Wednesday, March 4, 2009

If You Have To Play Way Too Early, You Might As Well Take Advantage

In case you haven't noticed, the weather in the Northeast hasn't exactly been warm the last few weeks. All you have to do is take one glance out the window here at TigerBlog HQ for a snowy reminder of how spring isn't quite here yet.

Still, men's lacrosse season is here, and is actually almost a month old already for some teams. And few teams have taken advantage of the early season the way Princeton has. In fact, Princeton has done more in its first two weeks this season to help itself than it did all of last season.

There was a time when March 1 was the earliest teams would play college lacrosse games. A variety of factors have changed that, including television, conference tournaments and the elimination of many weekday games. As a result, the first games this year were actually played on Feb. 7.

The problem - or in Princeton's case, the benefit - of this is that when it comes time to select the NCAA tournament field, games that predate the actual start of spring, often played in frozen temperatures, count just as much as ones played in late April or early May.

Going back six quarters and 11 days, Princeton trailed Canisius 3-2 at halftime of the opener. Since then, Princeton has outscored its two opponents 26-12 and rung up amazing numbers of shots. Along the way, Princeton also hammered Johns Hopkins 14-8 in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Princeton's next game is Friday night at UMBC in a game that replaces Virginia on the Tiger schedule for the first time in two decades. It was a move intended to help Princeton in terms of the NCAA tournament, and it's turned out to be sheer brilliance.

A win over UMBC would give Princeton two wins over Top 10 teams, something no other team could claim at that point (though Virginia could match it with a win over Cornell Sunday). A loss to UMBC wouldn't hurt Princeton all that much either, as it would pump up Hopkins' RPI (Hopkins defeated UMBC 14-11 last night), making Princeton's win over Hopkins that much better.

Princeton a year ago did defeat Cornell, but the Tigers' next best win was either Harvard, Hofstra or Canisius, none of whom were Top 15 teams. As a result, the Tigers chances for an at-large bid faded against teams with two or three wins against Top 15 teams. Princeton did have losses to Virginia, Syracuse and Hopkins, meaning that the schedule had been a tough one, but tournament bids are decided on quality wins.

This time around, Princeton already has one huge win and a shot at six others, who are listed here with their current Inside Lacrosse rankings: Syracuse (No. 2), Cornell (No. 4), UMBC (No. 8), Hofstra (No. 10), Harvard (No. 12) and Brown (No. 15).

Getting the win over Hopkins was big many reasons. It showed that the freshmen could play on the big stage of M&T Bank Stadium. It showed that the offense is improved. It gave the team confidence.

But most of all, it started to position Princeton for the postseason, something last year's schedule couldn't do.

Hey, if you have to be out there playing games before the temperature gets above 45 or so, you might as well make it work for yourself.

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