Metzbower.

TB was asked by ESPNU to send along a picture of the two of them when they coached together at Princeton. TB told Metz that he's rooting for both teams to make it to Memorial Day weekend and the NCAA final four.

Of course, he'd love for Princeton to be there as well. He'll be in his car bright and early tomorrow, heading to Baltimore, to see the Tigers play Johns Hopkins.

Before then, though, is his rather full Friday.

The cornerstone event is the women's basketball game. Will it be close again? Princeton has played two opponents in the league twice now.

Against Dartmouth, Princeton went from winning the first game by 18 to winning the second by 39. Against Harvard, it went from winning by 50 to winning by 21. That meant that the margin of victory was more than doubled once and more than halved the other time, but all four of those wins were very comfortable.

Yale had a good game plan against Princeton the first time, with great patience offensively. And the Bulldogs had a way better night from three-point range than it usually does, with seven makes, nearly double the 3.6 average.

What will happen tonight?

And then there's the big picture. People can talk about how Princeton might be playing at home in the NCAA tournament - as ESPN's bracketology suggests, with Louisville unable to host as a third-seed. And those same people can talk about how well Princeton might do in the tournament.

The reality is that Princeton has to get there first. Are their chances good? Yes. But, TB never takes anything for granted.

Here's the doomsday scenario for Princeton. It's not going 30-0 and then losing at home in the first round of the tournament. That would be disappointing.

Here's the doomsday one: 3-1 in the next two weekends (Brown tomorrow night, then at Cornell and Columbia), combined with Penn at 4-0. Then Princeton has to go to the Palestra for the final regular season game, which under that scenario would mean that the Quakers would be playing for a share of the championship.

That's your doomsday scenario. Penn is still out there lurking. All it will take is one loss the next two weekends to change everything.

Yale and Cornell are both 6-4 in the league. Princeton beat Cornell by 28 here the first time. It beat Yale by six.

Was that game a fluke? Or does Yale know something?

TigerBlog will be here to find out later. He's not going anywhere.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

That's History

TigerBlog was an American history major at Penn.

Maybe he should have gone down a different path. Maybe physics. Or accounting.

Nah, history suited him. He's always liked the way one era flowed into another, the way it all built on itself, the way a modern world emerged from an older one.

He has the right kind of brain for memorizing dates and places. All in all, it fit him well.

Because of that, TigerBlog was only to happy to volunteer to be one of the readers of the questions at the History Bowl event at a middle school yesterday.

You know how this works. There are teams of kids from different schools who compete against each other answering questions about history, with points awarded in different ways.

In the end, the winning "team" was a single young man who was the sole representative from his school. He went up against other schools who fielded teams of four, and yet he beat all of them. It was pretty impressive.

TigerBlog read the questions for four matches. There were four rounds to each match, with four separate ways of awarding points. The bottom line, though, was that it was all historical trivia.

What surprised TB was the nature of the questions. Very few of them were American history. Most of them were European or non-Western, many going back to medieval times or even ancient times.

It made them pretty hard questions, at least for TB. Perhaps it's because that's the kind of stuff kids study in that age group. TB isn't sure. He just figured there'd be more American history questions than anything else.

And how would TB have done had he competed? He wouldn't have won, that's for sure. Maybe if it was more American history, he would have liked his chances more.

And while TB was thinking back to his college major, it dawned on him that there are things that history students study today that hadn't happened yet when TB was in college. That's a tad frightening. 

Anyway, fast-forwarding to the present, or even a few days into the future, there will be three Ivy League championships crowned this weekend, at a minimum. And one of them will definitely be awarded on the Princeton campus.

And possibly a second. At least mathematically.

Let's start with the first, which starts today and will run until Saturday. The Ivy League men's swimming and diving championships will be at DeNunzio Pool, and if history - and pre-meet projections - are an indicator, then the winner will be either Princeton or Harvard.

A week ago, TigerBlog pointed out that the last time the Ivy women's championship was won by someone other than those two schools was in 1999. Princeton then extended that streak by winning the 2015 title.

The domination by Princeton and Harvard on the men's side has been even greater. On the men's side, either Princeton or Harvard has won every year since 1993, when Yale got a share of the title with Harvard.

Anyway, there are afternoon and evening sessions today, tomorrow and Saturday.

Meanwhile, up at Harvard, it'll be the Ivy League Heptagonal indoor track and field championships for men and women.

