Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hold The Mayo

TigerBlog had to go to Chapel Hill for the men's lacrosse game between Princeton (ranked fourth in one poll and fifth in the other) and North Carolina (second in one, third in the other), which is being played tonight at 7.

Actually, there's a pretty good tripleheader if you're a Princeton/sports fan. Princeton and UNC play in baseball at 3 and lacrosse at 7, and then the Tar Heels host William & Mary at 9:30 in the first round of the NIT.

TB wasn't sure whether he should fly or drive to the Raleigh-Durham area. On the one hand, it's a pretty far drive, more than seven hours. On the other hand, by the time you drive to the airport, park, take the shuttle to the terminal, go through security, wait for the flight, hope it's on time, get on the plane, fly, get off, get to the rental car counter and get to the hotel, how much time are you saving? An hour? Two at the most?

So, TB decided to drive. It wasn't a bad drive, and the traffic was only bad in Northern Virginia. He wasn't sure what to eat for dinner on the way, so he went with a Whopper with no mayo from Burger King. You may or may not know this, but a Whopper has 39 grams of fat, while a Whopper without Mayo has a little more than half that total.

Because he was driving, TB missed the women's basketball NCAA tournament selection show, which apparently drew a pretty good turnout at Triumph, where the team gathered to watch the show with a large group that included University president Shirley Tilghman.

The crowd had to wait until the final bracket before seeing Princeton's name, but it was well worth it. This is Princeton's first trip to the women's tournament, and it comes in a year when the Tigers had unquestionably their best team ever.

When Princeton finally came up on the board, it's hard to imagine anyone was disappointed. The Tigers take on St. John's of the Big East in Tallahassee, Fla., this Saturday at 12:21 on ESPN2. Not 12:20 or 12:22. That's 12:21.

Princeton enters the tournament with a record of 26-2 overall and 21 straight wins. Included in that run was a perfect 14-0 Ivy League record. The result was an 11 seed, the best ever by an Ivy League women's team.

The Ivy champ in the women's tournament is 1-16 all-time, so clearly wins are clearly hard to come by in the NCAAs. And St. John's won't be an easy team to take out: the Johnnies only lost by 14 at UConn and they have a record of 24-6.

In addition, St. John's tripled its Big East wins from last year, going from four to 12. The sixth seed is the best in program history as the team makes its fifth NCAA appearance.

Still, the Tigers are a dangerous opponent. For starters, it's not always easy to get Big East players to take an Ivy League team seriously. In some ways, that's going to work against Cornell on the men's side, since Temple coach Fran Dunphy knows a thing or two about Ivy League basketball.

The other thing working in Princeton's favor is that it's used to winning. It's always better to play a mid-level team from a big conference that has lost 10 or so games rather than a top team from a lower conference that has lost only a few games. That team is used to doing what it takes to win.

The same is true of the Patriot champ in women's basketball, by the way. Lehigh enters the tournament as a 13 seed with a 29-3 record to take on fourth seeded Iowa State in Ames (where they have plenty of Burger Kings and every other fast food place, TB recalls from his two trips there).

On the other hand, Princeton is sailing in uncharted waters here. Obviously no Princeton player has been to the tournament before, though head coach Courtney Banghart played in two at Dartmouth (and assistant coach Milena Flores played in the Final Four at Stanford).

The great part about where Princeton - and every other lower-seeded team in both tournaments - is right now is that there's no way of knowing what's going to happen. The potential for a history-making win is there for every game, and the lower the seed, the more history it would make.

Yes, most of those teams won't win, and Princeton is certainly an underdog. But that hardly means it's not worth taking your shot.

Through the years, TB has been asked a familiar question: Is it better to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament or make a run through the NIT?

Princeton's men had a great NIT experience in 1999, when the Tigers defeated Georgetown and N.C. State before losing in the quarterfinals against Xavier. Certainly those games were more memorable than the 2001 NCAA tournament game against North Carolina, for instance.

But that's not the point. It's not the fact that Princeton didn't win in 2001 against UNC. It's that Princeton had the chance to win a game that people would remember forever.

The 1996 Princeton-UCLA men's first-round game is one of the greatest in college basketball history. So is Princeton's 1989 loss to Georgetown. The chance at pulling off something so memorable easily trumps the opportunity to have a successful run in the NIT. As someone who has been to many NCAA tournaments and seen the NIT up close as well, TB can tell you that without hesitation.

So, to the Princeton women's basketball team, enjoy your spring break trip to Florida this weekend.

You've already made history as the first Princeton women's team to play in the NCAA tournament. Maybe there's some more history waiting there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Back in the day, though, when the NCAA tourney had fewer teams, the NIT was a more meaningful experience. In 1975, the 16 team NIT had one nationally ranked team in it (I think). Games were in Madison Square Garden. When we won it in 1975 we drew widespread attention and a New York Times editorial (of course, the editorial page editor was a Princeton man). I don't remember what Penn did in the NCAAs that year, but this was one NIT tournament where participating in it topped a one and down in the other tournament. Best of Luck to both our basketball teams this week! Congratulations to the players and coaches who have brought both programs along nicely so far.