Friday, March 29, 2013

Taking A Hammer To A Chocolate Bunny

You know those big chocolate Easter bunnies, the ones that are solid throughout the body but hollow in the ears?

The really big ones?

TigerBlog loves the littler ones. The big bunnies are far too problematic.

For starters, when he bites into the ears, they collapse all over the place. And when he bites into body, well, it goes nowhere. If he tries to break off a piece of the body, all he gets are really little pieces until ultimately he has to almost take a hammer to the bunny to get any sort of worthwhile reward.

When TB was a kid, his grandmother used to buy him and BrotherBlog the little bunnies, which came like 10 to a package. Now that was quality chocolate - even for a Jewish kid.

TB's connection to Easter isn't quite like that of some other members of his religion, like, say, Judah Ben-Hur, who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus - after Judah had been through a lot, including a stint with the Roman Army's rowing team and some horseback riding.

This Sunday is Easter Sunday, which means the supermarket was flooded with holiday candy. TigerBlog went into this in depth a year ago.

A few years ago, TB also wrote about the dilemma that the Ivy League has in scheduling athletic events around religious holidays, especially Easter, which always falls on a spring Sunday, which would mean Ivy baseball and softball.

As TB said four years ago, there's nothing the league can do. It can't start deciding which religious holidays are worthy of having no events and which ones are okay.

As a result, the weekend that begins with Good Friday and lasts through Easter is stocked with huge athletic events.

Maybe the biggest is tonight, when Princeton hosts Penn State in men's volleyball.

TB doesn't know much about volleyball, including how to keep stats at a match.

What he doesn't know is that Penn State is always good and Princeton has spent most years looking up in the standings at the Nittany Lions.

One exception was 1998, when Princeton defeated Penn State and advanced to the NCAA tournament, which in men's volleyball consists of four teams. In 1998, it sent Princeton to Hawaii.

This year, Princeton is on a roll, having won five straight EIVA matches, including last night's win over St. Francis. The Tigers are now 8-2 in the league, while Penn State comes to Dillon at 9-1.

Princeton hasn't beaten Penn State since 1998, and the closest the Tigers have come was last year at Dillon, when the Nittany Lions fought off eight match balls to win the fifth game 37-35.

This year? A win and the teams are tied. A loss and Penn State is in control for the regular season title, but Princeton is already headed to the EIVA playoffs.

Tomorrow is a big rowing day at Princeton, with all four crews at home, something that will result in racing all morning.

There is a big men's lacrosse game on campus, as Princeton hosts Brown. The Tigers are 1-1 in the league, and both games have been one-goal games, while Brown is 1-0 with a win over Harvard. Brown is playing its third game in six days; Princeton hasn't played in eight days, since the 10-9 win over Yale last Friday.

A good side note - only twice in the last 30 years (1991, 2002) - have both Princeton and Brown reached double figures in a game against each other. This year, both average more than 12 goals per game.

The women's lacrosse team is at Cornell tomorrow in another big Ivy early-season game.

And the men's tennis Ivy opener against Penn.

And then there's baseball and softball, who have their home openers tomorrow and Sunday, with Yale and Brown here.

In other words, it's a fairly busy weekend.

All of those events, and all except for men's lacrosse completely free.

Happy Easter to all.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Snow Job

TigerBlog spent a week in Costa Rica and saw all kinds of great displays of nature, basically everywhere he looked.

There were mountains and rivers and flowers and wild looking bugs and birds and even some lizard-type fellow who strolled across the pool deck where Nick Bates and TigerBlog Jr. were swimming.

You know what TB didn't see in Costa Rica? Snow.

Okay, it was June. Still, TB has a feeling that even if he went back in December, he wouldn't exactly see the ground covered by a blizzard.

TB could just picture Diego and Victor and the rest of the people who showed their home country to the Princeton men's lacrosse team last June, all being amazed that a World Cup Qualifier - a game of unreal importance - was being played in a snowstorm in Denver last week.

Oh, and Diego's father, Don Carlos? He probably took it the hardest.

TB isn't quite sure what to think about it, even after FIFA announced that the 1-0 victory by the U.S. would stand, despite protests by the Costa Ricans.

During the men's lacrosse trip, TB and about 15 other members of the group went to the WCQ between Los Ticos and El Salvador, in the first round. It was a ridiculous experience, a fervor that TB has never seen in an American sporting event.

And here was an even more important game, being played in driving snow, between a nation where snow is routine and another where it never falls. Oh, sure, most of the Costa Rican players play in cold weather in Europe.

But still, such an important game? Played in those conditions?

