Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Making History

It's not easy to do something in the Ivy League that's never been done before.

Not when you're at schools whose athletic histories date back to the mid 1800s, which was basically the beginning of intercollegiate athletics in this country.

Surely everything that could be done had been done before, right? Or, if it hadn't been done, it wasn't going to get done.

Getting into the NCAA basketball tournament as the second team in the league?

Forever that was just a pipe dream in the Ivy League. No matter who the Ivy runner up was, there was never, ever a second bid, in any year, ever, for men or for women.

TigerBlog has been in so many conversations for the last few decades about that very subject. Would the day ever come?

Well, to be honest, most of those conversations happened before the force of nature that is Courtney Banghart came to Princeton as its women's basketball coach. Since then, nothing has seemed to be impossible.

A 30-0 season? No problem. Single digit seeds in the NCAA tournament? No problem.

But an at-large bid?

The Princeton women walked off of Carril Court last Tuesday after falling 62-60 to Penn in the winner-take-all Ivy regular season finale. While the Quakers knew they'd be headed to the NCAA tournament, the Tigers had to wait and see.

Oh, they knew they'd be playing again. They may have hoped it was in the NCAA tournament, but they probably figured it would be in the WNIT.

But there was a chance, right? The resume was strong. The RPI was good. The Tigers were right there for the history-making at-large spot.

For some reason, TigerBlog thought before the selections were announced last night that Princeton would be in the NCAAs. He thought it would be partly because of what happened with the men's draw, where the Princeton-type teams didn't get in. You know, like Monmouth.

He also thought it would be justice after last year's eighth seed, which basically the entire college basketball world thought was an insult to the 30-0 record.

You know, a little human nature would take over. 

Actually, TB isn't sure he really believed either of those. Maybe he was just hoping it would come true for the Tigers.

Then a funny thing happened when the selections were revealed. TigerBlog was right. 

The Princeton women found out last night that they in fact made history, grabbing a second spot for the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers will play West Virginia Friday at noon at Ohio State, and they will head into the tournament as an 11 seed.

TigerBlog was at the men's lacrosse game last night, trying to do stats while also keeping an eye on the Selection Show. He really didn't see much of the pairings, except for some reason when he looked up and saw Penn was a 10 seed, taking on Washington at the University of Maryland.

When TB saw that, he thought Princeton a real chance. If Penn had been an 11 or 12, then no, he wouldn't have thought that Princeton would be in. But a 10 for the Quakers? With very little to separate the two Ivy teams, TB thought Princeton was in.

And they were.

What's the significance?

Well, it says that Princeton is a program very much on the national radar. And it says that Courtney Banghart is a very well-respected coach.

It's more than that though.

TigerBlog said last week that the loser of the Princeton-Penn women's game could make the claim to being the best runner-up in league history. It didn't seem like the kind of label anyone would want, but in the end, there's something, well, cool about being the first Ivy team to get a second bid.

In fact, in years to come, the 2016 season will be thought of mostly for the fact that Princeton was the team that got the second bid to the NCAA tournament.

Now that the two teams are in the NCAA tournament, their rivalry can continue. Penn knows that Princeton's history-making achievement will be long remembered, and they'd like to do some damage in the tournament to get the attention back to the league champ. And to match what Princeton did a year ago, which means winning an NCAA game.

Princeton? They want to keep it going. Take advantage of their chance. You know, win again. 

As for the opponents, West Virginia is 24-9 after reaching the Big 12 semifinals. Washington is 22-10, including 11-7 in the Pac 12.

Princeton and West Virginia have never met. Penn and Washington have never met.

TigerBlog has seen teams gather for NCAA Selection Shows a million times at Princeton. Well, not a million, but a lot.

There has never been a time where a basketball team that wasn't the league champ thought it had a realistic chance to get an at-large bid. TigerBlog thought the 1999 men's basketball team had a chance, but no.

But the 2016 women's team? Yes. They're the ones who finally broke through.

They're the ones who made history.

Princeton women's basketball. An at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. It's just another first for the Tigers under Courtney Banghart. 

A huge one at that.

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