As in swimming and diving, men's indoor track and field has been dominated by two schools for a long time, in this case, Princeton and Cornell. In fact, it's back to 1996 to find a different winner (it was Penn that year).

On the women's side, there have been four winners in the last six years - Princeton twice, Harvard twice, Cornell and Columbia once each.

The indoor Heps go Saturday and Sunday.

The other possible Ivy League champion for this weekend would be in women's basketball.

Princeton plays at home against Yale tomorrow night and Brown Saturday. A sweep by the 14th-ranked Tigers mathematically eliminates every team in the league other than Penn.

Right now, Princeton is 9-0 in the league - and 25-0 overall, the only undefeated women's basketball team in Division I. Penn is 7-2, while Cornell and Yale are both 6-4.

If Princeton wins tomorrow, then Yale would be eliminated. If Princeton sweeps, then neither Yale nor Cornell could catch Princeton.

If Penn splits with Yale and Brown and Princeton sweeps, then Princeton would be three games up on Penn with three to play. If Princeton sweeps and Penn gets swept, then Princeton would clinch the outright title.

ON THE OTHER HAND - that's all caps, so TB must be serious here - Princeton has to play Penn in the final game of the season at the Palestra. All Penn wants to do is have a shot at tying for the championship that night, which requires Princeton to lose one along the way and Penn to keep winning.

Will it happen? The four teams Princeton plays between now and then have all lost to the Tigers, by a lot (Brown), a lot (Columbia) a lot (Cornell) and a little (Yale, who lost by six in the first game between the two.

Yes, Princeton is the heavy favorite. No, nothing is etched in stone until it happens.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Coach Carril and Mr. McPhee

There is a hallway in Caldwell Field House that goes from the entryway to the athletic training room.

If you were to walk down that hallway, you'd pass by the conference room and then, once through the double doors that begin the men's-only section, the locker room for coaches and staff on the left. As you continue, you'll go past locker rooms for men's track and field, men's lacrosse, men's soccer and finally men's basketball on the right.

On the left side, in the middle, is the cage for the athletic equipment room, which is flanked on either side by the bathrooms, with stalls, sinks and urinals in the front and a huge shower room in the back.

Opposite the cage are two benches, wedged against the wall, with one of those big old-fashioned scales next to it. The scale and the benches have been there, unchanged, for as long as TigerBlog has been around here, which is more than a quarter-century.

Yesterday afternoon, that little piece of ugly gray real estate was the best place, by far, to be on the beautiful Princeton campus.

And why would that be? Because there sat, together, two of the most iconic figures in the history of the University. Chatting it up on a Tuesday afternoon. About old times. About their health. About people they knew. About Princeton basketball. About fish.

It started a little earlier, when TigerBlog went to D level of Jadwin to ride the bike with John McPhee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and longtime writing instructor at the University. The two will ride together indoors when the weather prevents Mr. McPhee from his usual outdoor loop around town.

When their ride ended, the two headed back to the locker room. That is when TigerBlog saw Pete Carril, Princeton's Hall of Fame basketball coach, at the far end of the hallway. TB called ahead to Carril and said he had someone he wanted to introduce him to, knowing full well that the two went back decades.

As Carril slowly - he walks very slowly these days - made his way closer, he figured out who it was.

"Johnny McPhee?" he called out. "Is that Johnny McPhee?"

With that, the two sat down next to each other on the bench. The next 15 minutes or so were somewhat magical.

How else can TigerBlog describe it?

Here was Pete Carril - Coach, as so many call him. TigerBlog has heard Carril speak so many times in so many different settings. He covered him as a sportswriter in his newspaper days and has the distinction of being Carril's last athletic communications contact.

Carril grew up in Bethlehem. His father worked in the steel mills there for 40 years. His high school coach was a man named Joseph Preletz, whose nickname was "Pickles." He played for three different coaches at Lafayette College, including Butch van Breda Kolff. He coached at Easton High, Reading High and Lehigh University before he came to Princeton, where he won 514 games and 13 Ivy League championships.

Here was John McPhee, - not Johnny, at least not that TigerBlog had ever heard before. TigerBlog has spent hours riding the bike with Mr. McPhee, as well as in his role as Academic Athletic Fellow for the men's lacrosse team.

