Friday, March 16, 2012

Thanks Pete

TigerBlog isn't sure why the refs were in on it in the Syracuse game yesterday.

What did UNC Asheville do to them?

Oh well. In the NCAA men's basketball tournament, still no No. 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1.

Yesterday wasn't much of a day in the tournament. There weren't any epic games, no great upsets. The Syracuse-UNC Asheville game was probably the best one, given the 1 vs. 16 aspect of it.

Baylor-South Dakota State was good, except for the Baylor uniforms.

TB didn't see any of the VCU-Wichita State game. In fact, TB hardly saw any of any games.

He'll go out of his way today to watch Georgetown and hope that the Hoyas don't become the big powerhouse to fall early. TB doesn't think they will; in fact, he thinks they're pretty well positioned for a good run.

Anyway, even though the games themselves weren't great yesterday, there were still 16 of them, all on TV, starting at noon and running deep into the night.

And today, it repeats itself.

The tournament's drama obviously builds to next weekend, when the stakes go way up with Final Four bids at stake.

And obviously, the Final Four itself is huge, and ultimately a champion emerges on Monday night, which is one of the great nights on the sports calendar.

Still, the best days of the tournament are yesterday and today.

In fact, TigerBlog heard from more than one person yesterday that the two days of the first round (okay, the second round) of the NCAA tournament are their favorite sports days of the year.

TigerBlog might not put them at the top, but they're very, very close.

And you know whom you can thank for that?

Pete Carril.

Yup, Princeton's former basketball coach.

Or Kit Mueller and Bob Scrabis and George Leftwich and Matt Eastwick and Matt Lapin and Jerry Doyle and Troy Hottenstein and the rest of the 1989 Princeton Tigers.

In case you don't remember or never knew, the Ivy League champion put up the following results in the NCAA tournament between 1986-88:

1986 - Syracuse 101, Brown 52
1987 - North Carolina 113, Penn 82
1988 - Arizona 90, Cornell 50

If you don't want to do the math, the average score was 101.3-61.3, or an average margin of defeat by the Ivy League champ of 40 points per game.

Princeton won the 1989 Ivy League title, but went just 11-3 in the league. The Tigers earned the No. 16 seed in the East and were matched against the No. 1 team in the country, the Georgetown Hoyas.

It seemed like another 40-point beating was in the offing for the Ivy League, especially in the face of Alonzo Mourning and the relentless pressure that Georgetown was going to throw at Princeton.

Before the game, there was talk about taking away the automatic bid from leagues like the Ivy League, because it was considered to be a waste. Who would want to watch this?

Well, the idea was that nobody would. The first rounds weren't even part of the network deal, only on ESPN, which at the time was nothing near the same thing as it is now.

So what happened?

Princeton, as you probably heard, played one of the epic games in the history of college basketball, falling to the Hoyas 50-49.

In fact, if you watch a replay of the game now, Princeton really had it and let it get away. The Tigers protected the ball (Princeton had only seven turnovers, including only one from Leftwich, who went all 40 minutes), controlled the tempo, got an unreal performance from Mueller (nine points, eight assists, two turnovers, 40 minutes), had Bob Scrabis go for 15 points - and shut down every Hoya except for Mourning who went for 21 points and 13 rebounds.

In the end, Mourning blocked two shots in the final six seconds, one each from Scrabis and Mueller, and the Hoyas held on.

Or maybe the two Tigers were fouled?

As Carril famously said: "I'll take that up with God when I get there."

The shock waves from Princeton's performance were felt the next day on TV and in the newspapers (but not on the web, which didn't exist yet).

And they continued way beyond.

Instead of eliminating bids for leagues like the Ivy, the whole concept of the "mid-major" was born.

Instead of not caring about the early rounds of the tournament, CBS instead invested billions of dollars, beginning in 1991, for every game.

If Princeton had been blown out by Georgetown, who knows what might have happened? It's possible that there might be Division IA and Division IAA basketball today.

Instead, we have what many consider the two best days of the athletic calendar.

And the hope that one day, the No. 16 will beat the No. 1.

And the idea that for the first two days of the NCAA tournament, you don't want to look away, because you never know what massive underdog is going to win.

For that, join TigerBlog in thanking Pete Carril and the 1989 Tigers.

1 comment:

George Clark said...

Thank you, TigerBlog, for this necessary review of some very relevant history. Lehigh has just added a remarkable chapter in the mid-major story. Since no Bucknell fan believes Lehigh is better than the Bison, especially after they beat Arizona in Tucson, the case for two bids to the Patriot League gets stronger and stronger. I guess that's the most compelling argument for a conference tournament, but I continue to share your opinion that the Ivy League should continue its 14 game tournament.