On the one hand, each WCQ game is so significant that TB figures they should be played in as optimal conditions as possible. On the other hand, how is playing in snow in Denver any different than having the U.S. go and play in 100 degree weather. 

Anyway, he's still rooting for Costa Rica to make the World Cup, and he likes their chances.

As for snow, there wasn't that much of it around here this winter. There were flurries, and sometimes there was enough snow to cover the grass, though it rarely stuck to the roads. TB can't remember a time he was all that inconvenienced by a storm this winter, and certainly there was no major event with a foot or more.

What there was around here this winter was cold weather. Lots and lots of it. It never got bitterly ridiculously cold, like around zero and all, but even as late March rolls around, it's been weeks and weeks of temperatures in the 30s.

Princeton has played seven men's lacrosse games, six of which have been played in extremely cold weather and one of which was played in 65 degree sunshine in Chapel Hill. And that doesn't even mention the practices for spring teams, all of which have caused everyone to put on layers and break out hand warmers.

Until this week. Actually, this week began with a threat of 5-8 inches of snow, which turned out to be nothing but a few wet flakes and a lot of rain.

And now? It appears that the week, and March itself, will be going out like a lamb.

And it's just in time for that.

This weekend marks the home openers for baseball and softball, with Ivy League doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday against Yale and Brown.

The forecast is for temps to be in the mid-50s both days.

Because of mid-terms and spring break, Princeton has had almost no home events the last three weeks. That changes dramatically this weekend, with 16 home events on the schedule between tonight and Sunday.

The softball team is the only Ivy League team over .500 to this point, with a record of 14-8. Princeton is batting .321 as a team and has hit 18 home runs to just six for its opponents.

The games this weekend will be the first at home for first-year head coach Lisa Sweeney and assistant coach Jen Lapicki.

In Ivy League baseball, three teams are better than .600 overall while the other five are below .400. Dartmouth is 12-1. Still, in baseball and softball, all it takes is a few timely hits one way or another to radically change the races.

In addition to baseball and softball, there's also men's lacrosse, rowing, men's volleyball and men's tennis on campus this weekend.

In fact, all four crews are home this weekend, which is a real rarity.

And no snow.

It appears that spring is finally showing up around here.

It's about time.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"The Following" vs. "Homeland" - And Two Princeton Basketball Legacies

TigerBlog has watched this show "The Following" since it began this season.

Ever heard of it? This is the one with Kevin Bacon, who plays somebody who has some sort of connection to the FBI and to a serial killer he arrested a long time ago. It also stars the woman who played the assistant DA who was killed on "Law & Order" and a guy who sort of reminds you a little of Hugh Jackman.

The show follows the serial killer, who escapes not once but twice from death row, and Bacon's character's continued pursuit of him. The serial killer, by the way, is the Hugh Jackman-looking guy.

Anyway, it seems that the serial killer has put together a cult - his "following" as it were - that is helping him carry out some scheme to reunite him with his ex-wife and son. Oh, and obviously the ex-wife and Kevin Bacon were in love, broke up and are now figuring out they're still in love.

The plot has so many holes in it that it's hard to watch it without intermittent eye-rolling.

For instance, the combination of the way the cult members have been embedded into society and the actions they need to perform from these positions in society to make the plan work are completely over the top.

For it to be plausible, then the squirrelly woman who plays the meek cop in the small town where three of the cult followers hole up has to have been put there years in advance and has to be working at the exact moment she's working, after having gotten everyone in the small town to trust her.  And then she has to be the one who gets Kevin Bacon in the car and drives around with him and then, at the last minute, turns out to be one of the cult people.

And the actions of the law enforcement people are often just plain dumb. Seriously, just call for backup one time and everything will be fine.

Still, there are enough dramatic plot twists and surprises to make the show worth, well, following, at least for this season. TB is pretty sure he's bailing after Year 1, in which he has invested 10 episodes, with five to go.

TB is also pretty sure he knows how "The Following" came to be. The good people at Fox had a production meeting at which someone said something like "hey, you know what we need? A show like 'Homeland.' "

At that point, the rest of the people in the meeting said "hey, that's a great idea. All we need is a plot we can stretch through 15 episodes and someone famous to headline the cast."

Here's the problem, though. "The Following" is borderline watchable. "Homeland" is the best television show TigerBlog has ever seen.

What it proves is that it's not the formula. It's the execution of the formula.

"Homeland" works because the implausibilities don't come close to overwhelming the great character development and storylines. On "The Following" the opposite is true. Any good character development is lost on the ridiculous nature of what is happening.

Yes, "The Following" is creative enough and well-thought-out enough that it keeps TB watching. But that's also what infuriates him most. It could be so much better with not that much more thought put into it.

