Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Eptitude And Extrication

The best college basketball game that TigerBlog has seen on television this year was not Notre Dame-Louisville, the five OT game from Saturday that kept TB up way later than he imagined.

In fact, ND-Louisville wasn't even the best game TB saw on TV Saturday. That honor would go to the Wisconsin-Michigan game, which had an ending that was just nuts and which showed just how awesome college athletics can be.

If you missed it, Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a three-pointer with less than three seconds to play to put the Wolverines up by three, only to see Ben Brust hit a majestic three from halfcourt to tie it at the buzzer and force overtime.

Oh, and Brust hit a three-pointer in OT for the winning basket as well, as the Badgers won 65-62. TB senses that Brust had no trouble making friends on campus after the game.

TigerBlog is a huge fan of the "Beyond the Box" pieces that Wisconsin does on its webpage. He was even more impressed that the person who wrote it was willing to go beyond the obvious for the entries.

Wisconsin-Michigan was thrilling.

ND-Louisville, on the other hand, dragged on through five OTs largely because of end-game ineptitude, rather than end-to-end, well, eptitude.

The best game TB has seen on TV so far this year is unquestionably Gonzaga-Butler.  The runner-up is Indiana-Butler.

The most frustrating game he's seen so far was one he's seen in person, and it was this past Saturday night at Jadwin Gym.

Princeton never really got into its rhythm against Yale, which of course is a credit to the Bulldogs. It went like that from start to finish with only a few moments where it seemed like the Tigers were putting it together, and it reached a crescendo on Princeton's final possession, down two, shot clock off.

Instead of a shot for either the tie or the win, Princeton ended up with a turnover. And Yale, after sinking two foul shots, had itself a nice win - and a sweep at Penn and Princeton for the first time in 26 years.

As Princeton left the court Saturday night, it had to be thinking that it dug itself a hole in the Ivy League race out of which it might not have been able to escape. Instead, it took 24 hours to extricate itself.

TB went to check on the Harvard-Columbia score from Sunday (pushed back by the snowstorm), and somewhat shockingly he saw that it was 78-63 Lions.

Harvard has been playing with fire throughout the early part of its league season, with a miracle comeback win over Dartmouth and then wins after losing 20-point leads against Yale, Brown and Cornell. 

So here's where the Ivy League men's basketball race stands:

1. Harvard 5-1
2. Princeton 4-1

No other team in the league is currently above .500 (either in the league or overall, for that matter), and every other team has at least three league losses.

It's very hard to think that four league losses will be enough to get even a share of the league title, and that's been the case historically.

The league champ (or co-champ) has had no losses 13 times, one loss 15 times, two losses 13 times and three losses 11 times.

There have been four years where the champion had four losses, and all four were consecutively. From the first official season of Ivy basketball in 1956-57 through 1982-83, the league champ had never had four losses. Then four straight league champions did - Princeton in 1984, Penn in 1985, Brown in 1986 and Penn again in 1987.

Since then? No other four-loss team has won.

Of course, just because it hasn't happened in 26 seasons doesn't mean that it can't again. And clearly no team is dominant this year.

Still, Princeton and Harvard are clearly in the most advantageous positions.

The teams meet for the first time this Saturday at Harvard, after the Crimson host Penn Friday night and Princeton is at Dartmouth Friday. Neither outcome there is etched in stone either, by the way.

Still, if you were tied with a team, you'd probably want the first game on the road. At least with a loss, Princeton knows that if it can stay within a game of the Crimson, it would have the second meeting at home. Harvard, should it lose Saturday, would almost surely have to win at Jadwin.

For Princeton fans, this is a familiar occurrence. Just with a different opponent. 

Princeton-Harvard has replaced Princeton-Penn as the biggest rivalry in Ivy League men's basketball, at least for right now. For decades it was Princeton-Penn; will it get back to that? Or was it such an anomaly in the sport, having two teams dominate that way, that it'll be impossible to ever get it back to the way it was basically from 1961 through 2007?

Right now, though, it's Princeton-Harvard, and the last two years have featured five games between the two, all with great intensity, one greater than the Ivy playoff two years ago, when Douglas Davis sent the Tigers to the NCAA tournament with his now-epic buzzer-beater.

Round 1 between Princeton and Harvard is Saturday. If TB had to guess, he'd say that the league champ isn't going to have four losses.

He'd also guess that a possible Round 3 isn't out of the question.

Leaving Jadwin Saturday night, he had the feeling that Princeton might be in trouble. Heading into this weekend, the league race is back to where it was.

TB is looking forward to it.

And the fact that there is no Ivy League tournament makes the next month way better.

Why does any one-bid league ever have one? Oh, never mind.

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