Monday, December 2, 2013

Tigers And Tigers

It's impossible this morning to write about college sports, or pro sports or any sports, or, for that matter, religion, politics, the economy or anything else, and not start with Auburn-Alabama.

Let's face it. Games like this don't come around all that often. There are those who immediately anointed it as the greatest ending to a football game ever, and hey, it's possible that they're right.

TigerBlog was astonished as he watched the last minutes play out. It was an insane moment, the kind that is reserved for a huge college football game like this one.

Still, this was far beyond the norm. Honestly, TB can't remember too many games that have been better, and certainly the way Auburn stole the 34-28 victory was mesmerizing.

It's certainly going to be hard to ever beat the way this one ended. Consider everything that converged in a short time:

* a replay review that put one second back on the clock when it seemed like time had expired and the game was headed to overtime. Instead, it gave Alabama one more play, which at the time seemed like a huge break for the Crimson Tide

* Nick Saban, who has made it impossible to root for him unless your an Alabama fan, decides to kick a 57-yard field goal, rather than throw a Hail Mary. This after his original kicker already had missed three field goals, leaving Saban to try a redshirt freshman, whose attempt was actually pretty good

* a 109-yard return of the miss as time expired, giving Auburn the shocking win

* the unbelievable scene on Auburn's field as the fans celebrated

The Auburn win probably knocks Alabama out of the BCS championship game, which is merciful for any casual college football fan. Right now, it looks like it will be Florida State vs. Ohio State, unless one of them slips up in the conference championship game next weekend. FSU, which plays Duke, has zero chance of losing that game. Ohio State could lose to Michigan State, which would open the door possibly for Auburn, if it could beat Missouri in the SEC game.

The Auburn-Alabama game, though, will be the game of the year in college football, regardless of what happens from here on out. By the way, did you know that Auburn took its nickname of "Tigers" from Princeton? Yes, you did. TigerBlog has said it before.

Anyway, it was an extraordinary game, with huge plays (a 99-yard Alabama touchdown pass, the just-before-he-crossed-the-line-of-scrimmage pass to tie it for Auburn) even before the end, which was beyond epic. Add in the fact there is no way to accurately measure how much these two schools hate each other and it was a pretty special event.

The same is true of Ohio State-Michigan. TigerBlog is filled with respect for Wolverine coach Brady Hoke, who went for two with his team down 42-41, rather than go with the extra point and overtime.

Michigan had a better than 50% chance to win the game at that point. Going to overtime would have been an advantage to Ohio State.

Naturally, when the play didn't work, Hoke was skewered in the media. Needlessly, of course. More coaches should have his courage.

The two games showed what college football is all about. Not the pageantry part of it. The practical part.

The regular season is everything. Teams have to be ready week to week to week, or else they are done for the national championship. It will change a little bit next year when four teams will play off for the championship, but still the regular season will still matter.

It's the opposite in college basketball.

For all of the great games that have been on so far, none of them mean a thing, really. Does it matter that Duke lost to Arizona? That Kentucky lost to Michigan State? Nope. Not really.

That's sort of the problem the sport faces. There is an over-saturation of games on TV - many of which look exactly the same - and yet these games matter little.

In college basketball, nothing you do now matters. It's only what you do in March.

For the big boys, that means getting the right seed and the right matchups in the NCAA tournament. For a one-bid league, it means getting hot during the conference tournament and stealing a spot in the NCAAs.

Maybe it's entertaining. But it just doesn't mean all that much.

Anyone remember Mercer from last season? Won the Atlantic Sun regular season. Worked hard for five months to do so. Then what happened? Florida Gulf Coast got sizzlingly hot, won the conference tournament and dunked its way to the Sweet 16.

Anyway, that's one of TB's big issues with college basketball. There are others, and he'll get into them as the season goes on and they become more and more annoying.

For now, he'll simply be impressed with Princeton's 5-1 start and winning streak that grew to four with the win over Bucknell Saturday night. Princeton's lone loss is by just three at Butler, a team that lost by two to fifth-ranked Oklahoma State.

Unlike the rest of college basketball, the Ivy League has no conference tournament, so the regular-season is actually most meaningful. TB would be bummed if the league ever changed and went to a tournament for that reason.

For Princeton, the conference season is still pretty far in the future. For now, there's a rather entertaining portion of the schedule, with seven pretty good games in the next 42 days before the Ivy season begins.

The seven opponents: FDU at home, at Rutgers, at Penn State, vs. Pacific and Portland in Las Vegas, Kent State at home on New Years Eve afternoon and at Liberty. That's a pretty good schedule. 

Meanwhile, Princeton - flying under the radar in a league where all the preseason hype belongs to Harvard - has adjusted nicely to the post-Ian Hummer era.

T.J. Bray is leading the team in scoring at 13.7 per game while shooting 57.7% from the field and 43.8% from three-point range, with 15 assists against just three turnovers tossed in. Bray, though, is one of four Tigers in double figures in scoring (Hans Brase, Denton Koon, Ben Hazel), while a fifth player (Will Barrett) is at 9.8.

The Ivy League season doesn't exactly start off easily for Princeton, with a game Jan. 11 at Penn for the opener and then three weeks later - after first semester exams and a return game against Division III Kean - another road trip that begins at Harvard.

On the other hand, that means seven of the last 11 league games at home, including the rematches with the Quakers and Crimson.

Ah, but that's so far in the future. For now, Princeton is off to a very nice start, with way too many games between now and the league season to bother looking ahead.

This time of year is about playing some interesting games, even if they ultimately don't mean all that much.

They're still entertaining. And the Tigers are quietly playing pretty well.

1 comment:

ToothlessTiger said...

Glad we can now turn our attention to the winter sports, particularly basketball. The Tigers' start is even more impressive when you consider that TJ Bray missed the first three games and that Denton Koon has struggled in the last three. Of the nine Tigers who have attempted at least 10 3 pointers, eight have converted at a rate of 40% or better. Flying under the radar suits the low-key Henderson just fine, thank you. Hope the students show up for the show at Jadwin. Lots of fun!!!