Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Class Act

TigerBlog was looking over the women's basketball NCAA tournament guide when it dawned on him that the current seniors were all born in 1990 or 1991.

The postseason guide is a staple for any team that advances to the NCAA tournament. TigerBlog produced four of them for men's basketball - in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2001.

Back before the internet, the postseason guide was the big source of information for the media covering the team at the regional. This was especially true of the CBS broadcast team, which largely knew little about the players or the team prior to getting assigned to cover that particular site.

The preseason media guide would have information that would long ago have been outdated. The postseason guide would have what you'd expect, such as updated bios, stats, game-by-game recaps and all of that.

Because the team doesn't know where it's going until a few days beforehand, the postseason guide has to be put together quickly. Of course, in a one-bid league, there are years where you don't know if you're going to need one or not, and you don't want to jinx anything - or waste your time - by starting it too early.

In other words, it's always a scramble to get it done. And then it has to be printed and shipped to the site, which can sometimes be an adventure, such as the time in 1996 when the guide ended up, well, nowhere.

A big feature of the old NCAA postseason guide was the clips section, where a season's worth of articles would be in the back. When TB worked at the newspaper back and covered Princeton men's basketball in the early 1990s, he always counted the number of his stories that would be in the NCAA guide, making sure he had the highest number. Yes, it was very petty.

Anyway, when the current women's basketball players were still in diapers, TigerBlog was writing about men's players like George Leftwich, Matt Eastwick, Jimmy Lane, Chris Marquardt and Sean Jackson, the members of the Princeton Class of 1992.

When TB moved into his current office back in 2002, there were pictures of Leftwich in the 1990 NCAA tournament against Arkansas and Marquardt against Loyola Marymount at Jadwin Gym in 1991 on his top shelf, put there by Kurt Kehl, who formerly had this office. To this day, 11 years later, they're still there.

As freshmen, the Class of 1992 was part of the famous 50-49 loss to Georgetown that in so many ways has shaped the modern NCAA tournament, with its emphasis on the excitement of the first two days.

The next year the Tigers lost another close one, this time by a 68-64 score to a really good Arkansas team. And then by two the next year, against Villanova at Syracuse, on a late basket by Lance Miller, in a game that TB still isn't over. Their run ended the next year with a loss to Syracuse in Worcester.

Added up, and it was four years, four NCAA tournaments - and four losses by a total of 15 points.

Still, it was the success of that group, including the members of the classes that preceded it (Kit Mueller, Matt Lapin, Matt Henshon, Bob Scrabis and others) and immediately followed it (Rick Hielscher, Chris Mooney, Mike Brennan) that set the stage for what happened a few years later, including the win over UCLA in the 1996 tournament and the Top 10 appearance in 1998.

The Princeton men's Class of 1992 is the only one in Ivy League men's basketball history to play four years together and advance to four NCAA tournaments. Penn did win six straight league titles, but that was before freshman were eligbile.

And that brings us to the current Princeton women's senior class - Meg Bowen, Kate Miller, Lauren Polansky and of course Niveen Rasheed.

This group also has won four championships in four years and will be playing in NCAA tournament No. 4 when it takes on Florida State in Waco Sunday at 5:10 on ESPN2.

No other Ivy women's class has ever played in the NCAA tournament all four years. The Princeton women of 2013 join the Princeton men of 1992 in having achieved something no other class in league history has.

Here's the big difference between the two.

Before the men's Class of 1992 came to Princeton, the program had already made 14 NCAA tournament appearances, including a Final Four in 1965.

The women's program had never been to the NCAA tournament before this group arrived.

In fact, Princeton went 7-23 in Courtney Banghart's first year, which was when this class was high school juniors, or in the prime of making their college choices.

Together, Princeton's Class of 2013 is 96-19 overall, and its final Ivy League record was 54-2.

Together, this class has done extraordinary things, unprecedented things, at Princeton and in the Ivy League.

For all of it, TigerBlog's favorite note about this class isn't really a basketball note. It's an attendance note.

Attendance at Princeton's home women's basketball games has tripled from four years ago to now, when crowds of more than 1,000 - unthinkable not that long ago - are routine.

Hey, when you have a class like this one, people realize it's a chance to see something special.

Now the chance to see that class is down to its end, and it'll have to be on TV. Florid State is a huge challenge, and the winner of that game isn't getting to the Sweet 16, not with Brittney Griner and Baylor standing in the way.

So tune in Sunday and see the Tigers again.

You know, to celebrate the greatest four years in Ivy women's basketball history.

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