Also, the characters on "The Following" are too formulaic. Kevin Bacon is "good." Dead Assistant DA from Law & Order woman is "administrative." Hugh Jackman-looking guy is "evil."

On "Homeland," Claire Danes character is both the heroine and the most completely flawed human being on the show. The characters on "Homeland" are very human, not just caricatures.

The biggest difference between the shows can be seen in the one person who actually played a supporting role in both. Turns out her name is Marin Ireland, and she was nominated for a Tony Award in 2009 for a play called "reasons to be pretty."

As an aside, TB much prefers musicals to plays.

Anyway, Ireland played similar characters in both shows. In "Homeland," she was one of the, well, followers, this time of the terrorists. She's the one who ends up in prison, where Mandy Pantinkin visits her. On "The Following," she's also a follower, this time a deranged psycho killer.

In "Homeland," her character is so complex that the viewer at once feels sorry for her, wonders how many real-life versions of her there are out there and is repulsed by what she's done. In many ways, her presence, even in her small role, defines the whole show, which is about ordinary people who are caught up in extraordinary events and who wrestle with their own good and evil.

In "The Following," she's just a crazy psycho - and entertaining one, but one without any real depth.

It's the difference between an epic all-time great show and an okay one.

Speaking of epic all-time greats, and with some obligation to talk Princeton sports here, the careers of two all-time greats in Princeton basketball have come to end.

On the men's side, there's Ian Hummer.

On the women's side, there's Niveen Rasheed.

They were both the Ivy League Player of the Year this year, marking the first time Princeton has had both the men's and women's winner in the same season.

It was the second straight year that Rasheed won, and she could have won as a freshman - Columbia's Judie Lomax led the league in scoring at 18.6 per game while Rasheed was second at 15.8, though Princeton finished five games ahead of the Lions. And, had she not torn her ACL her sophomore year, she might have won that year and not Addie Micir, her Princeton teammate.

Rasheed finished her career with 1,617 points, eight fewer than Hummer's 1,625. Had it not been for the torn ACL, Rasheed would have approached 2,000 career points and easily been Princeton's career leader, instead of finishing 66 points behind Sandi Bittler.

So where does Rasheed stand?

She's the greatest women's basketball player in Princeton history and one of the three best in Ivy history, along with Harvard's Allison Feaster and Penn's Diana Caramanico, both of whom were three-time Players of the Year. A realistic case could be made for any of the three to be the greatest.

That much is clear and has been basically since the beginning of her freshman year.

And Hummer's legacy? Well, he's not the greatest player in school history like Rasheed obviously, and that conversation is over forever, because it will always be Bill Bradley.

In the more than 30 years that TB has been watching Princeton play basketball, he can't remember anyone who was a more exciting player than Hummer, at least in terms of his ability to do the spectacular at any given moment. And TB isn't just talking about dunking.

Hummer finished his career second all-time at Princeton in points but also fourth all-time in assists. In many ways, he's a more athletic version of Kit Mueller, who was the center on three Ivy League championship teams from 1989-91 and who was the second all-time leading scorer for 21 years, until Douglas Davis passed him last year and Hummer this year. Mueller is also second in assists at Princeton.

Here are some of the men's players TB has seen play at Princeton: Mueller, Bob Scrabis, Sean Jackson, Rick Hielscher, Chris Mooney, Matt Eastwick, Chris Young, Brian Earl, Gabe Lewullis, Steve Goodrich, Nate Walton, Sydney Johnson, Mitch Henderson, James Mastaglio, Mason Rocca, Judson Wallace and Will Venable. That's a pretty elite list.

Where does Hummer rank among those guys? Once you figure that out, then you can add in all the great players who were a little before TB's time.

Wherever he ranks, it's pretty high.

Like Rasheed, Hummer is an all-time great.

If nothing else, it will be weird when next year starts and neither one of them is still here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Big Picture

The charter flight landed at Newark around 2:30 a.m., and about an hour later the bus rolled into the circle in front of DeNunzio Pool. Out, for the last time, came the 2012-13 Princeton women's basketball team.

This is about as far away from the excitement and glamor that is the NCAA tournament as a team can get.

Hours earlier and 1,600 miles away, the women's basketball team struggled to ever find its comfort zone in its opening round game against Florida State and ultimately found itself on the wrong end of a 60-44 final score.

Princeton's singular focus had been on winning that first-round game, from the time the draw was announced days earlier and, for that matter, for an entire season that seemed predestined to take the team to another NCAA tournament.

And now it was over.