McPhee grew up in Princeton. His father was the team physician for Princeton Athletics, and McPhee grew up on this campus, attending games in pretty much every sport, though his favorites were football and basketball. He went to Princeton High and then spent a post-grad year at Deerfield before returning to Princeton, this time as a student at the University. He graduated in 1953 and then spent more than 10 years as a writer at "Time," before he finally got his big break with "The New Yorker." And what was that break? A story about Bill Bradley as a Princeton senior, entitled "A Sense Of Where You Are."

That would become his first book. He's now at 28 - all non-fiction - and counting.

TigerBlog knows all of that and way more about both men. They go way back, the two of them. They're both unassuming men, even if they could be forgiven if they weren't, given all they've accomplished. They are genuine, no BS men. At a University that prides itself on its pomp, these two are much more about circumstance. 

They're both nearing their 85th birthdays. They both have lost a step or two from when they used to go at each other in tennis, squash, basketball - one of TB's favorite McPhee stories is when he told TB that he knew he was pushing Carril hard in a tennis match when Carril actually had to put his cigar down.

They are each walking, talking volumes of Princeton history. They are beloved throughout the campus, for what they've accomplished and how they've accomplished it. They are both in the 5-7, 5-8 range, but to TigerBlog, each man is somewhat larger than life.

And there they were, sitting on a bench in a locker room.

They talked about all kinds of subjects, including where they would meet up for lunch one day soon - Conte's of course. And they talked about an old picture of Carril that McPhee has for him. They talked about one of Carril's former students and players at Reading who recently passed away, and that led Carril to relate the story of the time Reading beat Bethlehem in front of 12,000 fans. Bethlehem had beaten Reading by 35 the first time they played, but Reading won this one 49-48. It was Gary Walters' sophomore year at Reading. Carril punctuated the story by pointing out that Reading's win made his father unpopular at work the next day.

Eventually, Mr. McPhee mentioned he was heading to the supermarket to get something for dinner. Carril suggested salmon and gave him his own special recipe. They talked about food. And fish. Kinds they liked. Kinds they didn't. Cod. Carril really doesn't like cod.

TigerBlog sat there, an observer of this fascinating dynamic. It was a little before the time when the room would begin to fill with athletes, down for that afternoon's practices. There were a handful who walked by, some on the way to and from the training room, including a track and field athlete with a black Princeton hat, with an orange "P" on it.

"I have one just like that," Carril told him. "Only mine is 29 years old."

They play off each perfectly, Carril and McPhee. It was like watching an old-time movie duo, Martin and Lewis, something like that, two men who know each other so well and who have for so long that their interaction is seamless.

But these aren't just any two friends. They are Pete Carril and John McPhee. It has been one of the singular best moments of TigerBlog's time here that he's had the great fortune to get to know each of them.

TigerBlog wondered if the young men in the locker room had any idea what they were watching, who these two men were. Yeah, they probably recognized Carril. They probably didn't recognize McPhee.

But did they know what these two men are? Could they begin to understand their depth, their drive, their shared work ethic, the genius behind each of their bodies of work, regardless of how different they were?

TigerBlog knew it. That's for sure. This might just have been two buddies who ran into each other and spent a few minutes together, but TB knew what he was watching was something very special.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Gaga And Bagnoli

The Academy Awards Sunday night featured nearly four hours of the usual narcissism and celebrity worship, mixed with a misunderstanding of what actual talent, intellect, humor and humility are all about.

No, mostly what it was was good-looking people wearing expensive clothes remarking on how great they are and how what they do requires them to be so much greater than everyone else, rather than just getting that one lucky break that hundreds of others who are just as talented never got.

There was one glaring exception, though. TigerBlog hopes the moral of the story here is obvious, though he doubts it is.

Lady Gaga was, in a word, incredible, and was from the first note she struck of "The Sound of Music" all the way through to the end of her performance. And then it only got better, when Julie Andrews came out on stage.

Lady Gaga, maybe more than anyone, has associated the visual with the audio part of her performances, at least to this point. The big thing from her has always been what costume she's going to wear, how much skin she's going to reveal, what tattoo she has next. Her music was mostly an extension of that, not something that could stand on its own.

Her Oscar performance?

It stands on its own. It's been 50 years since "The Sound of Music" won Best Picture, and Lady Gaga brought it all back right into the moment. It was astonishing how good she was.

And what's the moral? There's no substitute for real, genuine, "I-can-do-this-and-not-everybody-else-can" talent. And that's what Lady Gaga had on display during the show, with a voice that she has kept hidden under a wig or outrageous outfit.

