Thursday, March 12, 2009

All-Ivy ’09 vs. Princeton ’98

The 2008-09 All-Ivy League men's basketball team was released yesterday, and it started TigerBlog down a hypothetical road: How would the five members of the 2009 All-Ivy team have fared against the 1997-98 Princeton team?

The current All-Ivy group includes a great inside-outside scorer (Alex Barnett of Dartmouth, also the Player of the Year), a true point guard who is also an excellent scorer and great foul shooter (Louis Dale of Cornell), a 6' 6" forward who can create his own shot and is one of the great shooters from distance in league history (Ryan Wittman of Cornell), a do-it-all who was among the league leaders in pretty much every category (Jeremy Lin of Harvard) and a burly inside man who can score and rebound (Matt Mullery of Brown).

When the team was first released, TigerBlog thought that group of five would be no match for the 1998 Tigers. With a little more consideration, perhaps that's underestimating the current group. Still, TB is staying with the idea that the ’98 Tigers would have won, as would the 1996 and 1997 Tigers, the 1993-95, 1999, 2000 and 2002 Penn teams and maybe the 2004 Tigers.

There is no question that the 1998 Tigers would have been able to defend the current All-Ivy group. The ’98ers could have used current head coach Sydney Johnson, who graduated a year earlier, to defend either Wittman or Barnett, but current orthopedic surgeon Gabe Lewullis and James Mastaglio would have gotten the assignments. Mitch Henderson would have been able to neutralize Dale, and those three would be the cornerstones of the current All-Ivy offense.

On the other side of the ball, it would have been a mismatch. Princeton won with tremendous offensive balance and 50% team shooting, and there's no reason to suspect any of that would be different. There would have been no stopping Steve Goodrich (remember, he played in the NBA) in the post, and the rest would have flowed from there. Lewullis, Henderson, Mastaglio and Brian Earl (whose Ivy record of 281 career three-pointers will be broken by Wittman next year, as Wittman already has 262 with a year to play) would have been able to do what they did night-in, night-out back in that season, which was the share the ball, share the shots, create for each other and make as many as they missed.

If in fact all of those teams mentioned above could beat the current All-Ivy group, what does that say about the current state of Ivy basketball? Well, it's no secret that Princeton and Penn dominated the league for decades, and the Tigers with a coaching staff that include Pete Carril, Bill Carmody, John Thompson, Joe Scott and Howard Levy during the 1990s into this decade were bringing in great players. The same was true of Fran Dunphy's Penn teams.

The great part about putting dominant basketball teams together is that it doesn't take 20 players. Princeton's 1998 team consisted of two players who were recruited by Princeton and Penn primarily (Earl and Goodrich) and three players (Mastaglio, Henderson and Lewullis) who were somewhat overlooked in the process.

The days are coming when an Ivy League schools fields a team with players like Princeton and Penn did for all those years not so long ago.

In the meantime, it's always fun to remember those great players. Maybe TigerBlog is wrong and is overestimating those teams and the 1998 Tigers specifically.

TigerBlog doubts it, though.

* * *

Speaking of the ’98 Tigers, Sean Gregory, who now writes about sports for Time magazine, recently caught up with Kobe Bryant for a little basketball clinic. It's a nice piece, and Kobe has always appeared to be intelligent and personable, both of which come across in the video.

Still, TigerBlog can't help but think that a better answer for Bryant to the "what do you do in this particular situation" questions that Bones (Gregory's nickname from his Princeton days, when he was "skin and bones") asks him would have been: "well, I'm just better than almost anyone else."

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