It's such a harsh reality, knowing that your season has ended, there's no going back and there's nothing that can be done to change it. For seniors it's even harsher, knowing that it's the last time you'll wear the jersey.

Instead of going back to the hotel and getting ready for the next round, it's a quick getaway back home and a late, late, late arrival on campus.

And then what? Back to the dorms, where it really sets in?

It takes awhile to get past that emptiness, TigerBlog assumes. Eventually, the bigger picture comes to light.

And here is that big picture for the Princeton women's basketball program:

The last four years have been the greatest era the program has known. Princeton had never been to the NCAA tournament prior to 2010; the team has now been to four straight. No team in Ivy League women's basketball history had ever been ranked nationally; Princeton broke into the Top 25 last year and hung around the top 30 most of this season.

Oh, and the 11, 12, 9 and 9 seeds? Those are the four best in Ivy history.

No Ivy League women's team ever won more games over a four-year period than Princeton has won the last four years.

Princeton is 54-2 in the Ivy League in the last four years. Overall? Princeton has gone 96-20 the last four years. That's an insane record; for a team that never before had been to the NCAA tournament before, it's even more ludicrously impressive.

And the future?

It's still bright, even with the loss of the current seniors and especially Niveen Rasheed, the two-time Ivy League Player of the Year who would have 1) been the three-time Ivy League Player of the Year and 2) would have obliterated the school record for points in a career had she not torn her ACL and missed half of her sophomore year.

As it is, she finished her career with 1,617 points, which left her 66 points away from Sandi Bittler's career record. Her injury cost her about 250 points or so.

It might not be consolation in the hours after the loss to Florida State, but these accomplishments are not going to be forgotten anytime soon.

And none of that may be the biggest legacy for this group.

No, the Princeton's women's basketball team did more than just win.

It played an exciting, tenacious, overwhelming style, one that resonated with basketball fans in general. As a result, the team captured the interest of many who had never been fans of women's basketball before, which is no easy feat.

As TB has said, attendance at Princeton women's games has tripled in the last four years, to the point where crowds of between 1,000-2,000 are the norm. This was never the case in the history of the program before, and it's not something that could be accomplished simply by appealing solely to fans of women's basketball.

For many people, it was Friday/Saturday at Jadwin, and maybe it would be the men one weekend and the women the next, but it didn't really matter.

That might be the greatest achievement of this team the last four years.

By a team that has an incredibly long list of achievements, one way longer than any casual Princeton fan would ever have dreamed possible four years ago.

By one very special team. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Eagles And Epees

Okay, so TigerBlog was wrong about his Georgetown-Gonzaga championship game prediction.

Gonzaga was done in by a ridiculous nine-possession spurt by Wichita State that saw the ninth-seed shockingly (get it? Wichita State is the Shockers, which actually is short for Wheat Shockers) score on all nine possessions, totaling 23 points. It was one of the great runs of all time anywhere on any level in any basketball game.

And Georgetown? The Hoyas were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When the draw was announced eight days ago, Florida Gulf Coast was just another modified version of a major school, no different than North Carolina A&T or Western Kentucky or something like that, a school that nobody thought twice about when it's name was revealed.

Hey, for that matter, TigerBlog would have objected to FGCU's presence in the tournament at all, after Mercer won the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season title, only to lose in the conference tournament final to the second-place Eagles. Unless the A-Sun adopted the three plays two, winner plays one format, in which case then TB would be fine with it, especially since FGCU beat third-place Stetson in the semifinal.

So who could have guessed that FGCU would come into the NCAA tournament the way it has, like some combination of the Miami Heat and Harlem Globetrotters, that a team that lost twice to Lipscomb during the regular season would suddenly become not only a dynamic cohesive juggernaut but also quite possibly the most entertaining basketball team ever assembled.

That's the real lure of the Eagles. They are just so much fun to watch.

When FGCU had Georgetown on the ropes and there was a change of possession, did the Eagles pull the ball out and wait to get fouled? Oh no. Not this team. No, instead it was a one-handed semi-no-look alley-oop for a one-handed dunk by a player who seemed to come out of nowhere.

Actually, it's sort of a metaphor for the entire team. Players nobody heard of who came out of nowhere and dunked all over the tournament. The way that the Eagles put away San Diego State yesterday? It was mesmerizing.

TigerBlog had to spend six hours in the car Friday, and as he listened to sports talk radio, it was all about Harvard's win over New Mexico Thursday night. Now, after three days of FGCU, that seems like last year's tournament.

And there you have TB's thoughts on Florida Gulf Coast.

While FGCU was capturing the hearts of the basketball world, and even the casual sports fan, Princeton was busy capturing something that only one other Division I school has done this year.