As for the rest of the show? TigerBlog saw "American Sniper" and "The Imitation Game." He didn't see "Birdman," so he can't say for sure if that was better than the other two, so he'll just say it this way: If "Birdman" is better than the other two, then it has to be really, really, really good.

Why is TigerBlog so anti-movie star? He's not, really. It's just that he values substance, and there's a real lack of it on display at the Academy Awards.

Coaching, like acting, is a profession where the most successful aren't necessarily the most talented. Some are the products of a no-lose system. Some benefit from having a unique player or players who carry their team - sort of like coaching Tom Brady or Michael Jordan.

Maybe they're the best coaches. Maybe there are any number of people who could coach those teams and win. And if you're one of those coaches, would you risk your reputation as being one of the greats of all time to take on a genuine challenge someplace else?

And this brings us to the big news in the Ivy League today.

Ordinarily, TigerBlog likes to stay away from commenting on specific things that are going on at the other league schools. Today it's a little different. You can't write about Ivy League athletics without mentioning Al Bagnoli, whose hire as the new head football coach at Columbia University was officially announced yesterday, several days after it became public.

When Princeton last saw Bagnoli, it was November. TigerBlog remembers it well, as he made a PA announcement congratulating Bagnoli on his fine career as Penn's coach, including his 17-6 record against Princeton.

And now, Bagnoli is taking over at Columbia. This is fascinating on 100 different levels.

With very few exceptions, Columbia has struggled since well before TB has been following Ivy League football. The current Lions have had back-to-back 0-10 seasons, and they will bring a 21-game losing streak into 2015.

And who will be leading them? One of the greatest football coaches in Ivy history, a man who won nine league championships at Penn, six of which came during perfect 7-0 league seasons.

Let's start with Columbia's perspective.

This seems like a perfect hire for the Lions. They're getting genuine buzz around their program. Hey, what Ivy fan doesn't want to see how Bagnoli will do? TigerBlog is interested in what happens.

On top of that, Columbia is getting a coach who clearly knows what he's doing. Yes, Penn hasn't been great the last few years. And yes, Bagnoli is 62.

On the other hand, maybe a new assignment reenergizes him.

Columbia has nothing to lose with this hire. The program has struggled under coach after coach, all of whom seemed promising when they came in. No Columbia fan can say that the school isn't making a commitment to try to turn it around now.

What about from Bagnoli's perspective?

TigerBlog's initial thought was why would he want this? Yes, the money is probably good, though TB doubts it's as much as he's read in some places. Who knows though. That's a private matter for Columbia University.

Just from a coaching standpoint though, what if Bagnoli goes there and doesn't turn the program around. Does that ruin some of his legacy, which as of now is as one of the league's all-time best?

What didn't dawn on TB is that perhaps Bagnoli doesn't care about that. Maybe coaches don't think in those terms.

Maybe all he's thinking is that he's the one who can get it done. Maybe that's what coaches - successful ones - think. That "I'm" the one who can get it done there.

If he does, then that settles it. Bagnoli is the greatest Ivy football coach ever.

Either way, it's fascinating.

His first Ivy game next year will be Oct. 1 at home, against Princeton. The Tigers are coached by TB's favorite Ivy football coach, Bob Surace.

TigerBlog goes to Surace for a lot of his perspectives on how coaches think and what goes through their minds. He's learned a lot from Surace on this subject.

Now Surace goes from coaching against Bagnoli at Penn to coaching against him at Columbia. It's a weird dynamic, one that doesn't come up too often.

When was the last time a coach went from being a proven, consistent winner over nearly a quarter-century to another school in the same league, let alone one that has struggled like Columbia has? TB can't think of any.

TB will be rooting for Princeton to beat Columbia of course, but that doesn't mean that he isn't going to be following what Bagnoli does with the Lions. And wondering where that program will be in three or four years. And what it means for the coach's legacy.

No matter, though, it's good for Ivy football in general. It certainly makes it more interesting.

Honestly, TB has no idea what to expect from any of this. He wouldn't even begin to guess whether he'll win big, or not win at all.

The best he can do is wish Bagnoli luck. At least in his final six Ivy games.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Swimming And Diving To The Top, Again

Maddie Sachson is a first-grader whose father made a deal with her Saturday evening.

If she'd let him finish watching the Ivy League women's swimming and diving championships on the Ivy League Digital Network, he'd give her extra reading time before bed.

An hour later, he went upstairs, and this is what he found waiting for him:
How cute is that?

