Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Tie At 22

In the entire history of Ivy League athletics, even predating the formalization of the league in the mid-1950s, a case can only be made for two different matchups as the top rivalry the league has ever known.

And they should be obvious.

You could argue all day about which has been bigger, Harvard-Yale football or Princeton-Penn men's basketball.

You cannot argue that any other matchup of two teams in any other sport. Sorry. It's just not possible.

Maybe in the short run there have been others who have come along. It's just that there haven't been any that have the same historical context.

TigerBlog, of course, would go with Princeton-Penn in men's basketball. Why wouldn't he? His alma mater vs. his longtime employer, with the winner most often the team that won the league and represented the league in the NCAA tournament.

As an aside, as he writes this, TB realizes that he has never been to a Harvard-Yale football game. Maybe he should go sometime and see what all the fuss is about.

Princeton and Penn have had an amazing relationship in men's basketball.

Yale represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament in 1962. From that point through 2007, the only other years that it wasn't Princeton or Penn were 1968 (Columbia, after tying Princeton for the league title), 1986 (Brown) and 1988 (Cornell).

Princeton's most recent Ivy title was in 2011. Penn would have shared last year's Ivy title, but Princeton derailed the Quakers on the final night of the regular season. is currently revealing its top 50 programs of the last 50 years, using an objective point system instead of a subjective ranking.

And, surprise surprise, there was Princeton and there was Penn, tied for 22nd.

The teams benefited from being given credit for conference tournament championships in years that they represented the league in the NCAAs, even though there is no Ivy tournament. And yes, in some of those years, it's likely that the regular season winner would have lost, but it's just as likely that the team that beat them would have been Princeton or Penn, whichever hadn't won that year.

As part of the rankings, ESPN chose the top five players from each program of the last 50 years and then added three more "off the bench," as it were. It also picked the top three seasons. And the top coach.

For Penn, TB might have gone with Fran Dunphy over Chuck Daly (who, by the way, was not the  coach who took the Quakers to the 1979 Final Four - that was Bob Weinhauer). And he struggles with the idea that Matt Maloney is not one of the eight best players at Penn in the last 50 years.

For Princeton, the coach part was easy - Pete Carril. The top three teams? The ESPN article says 1964-65 (Final Four), 1966-67 (lost to North Carolina in the regional) and 1997-98 (27-2, best record in Division I, NCAA second round). Maybe you want to make a case for the 1975 NIT champs or the 1976 or 1991 Ivy undefeated teams? Okay.

As for the players, the five chosen were Bill Bradley, Brian Taylor, Geoff Petrie, Armond Hill and Craig Robinson, with Kit Mueller, Frank Sowinski and John Hummer off the bench.

Of those eight, TB saw most of Mueller's career and a little or Robinson and none of the others. He knows all of their numbers, of course, but having never seen them play, he's not really able to make a completely informed opinion.

Want to ask TB about his top five plus three for the last 25 years, the time he's actually watched the team?

Mueller, Chris Young, Brian Earl, Sean Jackson, Ian Hummer.

Off the bench?

Gabe Lewullis. Judson Wallace. Sydney Johnson.

Best coach in the last 25 years? That's an interesting one.

Carril was the coach for nine of those years. Bill Carmody for four. John Thompson for four. Joe Scott for three. Sydney Johnson for four. Mitch Henderson for one.

In Carril's nine years, Princeton won five Ivy titles (1989-92, 1996) and had two of the greatest moments in NCAA tournament history (Georgetown, UCLA). Carmody and Thompson both went to two NCAA tournaments in their four years, and Thompson tied for a third Ivy title. Carmody added two NITs, including a nice run in one of them, and he also had Princeton in the national top 10 in 1998.

Thompson had the most improbable of all the Ivy titles, the one his team won in 2001 with what was left after two coaches and four players - including Young and Spencer Gloger - left in a short time. He also had a dominant one in 2004, when he won the league by three full games.

TB isn't sure who he'd pick here. Maybe Thompson.

Feel free to disagree with any of TB's picks.


Anonymous said...

As is the case with many Tigers who picked up graduate degrees in Cambridge or New Haven, I've been to many Harvard-Yale football games. They're great events, like a cold weather version of the Florida-Georgia "world's largest outdoor cocktail party." Another analogy would be a festive one-day reunion with two schools involved instead of just one.

But H-Y football isn't a rivalry in one important sense: relatively few people actually care who wins. And that includes the majority of the people who are actually there at the game. Generally, the older alumni care. Indeed, there's almost a direct correlation between how old the alumnus is and how much he cares. By extension, the current undergraduates hardly care at all. They're more focused on getting drunk. I'd say a quarter of the fans don't actually ever go into the stadium at any time.

A critical ingredient to any truly great rivalry -- Michigan/Ohio State football or Duke/North Carolina basketball, for example -- is that people actually have to care who wins. Princeton-Penn basketball, by that measure, feels like a real rivalry.

Brian McD said...

Two plugs for swimming and diving - since 1971, either Princeton or Harvard has won or shared the Ivy League Championship (40 consecutive years and counting). This compares with the 41 wins/ties over 44 years for Princeton and Penn in basketball. Yes, it's not a "revenue" sport but the rivalry between Princeton and Harvard in swimming and diving is epic and shows no sign of faltering, with both having recruited national top-10 classes, which no Ivy basketball program can come close to, let alone two Ivies.

Regarding great coaches, one day Rob Orr will get his due - highest league winning percentage in any sport at any Ivy school for any coach with more than 10 years of experience - and I believe that he is currently Princeton's third longest serving coach. Check the stats, no one comes close - and his dual meet winning streak against league opponents is 28 years - which is astonishing. During that time frame, Princeton lost only one dual meet to a non-league opponent, three years go - to a very strong Navy team.