While 99% of the college athletic world was focused on the basketball tournaments, Princeton was winning the NCAA fencing championship in San Antonio.

The fencing championship is a co-ed event, and Princeton figured to have an edge on the women's side, which meant that the men needed to keep it close enough before the women competed.

At least that's what the fencing coaches told TigerBlog in the mail room last week before they left.

The mail room is next door to TigerBlog's office, and is the home to mailboxes, a copy machine, a folding machine, sometimes leftover food - and the coffee machine. TB doesn't drink coffee and never has, but he understands that the fencing coaches make very, very strong coffee.

Anyway, that's exactly how it played out.

The men were in second place, trailing Penn State 94-83 (number of bouts won) when the women took over. And the women made up that difference and more, outscoring Penn State 99-69 on the women's side.

Actually, it was Notre Dame who made a run at Princeton and finished second, as Princeton won 182-175. Ohio State finished third.

Individually, Eliza Stone was Princeton's lone champion and the second individual woman champion in program history, after Eva Petschnigg in 2000. Susannah Scanlan was a runner-up, falling in the epee final to Notre Dame's Courtney Hurley, who had been Scanlan's teammate at the Olympics last summer, where both were part of the bronze medal-winning US team.

Oh, and what did Princeton accomplish that only one other Division I school has so far this year?

Princeton has now won two NCAA team championships.

The Tigers won the NCAA field hockey title in the fall and now have added fencing to the list. Only Oregon, which won women's cross country and indoor track and field, has won two NCAA team titles this year, besides Princeton.

And the Tigers also have the NCAA distance medley relay national champion as well.

Anyway, it was a great weekend for Princeton fencing. And for Florida Gulf Coast.

One may have gotten all of the attention, but they are both fabulous achievements.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Memory Lane

TigerBlog was at an event at TigerBlog Jr.'s school yesterday afternoon when he saw Christian Laettner catch the ball near the Kentucky foul line.

For a brief moment, TB had this thought: Maybe this time he'll miss.

Of course he didn't miss. He didn't miss anything that night, 21 years ago.

The sound on the television in the school cafeteria was turned off, so TB wasn't sure what documentary he stumbled on, though Jamal Mashburn was featured prominently. For those who don't remember, that was the game in the 1992 East Regional final where Duke beat Kentucky 104-103 in overtime in what many consider the greatest college basketball game of all time.

TigerBlog was there. He sat right behind the Kentucky bench, on press row, covering the game for the Trenton Times. If you look closely in the background, he's clearly visible behind Kentucky's then-coach Rick Pitino. TB is wearing a black sweater that was fairly stylish in 1992 and would be ghastly ugly today.

Two years earlier, TigerBlog was at the Meadowlands for the East Regional as well, also covering the games for the newspaper.

For everyone who remembers the Duke-Kentucky game, there are only a fraction who remember that an equally amazing shot by Tate George of Connecticut - off a ridiculous length-of-the-court pass by Scott Burrell - defeated Clemson in the Sweet 16, only to have Laettner beat UConn with another buzzer-beater in the regional final.

When Burrell took possession of the ball from the ref before his pass to George, TigerBlog was the person on the planet closest to him, from his seat in the press section, directly under the basket. He sat in the same seat two days later when Duke knocked off UConn.

And TB obviously was in the RCA Dome in 1996, when Gabe Lewullis' layup beat UCLA for Princeton.

Those four games are always among the list of great endings in NCAA history, and TB was lucky enough not only to be at all four but to have a front row seat for all four.

TB was thinking back to his NCAA tournament experiences yesterday as he watched the games.

What he never considered back when he was watching Laettner torture him twice was that in 2013 he would see No. 1 seed Gonzaga hold off 16th-seeded Southern on his iPhone.

As he watched Cal take out UNLV, TB couldn't help but remember back to 1997, when Princeton played Cal - led by unstoppable forward soon to be unstoppable NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez - and Cal knocked off the Tigers in the first game Thursday afternoon.

By 2 or so, Princeton was eliminated. That game was in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Princeton was playing lacrosse at North Carolina that Sunday.

TB thought it would be different, that the Tigers would beat Cal and then play Saturday in the second round, so he arranged to fly back after the lacrosse game Sunday. Instead, he ended up going to the regional in Charlotte the next day, where he bought tickets with then radio man Tom McCarthy, now the TV voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, and then OAC intern Manish Mehta, now the national football writer for the New York Daily News, and sat in the stands at the Charlotte Coliseum.

Then he went back to watch the second round games in Winston-Salem the next day and went to lacrosse Sunday.