TigerBlog was at Baker Rink at the time, following not on the digital network but on Twitter, which was being updated by Maddie's dad, Craig, TB's colleague in the Office of Athletic Communications.

TB was sitting with Steve Conn, his counterpart at Yale, watching the Tigers play the Bulldogs in men's hockey. At the moment that TB checked Twitter, Princeton was 100 points back of the leader, Harvard, with Yale right in the mix. Then Yale took the lead, something that Conn seemed to be okay with.

More than any other sport, though, a 100-point deficit in swimming and diving means less than the events that remain and who has qualified for them. And so, even down 100 points, Princeton was still in great shape.

Shortly thereafter the Tigers had erased that entire deficit and come away with the Ivy League championship.

Princeton made its move in the 200 free, with individual winner Claire McIlmail and then three others in the top eight. Caitlin Chambers won the three-meter diving, and the Tigers entered the final event, the 400 free relay, with an 11.5 point lead, needing to finish third or better to win the championship.

And what did they do? They finished first, with a meet record to boot, as McIlmail, Nikki Larson, Elizabeth McDonald and Madelyn Veith won in 3:18.5.

Few teams have been as consistently successful through the years as the Princeton women's swimming and diving team. For starters, the program has not gone consecutive years without winning an Ivy title this century, a streak in danger after Harvard's win last year.

In fact, it's been either Princeton or Harvard every year since 1999, when Brown won. TigerBlog knew that stat, and that's why he was taken aback that Yale was making such a run at the championship.

In the end, though, it was Princeton.

The Tigers have now won 12 of the last 17 Ivy League championships. Would you like some historical context for that?

Sure you would.

As TB said, Princeton is on a 12 for 17 run of Ivy League championships. Do you know how many Princeton varsity teams have ever had a similar (or better) stretch?

Princeton has 38 teams. As near as TB can figure it, only field hockey, men's lacrosse, softball and men's and women's swimming and diving have ever won at least 12 Ivy titles in 17 years.

If TB is wrong he apologizes to the team he's overlooked.

As for those five teams, only two of them - field hockey and women's swimming and diving - have an active such streak.

To have that kind of sustained excellence is not easy.

Winning 12 Ivy titles in 17 years means winning 71% of the Ivy League titles awarded in a 17-year period. This means consistently winning through multiple generations, as the roster turns over completely more than four times.

Also, because only Princeton and Harvard have won it that time, that means that Ivy League swimmers and divers who want to win an Ivy title know they have to go to one of those two schools. And hey, it just so happens that the ones who chose Princeton have won 71% of the time this century.

When Princeton and Penn dominated Ivy League men's baskeball, the pendulum swung back and forth between the two. Neither ever won more than 10 outright titles in 17 years.


In Ivy women's swimming, Princeton has dominated Harvard during the last 17 years.

It's hard to say the most recent championship was domination. Quite the opposite.

In some years, the Tigers have swum so far away from the field that there was no drama at all.

This one came down to the wire. In the end, though, it was the Princeton women's swimming and diving team.

Once again.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Thoughts For The Weekend

TigerBlog may be way, way overreacting to this. Or maybe it's because he spends a considerable amount of his time driving a carload of 14 year old girls back and forth to field hockey and any number of other places.

As an aside, if TB has learned anything from his 14-year-old daughter, it's that a father's main functions when transporting her to and from social/athletic/educational activities are to 1) drive the car, 2) cede control of the musical selections and 3) most importantly never speak.

Anyway, watching as Miss TigerBlog and her friends go from little kids to high school age, TigerBlog definitely takes seriously issues related to teenage girls. For as much as the average 14 year old girl can be a nightmare on a daily basis, she is also dealing with huge hurdles in her path from freshman year to graduation.

Not to sound sexist, but it's a lot tougher for a girl than a boy to navigate those years, at least in general. Society is constantly bombarding high school girls with images of what they're supposed to look like, what their bodies are supposed to look like, how they're supposed to act, even what they're not supposed to be interested in studying (math and science, girls?).

For as tough as it can be engage MTB in conversation or to get her to actually respond to one of TB's texts, TigerBlog has it pretty good with his daughter. Her goal is to study engineering in college. She plays two sports. She has nice friends. And, best of all, she's her own person, with pretty good self-esteem and a history of marching to her own drum, in a good way.

This is not true of every teenage girl. And that's why TB is a bit wary of the movie "The Duff," which opens today.

