Friday, March 18, 2011

Your Turn

TigerBlog's two favorite Thursdays of each year are Thanksgiving and the one that happened yesterday.

How can you beat either one? On Thanksgiving, you get turkey and football.

And yesterday? Wall-to-wall college basketball in the first round (excuse TB, the second round) of the NCAA tournament. The games begin at noon and run to midnight, with almost no breaks in between.

This year, the fact that the games were all on their own network made the quality of viewing go up about 100 percent, since viewers were no longer at the mercy of CBS to decide which game to show and when to go from game-to-game. All it took was a remote, and you too could be your own director.

Add to that the huge extra benefit of having Princeton play in the tournament, and it was a great day to have a television.

The Tigers' game against Kentucky tipped around 3, after the West Virginia-Clemson game.

By now, everyone knows what happened.

Princeton went toe-to-toe with the Southeastern Conference champion, and all that separated the two at the end was a tough floating layup that banked in with two seconds to go.

For Princeton, it was quite a run in a nine-day one.

Consider that Princeton was eight points down with 17 minutes to go against Penn last Tuesday at the Palestra in the regular-season finale. Think about that. That game was only nine days before the NCAA game. And yes, you're forgiven if you thought that game was a few weeks ago.

Had Princeton not turned that one around, then Harvard would have been the outright Ivy champ. Instead, Princeton won that one, setting up the trip to Yale for the playoff game for the NCAA bid.

For those who lost track, that game was five days before the Kentucky game. By itself, that game was one of the great ones in program history, with one of the signature plays ever by a Princeton athlete to win it at the buzzer just to get Princeton to the tournament.

As was the case in 1989 vs. Georgetown, 1990 vs. Arkansas, 1991 vs. Villanova and 1997 vs. California, Princeton in 2011 came oh-so-close to pulling off a big one. If anything, it shows why the 1996 game vs. UCLA is so special, because there's a big difference between doing what Princeton did yesterday and winning.

Still, the 2011 Princeton team didn't have the luxury of any previous NCAA tournament experience, or, for that matter, the luxury of having entered the program when either it or Penn was winning every year.

For a program that has so much history and such a great postseason tradition, there will always be something special about the 2011 team. This group of players and coaches did something great this year, something that will resonate forever.

When they stepped off their charter flight at Trenton-Mercer Airport late last night, they had every right to 1) be disappointed and 2) be proud.

The Princeton-Kentucky, as awesome as it was, will not rank as one of the two greatest NCAA tournament games in school history.

The Princeton-Georgetown women's game Sunday will be in the top two for that program. For that matter, it'll be the second ever, as opposed to the 41 the men have played.

In many ways, that's all you need to know about the job that Courtney Banghart and her assistants Milena Flores and Melanie Moore have done in their four years at Princeton. While the task for Sydney Johnson and his staff was to restore the program to its previous level, Banghart and her staff had no such tradition to build on.

And what has happened? A 7-23 first season became 14-14 and then 26-3 and now 24-4 heading into the tournament.

Princeton was an 11 seed last year and is a 12 seed this year, and those are the two best seedings an Ivy team has ever had.

Last year in Florida, Princeton struggled after the first few minutes against St. John's, and it's possible that the first NCAA tournament for the program was a bit overwhelming.

This year, it's a team dripping with experience, one playing closer to home in College Park, Md. Tip-off against Georgetown will be 2:30 Sunday.

Oh, by the way, if you want to watch the game, here's how it works:
* ESPN will be doing whiparound coverage of the four games going on at the time
* ESPN2 will be televising the four games in a regional fashion, which means Princeton will probably be on in this area
* will have all four games in their entirety

Looking at Georgetown's results and comparing them to Princeton's is somewhat favorable for the Tigers - as well as utterly useless.

This will come down to making shots and getting off to a good start. If the game is close at halftime, then Princeton will be in it for good.

It's the second chance for a Princeton team to get an NCAA basketball win this season.

The first one might have broken a few hearts at the end, but it was still a great game. And a last performance by a very special team.

1 comment:

CAZ said...

Yesterday's game was SO painful! I think had the Tigers pulled off the upset it definitely would have gone down as one of the program's greatest victories.

Did any speak to Pete Carril to see if he even watched it?