Before he ever got to TBJ's school yesterday, TigerBlog was listening to McCarthy do the regional from Auburn Hills with Kelly Tripuka on the radio.

While the games were going on, TB was thinking about all the times he went to the tournament, all the times he'd hang out and watch the early games when Princeton played late, how cool it was to be in the media room and outside the locker rooms before heading out to the court.

Maybe because he's been to so many NCAAs, TB was content to simply watch these games.

In fact, the last time Princeton went to the NCAAs, in 2001 against Kentucky, TB simply watched it on TV.

He watched the Harvard game last night, falling asleep at halftime and waking up at the under-four media timeout of the second half, just in time to see the Crimson win. Congrats to the Crimson on an outstanding win.

This weekend, the NCAA game he's looking forward to the most is the Princeton women's game against Florida State. He's hoping that the Tigers can get a win, to cap the wondrous career of Niveen Rasheed and the rest of the Class of 2013.

And oh by the way, the men's and women's fencing teams are competing for the NCAA championship in Texas this weekend as well.

As for the game he's actually going to see live, TB will be at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium later today, 5, actually, for the Princeton-Yale men's lacrosse game. It's a big one for both teams, though TB expects both the winner and loser to be in the hunt for the Ivy League and NCAA tournaments.

Still, he'll watch as much of the men's basketball tournament as he can.

And he fully expects to have the same reaction as he did today, which is to remember the great good luck he's had to be able to go to so many of them.

And to have a flood of memories - great memories, even if the team he was rooting for didn't always win - come flying back.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bracket Time

TigerBlog looked in the Trenton Times this morning and saw Mark Eckel's column on his NCAA tournament bracket and how he won a 1986 pool that TB apparently ran back in his newspaper days.

If you work in college athletics, there's no way that you don't realize that you can't participate in any kind of gambling on any sport that is sponsored by the NCAA. The messages that bombard you are too numerous for anyone to plead ignorance.

Here in the OAC, we always fill out brackets, though only for fun. There is no money at stake, and the winner gets no prize, not even a lunch from the rest of the office, which, because it has a value assigned to it, would be against the NCAA's rules.

TB just filled out his just-for-fun bracket, and honestly, if he had to do another one right now, only a few minutes later, he doubts he could recreate the one he just finished.

He's willing to go out on a limb and tell you that his Final Four would be Miami, Georgetown, Gonzaga and Louisville.

His championship game is Gonzaga and Georgetown. The winner? Georgetown.

Okay, maybe TB isn't quite being objective here. He's rooting for Georgetown and former Princeton head coach John Thompson to win it all, and so he picked them in his bracket. 

It's always been a uniquely Princetonian thing, by the way, to think of this John Thompson first when thinking of John Thompsons and Georgetown basketball coaches, rather than his father, or at least it was. Now, TB suspects, there is a large portion of the college basketball fan base that doesn't realize that John Thompson's father was the Georgetown coach as well.

Of course, this Georgetown team could make a run at it all. So can a lot of teams. This year seems to be pretty wide open.

Georgetown has a lot of what a team needs to go a long way in the tournament. There are multiple scoring threats, and the Hoyas are a great defensive team. They're not wildly deep, but you don't need to be for a six-game run.

On top of that, they have a star player, Otto Porter Jr., who is the kind of player who could carry a team a long way.

TigerBlog also thinks Gonzaga is pretty good, at least from what he's seen on TV. He's not completely sold on Louisville, the top overall seed, but he hopes that the Cardinals get out of their bracket. If not them, then Michigan State. Or, for that matter, anyone other than Duke.

There are a lot of people who think New Mexico can reach the Final Four, coming out of Gonzaga's bracket as the three seed (the two seed there is Ohio State). Hey, it's possible. Certainly the Lobos have a great record and came out of a league that seemed to be at an all-time high this year.

TB can't say much more than that, having never seen them play this year and being unable to name anyone on their roster.

New Mexico's opener is tonight at 9:40, in Utah. Against Harvard, of all teams.

Harvard is the Ivy League's representative, and as always, TB has the same question for Princeton fans: Are you rooting for Harvard as the league's representative or against them because you've rooted against them all year?

This is always a tough one for TigerBlog.

For instance, he knows the rest of the league has to be sick of seeing the Princeton-UCLA highlights from 1996. But were they rooting for Princeton on that night?

If it's New Mexico 61, Harvard 61 at the under-four media timeout tonight, will you be rooting for the big upset, or are you just physically unable to root for Harvard - or any other Ivy team?

There are some in the "root for our own" camp. There are some in the "no way" camp.

TB would say it's probably 25% for the first and 75% for the second.

