Friday, February 18, 2011

Mitch Madness

By now, TigerBlog will assume you've seen Dwyane Wade's length-of-the-court pass to LeBron James in Miami's game against Indiana the other night.

It was a ridiculous pass, as Wade got the rebound, turned and fired it to James, who caught it and laid it in in one motion. The only way it could've been better would have been for it to be a dunk on the other end.

If you watched the highlight on TV, you were immediately deluged with the obligatory "is this the greatest pass ever" discussions, as everything has to be hyped to its highest level within moments, without any regard for context.

The play actually got TB wondering why it doesn't happen more often. Wade looked like a quarterback in the pocket with good protection, and he threw a post pattern to a receiver who had beaten the defensive backs.

A basketball court is 94 feet baseline to baseline, so let's say Wade's pass went 90 feet. That's 30 yards.

Yes, there are no laces on the basketball, so throwing a football precisely is easier. Still, TB isn't suggesting that a pass like that should happen every day, but he is surprised that it's such a rarity.

As a completely unrelated aside, was there nobody at NBC or on the set of "The Office" who could have stood up, shaken his or her head and said "we can't run this 'Threat Level Midnight episode because it'll be the single worst episode of television in history?'"

Meanwhile, back at passing a basketball, Wade's pass made TigerBlog think about what the greatest pass he ever saw a Princeton player throw.

Princeton basketball has had some amazing passers in the 22 years that TB has been around the program. In fact, many of them were big guys, starting with the first Princeton center TB saw play extensively, Kit Mueller, and continuing today with Ian Hummer, whose ability to see the court and move the ball is tremendous.

If you look at the all-time assist leaders in Princeton history, the top three are a guard (Bill Ryan), a center (Mueller) and a forward (John Thompson).

If you go out to the top eight, you find that five of those eight are currently basketball coaches on either the Division I or NBA level:
No. 3 Thompson - Georgetown
No. 4 Mitch Henderson - Northwestern
No. 6 Sydney Johnson - Princeton
No. 7 Brian Earl - Princeton
No. 8 Armond Hill - Boston Celtics

TigerBlog, when he thinks to the single best passes he's seen, remembers one that Nate Walton threw, a no-look behind-the-back dish, to a cutting Mike Bechtold for a layup in Princeton's 2001 Ivy League championship-clinching win over Penn at Jadwin.

Walton is the second-best passer TB has seen at Princeton. If TB had to pick the single best passer he's seen here, he'd go with Henderson, who graduated in 1998.

Because of the talent that he played with, Henderson is often overlooked. His teammates included Johnson, Earl, Steve Goodrich and Gabe Lewullis, all of whom were 1,000-point career scorers who were first-team All-Ivy selections. Goodrich, Earl and Johnson all were Ivy Players of the Year on top of it.

As for Henderson, he finished his career with 970 career points, one second-team All-Ivy selection and one honorable mention All-Ivy selection.

Of course, during much of his time here, Henderson was the best player in the league and the catalyst for a team that reached No. 7 in the national rankings. He had a ridiculous ability to throw passes off the dribble - "scoring passes," Thompson calls them - with either hand, passes that resulted in uncontested layups and confounded spectators (and defenders).

TigerBlog remembers the morning in 1998 when Bill Carmody - now Henderson's boss at Northwestern - called TB up to his office to show him a pass that Henderson had thrown the weekend before at Brown. Carmody was nearly speechless, uttering "you have to see this" over and over.

Carmody then showed TB the clip. Henderson had the ball above the foul line, with three Brown players staring at him. He then flicked the ball to Lewullis, except Lewullis was a split-second away from starting his cut when Henderson let the ball go. The result was that the three Brown players were completely frozen, and Lewullis had himself an easy basket.

TB still had that in his mind when later in the year at Jadwin, Henderson threw the exact same pass, only he did so lefthanded.

What else does TB remember about Henderson? He was fast, tough, tireless and soft-spoken. Carmody said back then that "you won't see a guy throw passes like that again for the next 15 years." With apologies to the great passers here since, Carmody may have been off by another 10-15 years or so - or maybe ever.

The Tigers will be back this weekend on the court were Henderson threw that pass to Lewullis on the back end of the Yale/Brown weekend. Princeton has gone through its first run through the league at a perfect 7-0, but duplicating that won't be easy, and it starts tonight in New Haven.

The Ivy League race looks to be between Princeton (7-0) and Harvard (7-1), and if it's going to involve a third team, then Yale (5-3, third-place) needs to beat Princeton tonight. Princeton almost got a big boost from Brown last week, but the Crimson rallied from 22 down at the half to beat the Bears.

Princeton can say it's unlucky that Brown didn't hold the lead, but Princeton was also fortunate that it won at Cornell the same night.

For the rest of the way, Princeton and Harvard both are at Yale and Brown and home with Cornell/Columbia. Harvard then hosts Princeton and Penn, and Princeton has the extra game against Penn.

In other words, Princeton has five road games and two home games, including a season-ending run of at Harvard on Saturday March 5 and at Penn Tuesday March 8. Harvard has six left, four of which are at home.

The women's race is down to Princeton (6-1), Yale (6-2) and Harvard (5-2), as every other team has at least four losses.

Princeton is home this weekend with Yale tonight and Brown tomorrow night, and unlike the men, Princeton has the other two competitors at home, rather than on the road.

Princeton has beaten Yale and lost to Harvard, while Harvard has beaten Princeton and lost to Yale.

As in basketball, the hockey standings could go in any number of directions in the next few weeks.

The women's team is playing for home ice in the first round of the ECAC playoffs when it travels to Yale and Brown this weekend.

Princeton has 23 points, one behind travel partner Quinnipiac for fourth-place and the final home spot in the playoffs. Quinnipiac, obviously, plays the same two teams.

Princeton and Q-Pac can both be home next weekend if they both catch third-place Dartmouth, who has 26 points but has to play a much harder schedule, with games against a nearly unbeatable Cornell team (19-0-1 in the league, 25-1-1 overall) and a Colgate team that needs to win to get the eighth spot to get in the playoffs at all.

On the men's side, Princeton is in sixth place heading into this weekend at home with Brown and Yale (Sunday, on ESPNU) and next week's trip to RPI and Union.

Princeton's season can go in a bunch of different directions, from a first-round bye and home ice in the quarterfinals to having to go on the road in the first round. The schedule is brutal, as Princeton's last four include games against teams in first (Union), second (Yale) and fifth (RPI).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The Office" officially jumped the shark last night. It's been a rapid fall from hilarity for the show, perhaps even from relevance.