Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Welcome To Ithaca

TigerBlog, back in his days as the football and men's basketball contact, would often come up with interesting game notes that the coaches wouldn't exactly embrace.

For instance, there was the "1.9 yards and a cloud of dust" note, which mentioned that in one particular year in the late 1990s, Princeton was rushing for and allowing an average of 1.9 yards per carry. He also had one even earlier than that that said Princeton had attempted some large number of passes since it had last completed one to the tight end.

Or there was the basketball note about dunking, back in 2001, maybe? These said that Princeton had whatever number of three-pointers it had but no dunks for the season.

Maybe none of the ones that TB has ever come up with has tortured the coach like his current one about Princeton-Cornell men's lacrosse. In every meeting between the two since 2005 - a total of eight games in six years - the Big Red has scored early and started to build a big lead.

Last year was Chris Bates' first as head coach of the Tigers, and TB told Bates about the Big Red's run as the year went along.

In the regular-season finale, Cornell then won the opening face-off and scored in the first 1:03, eventually building a 4-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 9-3 lead at the end of the third. Princeton stormed back and almost pulled it off before falling 10-9.

Princeton and Cornell met in the Ivy League tournament final eight days later. At breakfast on the morning of the game, TB mentioned it again to Bates, who finally turned around and said 75 percent laughing and 25 percent serious: "Would you just shut up about this?"

So what happened next?

Cornell won the opening face-off and scored in 16 seconds. By the third quarter, it was 7-3 Cornell, and it was looking like business as usual - until the Tigers rallied again. This time, Princeton made it all the way back, winning 10-9 in overtime on a goal by Jack McBride.

In the postgame interview room, Bates was asked what he was thinking when Cornell scored so early, and he said something about wanting to find TB and curse him out.

The teams meet again Saturday in Ithaca, and TB will find the first minute or so fascinating. Will this be the year Princeton doesn't let Cornell get off to a quick start?

TB is also looking forward to the fifth meeting between Rob Pannell and Chad Wiedmaier.

Pannell, Cornell's junior attackman, leads the nation in scoring with 5.67 points per game, more than a full point above the next-highest total. He's also first in assists per game and fifth in goals per game, and with 32 goals and 36 assists, he's the only player in the country with at least 30 of each (something that a Princeton player has only done once, David Tickner in 1976).

Then there's Wiedmaier, who like Pannell is a junior who has been first-team All-Ivy League his first two years. Wiedmaier has been matched up against Pannell four times already, and he has held him to two goals on 31 shots. Add in Pannell's nine assists in four games, and his numbers against Wiedmaier are below what they are the rest of the time, though the matchup has been something of a draw so far.

The bigger picture of the game Saturday is whether or not it'll be the end of the season for the Tigers or the first of two trips to Ithaca in six days.

Princeton currently is tied for fourth in the Ivy League with Harvard, both at 2-3. Cornell, at 5-0, has clinched the league's outright title and the host spot for the Ivy League tournament.

As an aside, Cornell (with 26 Ivy titles) and Princeton (with 25) have simply dominated the league since its inception.

For Princeton to get into the Ivy tournament, it needs Harvard to lose to Yale; a Crimson win in that game means that Princeton is eliminated.

Should Yale beat Harvard, then Princeton would get into the tournament one of two ways. The easiest would be to beat Cornell, which would give Princeton fourth place to itself.

The hard way would be to have Harvard lose, Princeton lose and Dartmouth beat Brown, setting up an unbreakable three-way tie between Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth that would have to be settled by a random draw.

It's not the ideal way, in TB's mind, to decide who plays on and who doesn't. Perhaps RPI? Perhaps goal-differential between the three teams head-to-head?

Of course, both of those currently favor Princeton, but TB would be in favor of that even if they didn't.

And should Princeton get into the Ivy tournament, it's locked into playing Cornell in the semifinals (Harvard would be the No. 3 seed with a win over Yale, who would drop to four; Penn is locked into the No. 2 spot).

That would require two trips to Ithaca, to watch two opening face-offs and two matchups between Pannell and Wiedmaier.

TB would be fine with that.

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