Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Welcome To Buffalo

Well, the 18-24 inches became way less than that, though with a healthy dose of ice and sleet mixed in, it became a traveler's nightmare.

Princeton's men's basketball team was on its home campus Monday, transitioning from the euphoria of winning the first Ivy tournament to finish off an obviously unprecedented 16-0 run through the league to getting down to the business of the task at hand - an NCAA tournament opening round game against Notre Dame Thursday at 12:15 (on CBS).

Ah, but that game is in Buffalo. And Princeton is in, well, Princeton.

With the looming storm, it made getting from Point A to Point B the first priority, and not an easy one to solve.

Fortunately for the Tigers, they were able to get on a bus at 4 and head to Philadelphia Airport, where they then chartered to Buffalo. Time in the air was apparently 47 minutes.

HERE is a video of the trip. 

TigerBlog did not make the trip. He'll be with men's lacrosse at Rutgers tonight and Penn Saturday.

He has, though, gone to enough NCAA tournaments in his time here to know that there is nothing quite like it, for anyone involved.

The question is often asked if it's better to make a run in the NIT than it is to lose a first-round NCAA tournament game. TB alluded to that last week, before the Ivy League tournament, when Princeton knew if it didn't win twice at the Palestra that it was at least guaranteed a trip to the NIT.

TigerBlog has been to a few NITs as well. The ones in 1999 (when Princeton won games against Georgetown and North Carolina State before losing to Xavier) and 2002 (an epic game at Louisville that Princeton lost by one) were great experiences.

The answer to the question, though, is that no, it is not better to make an NIT run than it is to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. For so many reasons.

For starters, there's the chance to do something that will be remembered forever, like what Princeton did in 1996 against UCLA.

There are very, very, very few experiences that TigerBlog has had in all his time associated with Princeton Athletics that are on a level with those five days in Indianapolis 21 years ago. As he thinks about it, there are maybe two that can compare. Certainly no more than three.

The potential for a history-making result on the court isn't the only thing that makes the NCAA tournament special. It's the entirety of the moment, beginning the second a team knows it'll be participating.

It's a complete whirlwind, with one memorable moment after another. There is the drama of the selection show, with the great unknown as to where a team will go and who the opponent will be. There's the thrill of seeing the name "Princeton" as it pops up.

That just transitions a team into the next phase. It's the scramble to complete so many different tasks in a really, really short time - for so many different people in the department.

There are travel arrangements to be made, which isn't easy even when there is no major winter storm. There is scouting. There are social events to be planned on site. There needs to be a postseason media guide. There are countless media requests. Tickets need to be sold. It goes on and on.

Then there's the travel itself, the arrival at the site. TigerBlog has never gone to an NCAA tournament yet where there weren't signs in airports and hotels that welcomed people to that regional.

Today is a big day in the whole experience. There are press conferences at the site the day before the games, and they draw media crowds that no regular season game in any conference can match.

There are open practices in the arena, which are mostly just a way to get familiar with the venue and get a bunch of shots up. Or down, as in the case of basically every team that TB has ever seen at one of these open practices, which almost always become dunk contests.

Then there is another gym, maybe at a local college or high school, where the serious work of preparation finishes. These are real practices, far away from the media.

Then it's back to the hotel, for more preparation, and some down time.

It all builds to Game Day, and the chance to make history. Regardless of the outcome of the game, no player on any team in the NCAA tournament will ever forget being a part of it.

Anyway, this is what Princeton's men's basketball team is doing today. It's far, far superior to anything the NIT can offer.

The NCAA men's basketball tournament is as much about the experience it provides as it is anything else. As he said, TB has been lucky enough to get to go to more than his share, and every one of them has been special.

Princeton is in Buffalo now, preparing for a big challenge in Notre Dame.

TigerBlog hopes - and he's reasonably sure - that the Tigers are also enjoying the moment.

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