Monday, March 2, 2009

When Can You Start To Believe?

For those who watched the recent Academy Awards and thought "wow those people are cool," may TigerBlog refer you back to an era when cool really was cool and invite you to watch an old Paul Newman movie.

Any one he made will do, though for our purposes today, how about "The Sting," which won best picture in 1973. Today's question involves this exchange between Newman and Robert Redford, when Redford's up-and-coming grifter character questions the ruthlessness of the mark from New York City to the wise veteran Newman:

Redford: "He ain't as tough as he thinks."
Newman: "Neither are we."

That logic applies to any number of situations in life, and it is particularly relevant for two Princeton teams coming off of this week: the men's basketball and men's lacrosse team.

And it begs the question: "When is it okay to believe in your team?"

The men's basketball team is climbing out of a deep hole, one that saw the Tigers finish last twice in the Ivy League and win just six games a year ago. Predicted to be the worst team in the Ivy League again this year, Sydney Johnson's team has begun to right its ship. Now, gearing up for the final three games-in-five days stretch of the season, Princeton amazingly is in a position to win at least a share of the league championship by simply winning out.

"Simply" might not be the right word. First Princeton has to win Friday night at Columbia, a team that the Tigers thumped the first time around and thus a team that will be looking for a bit of payback. Should Princeton win that one, it would set up a showdown Saturday night at Cornell, who leads Princeton by one in the loss column. Finally, there is a game next Tuesday at Penn, a team that is having a rough year but one that has had success against Princeton already this year and would love nothing more than to derail the Tigers if given the opportunity.

For the record, a Cornell win and Princeton loss Friday ends the race before Princeton gets to Ithaca. A Cornell win over Princeton Saturday regardless of anything else also takes care of things. Additionally, Dartmouth and Yale are still mathematically alive to be one-third of an unlikely three-way tie at 9-5.

As for the men's lacrosse team, the season is just starting, rather than winding down. Still, the mostly online lacrosse media is filled with stories proclaiming that "Princeton is back" after the Tigers' dominant showing against Johns Hopkins Saturday in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in the Blue Jays' backyard.

Yes, it was a great game for Princeton, but the Tigers still have four more games against teams currently ranked in the coaches' Top 10, beginning Friday night at No. 6 UMBC (Princeton is ranked fifth in the coaches and media poll).

So again, when can you start to believe? When the men's basketball team started the Ivy season 4-0 and everyone was talking about brackets and play-in games and how Princeton matched up with Alabama A&M, TigerBlog went on the radio and cautioned that 8-6 in the league this year would be viewed as tremendous progress. Now, though, any Tiger fan wants to dream big, and with just three weekends left, why not?

As for lacrosse, it's easy to look ahead and say Princeton wil be 8-0 heading into its Syracuse game or is a good bet to get back to the NCAA Final Four, but that wasn't the message from Bill Tierney after the game Saturday, when he was urging anyone who would listen to go slowly before anointing his team.

Fans want to take one game or one good stretch and turn it into a cause for great optimism. To be honest, the men's basketball and men's lacrosse teams are positioned much better for the long run than for the short run. Still, there's no rule that says either one of them or both can't have great runs this year as well.

So watch the next few weeks and cheer and hope and see what happens. Just don't be disappointed. What the two teams have already accomplished is pretty good.

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