TigerBlog saw the commercial for it and couldn't really believe this was real. "The Duff" stands for "Designated Ugly Fat Friend."

The movie appears to be a predictable high school coming-of-age movie. TB is sure it has its cute moments. 

What he's concerned about is the effect this is going to have on the girls out there who will be called "Duffs" at school, and not in a funny coming-of-age way. No, in a vindictive nightmarish way. And it won't help the situation that the title character in the movie is hardly "U" or "F."

TB just hopes nothing catastrophic happens because of this movie. Hopefully he's just being hyper-sensitive.

And that's today's social commentary.

And now, the weekend in Princeton Athletics.

Let's start with the three game time changes, including one that includes a change in day as well. If you were planning on going to watch Princeton-Hofstra men's lacrosse today at 3, don't. It's being played tomorrow at 3 as the second game of a doubleheader, after the women play Loyola at noon, instead of 1, as was originally scheduled.

The men's game has been moved off of ESPNU and will be on ESPN3 instead.

Also, the women's basketball game tonight against Dartmouth has been moved from 7 to 6.

There will be two Ivy League champions crowned this weekend, and they figure to both belong to either Princeton or Harvard.

The Ivy League women's swimming and diving championships are being held this weekend at Harvard, and after Day 1, Harvard holds a slight lead over Princeton, who in turn holds a slight lead over Yale. Nobody else is close.

The last time a team other than Princeton or Harvard won the Ivy League title was 1999, when Brown did so. Since then, Princeton has won 11 and Harvard has won four, including last year's.

Princeton set the pool record in the 200 free relay, with Elizabeth McDonald, Nikki Larson, Kathleen Mulligan and Maddy Veith in a time of 1:31.10. McDonald, who didn't reach any finals at last year's championships, then won the 50 free as well.

Caitlin Chambers was Princeton's third winner on the first day as she took the one-meter diving.

The other Ivy title that will be decided this weekend is the one in women's hockey. This one will definitely be Princeton or Harvard.

The Crimson are finished with their 10 Ivy games and have 16 points, having gone 8-2-0. Princeton, who is at Brown tonight and Yale tomorrow, has 13 points at 6-1-1. The Tigers need three points to tie Harvard and four to win outright.

This is the last weekend of ECAC women's hockey's regular season, and the Ivy League champion is crowned through the head-to-head games of the Ivy teams within the ECAC schedule.

Princeton currently sits in sixth in the ECAC, two points behind St. Lawrence and one behind Cornell. The top four teams get home ice in the ECAC quarterfinals next weekend, and so Princeton needs to catch both to be at Baker Rink.

Interestingly, Harvard is in first place in the league with 33 points, eight ahead of Princeton. Because the Tigers did so well against the Ivy teams, they can still skate away with a title this weekend.

Beyond the Ivy titles, there is also basketball (Princeton needs to sweep at Dartmouth and Harvard to stay in the men's race), the "Princeton Plays Pink" women's basketball game tomorrow at which anyone who wears pink will get in free and home men's hockey and wresting.

As far as teams on the road, they include the softball team, which is opening its season in Boca Raton. That's in Florida.

The forecast is for sun and temps in the high 70s to 80. That's about high 70s to 80 more than it was here this morning.

It could be worse. TB has a friend in Ohio who texted him this morning the iPhone weather app that said it was minus-15 there. Hey, it was only zero here.

Anyway have a nice weekend. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Laxing In The Cold

Okay, TigerBlog doesn't want to complain about the weather or anything. Or beat the subject to death.

Still, it's getting a little unreasonable around here.

And the most unreasonable is about to happen.

The forecast for today is for a high of 18 degrees. Then it'll get downright insane.

By the time everyone around here wakes up tomorrow morning, the temperature will be well below zero. The forecast says minus-five, which would probably be about as cold as it's ever been in TigerBlog's lifetime, he's guessing. He can't remember when it got more than one below, and that hasn't happened too often.

And this isn't with the wind chill. This is the actual temperature.

The forecast for Saturday is for a high around 30 and a chance of late-day snow, and that forecast was way preferable to tomorrow's of a high of 19 or so. As a result, Princeton moved its men's lacrosse game against Hofstra from Friday to Saturday, with face-off at 3.

The women's season-opener against Loyola, originally scheduled for 1 Saturday, has been moved to noon.

For the record, that's three changes to the schedule for this weekend, along with the women's basketball game, which moved to 6 tomorrow night.

