Thursday, April 4, 2013

Which Is Better?

TigerBlog sent this text message to Scott Jurgens, Princeton's former marketing director: "Mazel tov on the CIT."

Jurgens uprooted his Northeastern dog Barnaby and headed south back in the fall of 2011, and he (Jurgens, not Barnaby) is now in charge of marketing at East Carolina, which defeated Weber State 77-74 on a three-pointer at the buzzer Tuesday night to win the Tournament.

By all accounts, ECU had a great experience in the CIT, which meant five games for the Pirates, four of which were at home. Attendance for those games went up by about 1,000 each time, until there were 5,625 people there for the semifinal win over Evansville.

It was a pretty good consolation prize for a team that lost its Conference USA tournament opener to Tulsa back on March 14, after a 9-7 league regular season.

Contrast that with, say, Villanova, who also was two games over .500 in its league during the regular season (going 10-8 in the Big East). The Wildcats got a bid to the NCAA tournament and lost to North Carolina in the first round.

This brings up the age-old question of which is better, a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament or a long run in another postseason tournament, which used to mean just the NIT but now includes the CBI and CIT.

In other words, whose postseason was better this year, Villanova's or East Carolina's?

On the one hand, TB would say that everything that goes into the NCAA tournament, from the Selection Show through the competition itself, is so exciting that even a first-round loss is better than anything any of the other tournaments can conjure.

On the other, ECU has definitely put together some momentum for next season and, perhaps more than that, simply had a really good time while ending its season with a championship.

TB has always wondered whether Princeton would have been better off with a one-and-done trip to the 1999 NCAA tournament or the three games it had in the NIT. Yes, it's the NIT, but Princeton had three great games in the tournament in 1999, with the only-five-guys-played win over Georgetown, the game where Brian Earl went off at N.C. State and then the tough loss to a really good Xavier team in the quarterfinals.

TB has also wondered whether or not the average Princeton fan would trade the team's NCAA championships from the winter - fencing, Eliza Stone in saber fencing and the distance medley relay team - for an Ivy League men's basketball championship and first round NCAA tournament loss.

TB suspects a higher number would take the basketball title.

Oh, and by the way, ESPN did an amazing job with its NCAA fencing championship production. Rather than simply show bouts that viewers wouldn't be able to comprehend, ESPN instead turned it into a 90-minute documentary about the sport and gave a great insight into the competitors. It was really one of the best products TB has seen on the network in a long time.

Princeton's commitment is to broad-based athletic participation. There are 38 varsity teams, and the  accomplishments where all 38 teams contribute - like the Ivy all-sports points standings or the Directors' Cup or having a team or individual national champion - are as exciting as when high-profile teams do well.

TB has always thought that way, back to when he was covering most of those 38 sports while still at the newspaper.

Princeton brought nine Ivy League championships in this academic year into the spring, meaning one more would mark the 21st time that Princeton would reach double figures in Ivy titles in an academic year. The rest of the league combined has done it five times.

Interestingly, no spring sport is a prohibitive favorite, but most will be in the mix.

One team that is trying to make a run is the softball team.

Princeton went 8-12 in the Ivy League a year ago, when Penn and Cornell were both 15-5 in the South Division. Princeton went 14-32 overall a year ago; this year Princeton is already 18-9.

Princeton went 3-1 last weekend in the first weekend of league play, sweeping Brown and splitting with Yale. This weekend the Tigers are at Harvard tomorrow and Dartmouth Saturday.

Last year, Harvard went 17-3 in the league.

This year, Princeton and Penn are 3-1, followed by Cornell at 2-2 and Columbia at 1-3. In the North, Yale is 3-1, Harvard and Dartmouth are 2-2 and Brown is 0-4.

Princeton is coached by Lisa Sweeney, in her first year, with assistant coach Jen Lapicki. The Tigers are hitting .312 as a team with three players over .400.

Princeton's 18-9 record is its best through 27 games since 2006, when the Tigers were also 18-9. The 3-1 Ivy record is its best start since 2008.

The Tigers certainly give every indication that they have as good a chance as anyone in the South. The division winners will play for the Ivy League championship and the league's NCAA tournament berth.

It's been a great start to the spring for Princeton softball. And, for that matter, to the Sweeney/Lapicki era.

Yesterday, TB was sitting in his office when the two softball coaches walked by his door, holding not bats but squash racquets.

That makes them even easier to root for, right? 

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