Thursday, March 9, 2017

It's Almost Tournament Time

These are divisive times. TigerBlog doesn't have to tell you that.

You have your opinion. They have theirs. They don't overlap at all. Right and wrong are in the eye of the beholder. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground. You disagree? Too bad.

TigerBlog speaks, of course, of the Ivy League basketball tournaments.

There are now two days until something that many thought would never happen, others never wanted to see, some can't believe took this long and still more cannot accept.

As you probably recall, TigerBlog was long in the "anti-tournament" camp, but, as always, he tries to see all sides and calmly assess the situation. He will start with some indisputable facts:

* the Ivy League tournament definitely made way more regular-season games matter, which is part of what it was intended to do

* there will be far more drama to the clinching of the league's automatic NCAA bids with a tournament than there would have been without it

* not every team in the league qualifies for the tournament, so the regular season retained value

* you play by the rules as they exist at that particular time, so it doesn't matter how it used to work in the Ivy League

This isn't quite a fact, but it's close enough: What will unfold at the Palestra this weekend will be exciting. Similarly, this year definitely had a different feel to it as the season went along.

Here, if you haven't seen it, is the schedule for the weekend:

women's semifinal 1 - Penn (1) vs. Brown (4), 11:00 am
men's semifinal 1 - Princeton (1) vs. Penn (4), 1:30 pm
men's semifinal 2 - Harvard (2) vs. Yale (3), 4 pm
women's semifinal 2 - Princeton (2) vs. Harvard (3), 6:30 pm

men's final - noon
women's final - 4

The men's semifinals can be seen on ESPNU, and the final is on ESPN2. The women's semifinals are on ESPN3, with the final on ESPN2.

TigerBlog, being the historian he is, can't help but wonder how the legacy of teams, players and coaches through the years might have been different if there'd been an Ivy League tournament for the last 10, 25, 50 years.

Would Penn have reached the 1979 Final Four? The Quakers beat Princeton twice by one that season. Maybe in a tournament, Princeton would have knocked off Penn, and Penn never would have gotten the chance to get to the tournament at all. Or, before Princeton would have even have gotten a chance at Penn that year, maybe the fourth-place Dartmouth Big Green would have upset the Quakers. Dartmouth's coach that year? Gary Walters.

Who knows how many other teams in Ivy history who went to the NCAA tournament and made some noise never would have? Or, beyond that, how many times through the years might the Ivy League have gotten two bids? What would have happened in 1998 if Princeton's 26-1 team had lost in an Ivy tournament?

And yes, the Princeton men and Penn women now find themselves in a situation where to get to the NCAA tournament, they each have to beat two teams in two days (less than 24 hours for the men) that they've already beaten twice.

TigerBlog has friends from Penn who are still bitter that the Quakers beat Princeton twice during the 1996 season and still had to do it again in the playoff, which Princeton won. No playoff, no bid. No bid, no win over UCLA in the NCAA tournament that year.

Princeton goes into the tournament knowing that it is guaranteed a spot in the NIT at the very least. TigerBlog was with the Tigers in 1999, when they went three rounds deep in the NIT, and it ended up being a lot more exciting a run than the NCAA tournaments in 2001 and 2004.

That, though, is all history. Fair or not, whether you agree or not, good idea or not - none of that matters. Right now, there's only question: What happens now?

Well, Princeton's men's and women's teams are in different positions, but they both have huge opportunities.

The women are where they figured they'd be when the season started and the task was to replace four graduated starters. It took a little while to get going and there have been some bumps along the way, but Princeton is now playing for a shot at the NCAA tournament.

For Princeton's women, it seems like the Ivy League tournament has come along in the perfect year. It's given the team a chance to solidify its rotation, to start out slowly and grow and now to try to get back to the NCAA tournament.

As for the men, it seems like the opposite, but TB doesn't see it that way. No, Princeton's men are sitting on the verge of doing something that nobody has ever done before and something that will be done rarely in the future.

It might have been better for the Ivy League tournament to have come along a year ago, when there was no unbeaten team and three teams won at least 10 games. This year, Princeton won the championship by four games, but its reward is to play a team that has won six of its last eight (Penn) on its home court (the Palestra) in its first game.

Should Princeton get by that game, it would then have to beat either the defending league champ (Yale) or a team it's beaten twice in the final seconds (Harvard). It won't be easy.

Still, the reward at the end would be more than just a trip to the NCAA tournament. It would be, as TB said, the chance to do something unprecedented.

Princeton is playing for 16-0.

Nobody else would be able to make that claim.

1 comment:

Steven Feldman '68 said...

Very nice article on the tournament. One small grammar correction:
"This year, Princeton won the championship by 4 games, but it's reward...." --
"it's" should be "its".