TigerBlog is trying to remember the coldest temperatures he's ever been in, and it might have been at Dartmouth one year for basketball. Princeton always stays at the Fireside Inn and Suites in Hanover, at the first exit off I-89 after you cross into New Hampshire from Vermont.

There's a relatively long driveway into the hotel. At the other end are a bunch of strip malls, food places and such, and it's about a seven-minute walk or so from the lobby of the hotel. TigerBlog remembers making that walk one time and feeling like his face froze by the time he got to the main road.

He can't remember what the exact temperature was then. He's also probably not going to try to walk seven minutes from his front door tomorrow morning to see if it's any colder than he remembers from that day.

TigerBlog knows people who prefer the winter to the summer. That's fine. It's their choice, even if they are nuts.

Look at THIS and tell TB you wouldn't much rather be there right now. 

Oh well. Nothing TB can do about it right now.

As for lacrosse, it's supposed to be a warm weather sport. Or at least a spring sport. It can't be fun to practice and play on days like there have been or will be for the next few weeks. It definitely can't be fun to get smacked by a lacrosse ball on bare skin on days like this.

Or, for that matter, to sit there and watch a game, if you're a fan. Princeton had 672 hardy souls at Sherrerd Field last Saturday to see the Tigers defeat Manhattan 14-4 in a game that started in 28 degree weather and ended in snow.

The problem these days is that with conference tournaments, an NCAA tournament schedule locked in place and a reluctance to play midweek games, the schedule gets pushed back earlier and earlier. Just 10 years ago, Princeton's opener was March 5. This year, Princeton opened on Feb. 14.

Why? Because with one fewer midweek game and an Ivy tournament that requires the regular season to be over a week earlier than before it, the math is not hard to do. 

Plus, wins are wins. It doesn't matter when you get them. It's not even late February yet, and Towson already has a huge win over Johns Hopkins and Denver has a huge win over Duke. Come selection time, those will matter a lot.

Hey, Penn had a nice win Tuesday night in overtime against a very good St. Joe's team. The Quakers came from down 9-4 in the fourth quarter to get that one 11-10.

If you're going to play at this time of year, at least play in the daylight.

Or indoors. Like Syracuse can, in the Carrier Dome, which TigerBlog loves. Cornell lost there Sunday 14-6 to Syracuse, in a game that was going to be tough for the Big Red, who had only two weeks of practice, like the rest of the Ivy teams.

Cornell's next game is against Hobart, and it's being moved from Saturday to tomorrow and off both campuses, to the Greater Binghamton Sports Center. TB isn't sure if that's indoors or not.

The solution would be to start the season later. Or to go back to more midweek games.

Or, better yet, do what baseball did and push the NCAA championships back into June, so the season can start at a more reasonable date.

Maybe that'll happen someday. It won't be soon. And so teams are left with the situation that they created, which is playing and practicing when it's below freezing to get all of their games in.

It's not that complicated. Either push the season back, or play in this weather. 

And so instead of a single game tomorrow and a single game Saturday, there's a doubleheader Saturday. The men's game was originally scheduled for Friday at 3 for ESPNU; now the game will be live on ESPN3 and then shown on delay on ESPNU at some point.

TigerBlog is mostly just happy that it's lacrosse season. Hey, he'd be there no matter what the weather is.

Of course, he gets to sit in a press box. On the other hand, he has to do that when the weather gets nice out too, though it seems worth the trade off.

The bottom line is that much of lacrosse season - maybe half - is now being played in awful weather, year after year, and that's a shame.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Worth A Read

TigerBlog remembers Flinder Boyd as a pesky point guard at Dartmouth, back about 10 or 15 years ago or so.

As it turns out, he was Dartmouth Class of 2002.

TigerBlog remembers a bunch of other Dartmouth guys from around then some of whom played with Boyd and a few who were older. Guys like Greg Buth, Brian Gilpin, Shawn Gee, Sea Lonergan, Charles Harris and a few others, some of whom, as it turned out when TB looked through Dartmouth's archives, were a little older than Boyd.

Okay, so he can't remember all the years.

He does remember that most nights against Dartmouth weren't going to be easy, and he remembers how hard Dartmouth teams always seemed to play. He remembers nights in Leede Arena in Hanover, frozen nights in New Hampshire, with the late Kathy Slattery in charge of basically all things in the building and his friend Bruce Wood there to chronicle it all, both of them hoping that at least once there'd be an NCAA tournament in it for them.