Either way, you get your chance tonight to see if the Crimson can win, knock off the three seed as a 14, make the kind of history that Princeton made against UCLA that night.

Today is one of the great days of the year, with wall-to-wall opening round games starting just after noon and going until close to midnight. It repeats itself tomorrow, though TB assumes the ESPNU audience for Princeton-Yale men's lacrosse tomorrow at 5 wipes out the tournament in the ratings.

In all seriousness, there is nothing like the start of the NCAA tournament.

Oh, and what is wrong with calling the last two nights the play-in rounds and then today and tomorrow the first round, like any sane person would?

TB says Georgetown over Gonzaga when it's over.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Class Act

TigerBlog was looking over the women's basketball NCAA tournament guide when it dawned on him that the current seniors were all born in 1990 or 1991.

The postseason guide is a staple for any team that advances to the NCAA tournament. TigerBlog produced four of them for men's basketball - in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2001.

Back before the internet, the postseason guide was the big source of information for the media covering the team at the regional. This was especially true of the CBS broadcast team, which largely knew little about the players or the team prior to getting assigned to cover that particular site.

The preseason media guide would have information that would long ago have been outdated. The postseason guide would have what you'd expect, such as updated bios, stats, game-by-game recaps and all of that.

Because the team doesn't know where it's going until a few days beforehand, the postseason guide has to be put together quickly. Of course, in a one-bid league, there are years where you don't know if you're going to need one or not, and you don't want to jinx anything - or waste your time - by starting it too early.

In other words, it's always a scramble to get it done. And then it has to be printed and shipped to the site, which can sometimes be an adventure, such as the time in 1996 when the guide ended up, well, nowhere.

A big feature of the old NCAA postseason guide was the clips section, where a season's worth of articles would be in the back. When TB worked at the newspaper back and covered Princeton men's basketball in the early 1990s, he always counted the number of his stories that would be in the NCAA guide, making sure he had the highest number. Yes, it was very petty.

Anyway, when the current women's basketball players were still in diapers, TigerBlog was writing about men's players like George Leftwich, Matt Eastwick, Jimmy Lane, Chris Marquardt and Sean Jackson, the members of the Princeton Class of 1992.

When TB moved into his current office back in 2002, there were pictures of Leftwich in the 1990 NCAA tournament against Arkansas and Marquardt against Loyola Marymount at Jadwin Gym in 1991 on his top shelf, put there by Kurt Kehl, who formerly had this office. To this day, 11 years later, they're still there.

As freshmen, the Class of 1992 was part of the famous 50-49 loss to Georgetown that in so many ways has shaped the modern NCAA tournament, with its emphasis on the excitement of the first two days.

The next year the Tigers lost another close one, this time by a 68-64 score to a really good Arkansas team. And then by two the next year, against Villanova at Syracuse, on a late basket by Lance Miller, in a game that TB still isn't over. Their run ended the next year with a loss to Syracuse in Worcester.

Added up, and it was four years, four NCAA tournaments - and four losses by a total of 15 points.

Still, it was the success of that group, including the members of the classes that preceded it (Kit Mueller, Matt Lapin, Matt Henshon, Bob Scrabis and others) and immediately followed it (Rick Hielscher, Chris Mooney, Mike Brennan) that set the stage for what happened a few years later, including the win over UCLA in the 1996 tournament and the Top 10 appearance in 1998.

The Princeton men's Class of 1992 is the only one in Ivy League men's basketball history to play four years together and advance to four NCAA tournaments. Penn did win six straight league titles, but that was before freshman were eligbile.

And that brings us to the current Princeton women's senior class - Meg Bowen, Kate Miller, Lauren Polansky and of course Niveen Rasheed.

This group also has won four championships in four years and will be playing in NCAA tournament No. 4 when it takes on Florida State in Waco Sunday at 5:10 on ESPN2.

No other Ivy women's class has ever played in the NCAA tournament all four years. The Princeton women of 2013 join the Princeton men of 1992 in having achieved something no other class in league history has.

Here's the big difference between the two.

Before the men's Class of 1992 came to Princeton, the program had already made 14 NCAA tournament appearances, including a Final Four in 1965.

The women's program had never been to the NCAA tournament before this group arrived.

In fact, Princeton went 7-23 in Courtney Banghart's first year, which was when this class was high school juniors, or in the prime of making their college choices.

Together, Princeton's Class of 2013 is 96-19 overall, and its final Ivy League record was 54-2.

Together, this class has done extraordinary things, unprecedented things, at Princeton and in the Ivy League.

For all of it, TigerBlog's favorite note about this class isn't really a basketball note. It's an attendance note.