Sadly, it wasn't to be for Slattery, who passed away some years ago after a long tenure as the Dartmouth sports information director. She was an imposing presence at Dartmouth, to be sure, and she was from the first moment TB met her, back in 1989 or so.

TigerBlog hadn't thought much about those days, or about Flinder Boyd, much of late.

Then he stumbled onto a story that Boyd had written, a story included in the Top American Sportswriting of 2014.

It's an incredible story, about an otherwise aimless young man whose complete focus is on taking advantage of his one shot at the big time at New York City's Rucker Park. Boyd does an amazing job of telling the story; it is clearly one of the best pieces TB has ever read.

It's a bit long, but it is well, well worth your time. Click HERE to read it.

Did you read it? Or are you finishing here first?

Either way, glad you're here.

TigerBlog will now fast forward to the current day Ivy League basketball races. It's a good time to do it, at about the midway point of the season, as each team has played eight of 14 league games, except for Princeton and Penn, who have played seven. This goes for women and men.

If you look at the standings, you'll see that on the men's side, Harvard and Yale are both 7-1, followed by Princeton at 4-3. No other team has fewer than four losses.

On the women's side, obviously Princeton is 7-0. Oh, by the way, the game Friday has been moved from 7 to 6; hopefully word has made it to you by now.

Behind Princeton, Penn is 5-2. Yale and Cornell are 5-3. Everyone else is under .500.

So how many teams are still in the title chase?

On the men's side, it's clear that Harvard and Yale are in the best position. Princeton, if it can win out, would be at 11-3, and Harvard and Yale would each have at least two losses, by virtue of losing to Princeton. Plus, one of them would have a third loss by virtue of playing each other.

Is it out of the realm of possibility that the one who wins the Harvard-Yale game would lose again? Maybe, maybe not.

But for the sake of discussion, let's say three teams are alive.

On the women's side? TigerBlog is very careful not to get ahead of anything here, but clearly Princeton is aiming for a 30-0 season. To do that, Princeton would have to beat each Ivy team again.

Given that Princeton has won six of its seven Ivy games by at least 18 points and five by at least 28 points, it's not crazy to think Princeton will get there. It's hardly set in stone, but Princeton will be the favorite in every one of those seven games.

On the other hand, if someone can nick Princeton along the way and Penn can win its next six, then the teams would get to the end of the regular season at the Palestra with only one game between them. That'd be a lot of pressure on the Tigers.

So you want to say Penn is still alive? You want to say the 5-3 teams are probably out of it, since Princeton would have to go 4-3 the rest of the way to allow them to get a share of the title? Okay, TB is fine with that.

That means that of the 16 Ivy League basketball teams, only five still have a chance at winning the league and getting to the NCAA tournament. At the midway point.

And there are many Ivy fans who would say that only three teams are legitimately in the race, two on the men's side and one on the women's side.

What's the point of all this?

The Ivy League is the only conference in the country that does not have a postseason conference tournament to determine its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

For years, TigerBlog has been anti-tournament. In fact, he's surprised that every other one-bid conference still has its tournament.

If you look at the Patriot League, only five games separate first place from last place right now on the men's side. Doesn't the team that guts it out through that tough a race deserve to be the champion and go to the tournament? Or should they have to start from scratch again in a league tournament, one that completely devalues the regular season?

If anything, it's the current women's situation that would give a justification for a tournament, in that if someone besides Princeton won, then the league would probably get two bids. It's why the lacrosse tournaments are so good, because they don't deny NCAA bids to deserving teams. They give other teams a chance at getting one as well.

So why have a conference basketball tournament if it's going to keep your best team out of the tournament? TigerBlog doesn't get it.

The flip side is that the majority of the league's teams are not playing for NCAA tournament spots midway though the season. If there was a traditional conference tournament, every team would still be alive - even though most wouldn't have earned that right.

TB has said this before. If the Ivy League does want to adopt a tournament, make it a four-team one. Or even better, make it a three-team one on each side.

On a Friday, have the second place team play the third place team for the men and women. A doubleheader.

Then, on Saturday, have the winners play the first place teams in another doubleheader. A championship doubleheader.

TigerBlog could deal with that.

An eight-team tournament?

As he's said a million times before, TigerBlog would hate to see that.

Let the regular season matter. The Ivy League is the only league that, in TB's opinion, does it right in this situation.

Why give that up?