Attendance at Princeton's home women's basketball games has tripled from four years ago to now, when crowds of more than 1,000 - unthinkable not that long ago - are routine.

Hey, when you have a class like this one, people realize it's a chance to see something special.

Now the chance to see that class is down to its end, and it'll have to be on TV. Florid State is a huge challenge, and the winner of that game isn't getting to the Sweet 16, not with Brittney Griner and Baylor standing in the way.

So tune in Sunday and see the Tigers again.

You know, to celebrate the greatest four years in Ivy women's basketball history.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Seminoles In Waco

Within seconds of the announcement of the NCAA women's basketball tournament field, TigerBlog received three text messages with basically the same "not liking Princeton's chances of getting to the Sweet 16" punchline.

Whoever wins the opening round game between Florida State and Princeton Sunday will be faced with the giant task of taking on the No. 1 team in the country and defending champion Baylor Bears, led by 6' 8" Brittney Griner, who is starting to get into the conversation of the greatest women's players of all time.

Princeton and Florida State play the first game in Waco (that's in Texas) Sunday, followed by Baylor and Prairie View A&M.

Baylor-Prairie View A&M has no chance of being close, and Baylor could win by 100 of it wanted. The first game? It's fascinating.

Princeton has spent the last two months as the dominant team in the Ivy League, playing with a huge margin for error in both the games themselves and in the league standings.

Florida State has spent the last two months going up against ACC teams, in a league where it had no realistic chance of winning the championship (the Seminoles finished six games back) but also was clearly going to be in the NCAA tournament.

In the last two months, Princeton is 12-1, with a close loss to Harvard, a close win over Dartmouth and 10 complete blowouts.

In the same time, Florida State is 7-5, including 2-4 in the last six games. Of course, all 2-4 stretches are not created equally, as Florida State has lost twice to Duke in that stretch, by 11 points and most recently by six in the ACC tournament. Duke is a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

They've taken such completely different paths to get to this point, have Princeton and Florida State.

Princeton has clearly been the class of its one-bid league all year. Florida State clearly has been on the next level in its five-bid league, where the challenges night-in, night-out have been much more daunting.

Princeton, as it always seems to, was in the last bracket revealed last night on the selection show. Actually, the quote from FSU coach Sue Semrau was pretty good:
"We throw a good party and we might as well just wait to the last and have all of the suspense ..."

When you're an at-large team, there has to be at least a little suspense as to whether or not you're going to get in, but FSU was so clearly in that it probably was the same feeling that Princeton had watching the brackets unfold. Where are we going?

As TB watched, he could rule out possible sites, because it was obvious that the Tigers were going to be somewhere around a 9, 10 or 11 seed. Unfortunately, any chance of playing at one of the sites that is drivable from Princeton ended early.

Eventually, the result was Waco, with Griner and the Bears looming for the winner.

And so begins the scramble for each team to figure the other out in a short time.

Here's what TigerBlog knows about Florida State: The team can score. The Seminoles rank seventh nationally with more than 76 points per game.

The lead up to the NCAA selections are always fascinating in that teams have no idea who the opponent will be, where or when. The teams get no advanced noticed, and so they have to scramble to get ready once the pairings are announced.

This used to be much more difficult years ago, when stats were hard to come by and video even harder. Now? It's all online, and preparation can begin immediately.

For both teams it also means all of the behind the scenes stuff, including travel arrangements, official travel parties, off-site practice times and all the rest.

It's an incredibly exciting time, and it's the reward for being one of the 64 women's teams or 68 men's teams that make it this far.

For everything TB has seen on the college level and even somewhat on the professional level, he has never seen anything that matches up to the excitement of the NCAA basketball tournament.

To be able to play in it even once is an honor for any player.

To do so every year is not something that should be taken for granted. Ask Florida State, who didn't make it last year for the first time in a long time.

It's special, and every moment of it is to be enjoyed. While also keeping in mind that this a business trip, one that figures to have a fascinating first round and a really, really, really difficult second for the Princeton-FSU winner.

Monday, March 18, 2013

About Bill Carmody

Somewhere in TigerBlog's closet is the mini-cassette from the 1998 Rainbow Classic press conference in Honolulu.

Of course, nowhere in TigerBlog's universe is anything to play a mini-cassette on anymore, so you'll just have to take his word for it.

Anyway, the tape is of Bill Carmody's press conference at the University of Hawaii, after Princeton defeated Charlotte to win the tournament. Carmody was asked by one of the Hawaiian sportswriters about how everyone on the team seemed comfortable shooting three-pointers, even the big men.

Carmody's response:

"Everyone here can make a three. Our center can make a three. Our SID can make a three."

For the record, TigerBlog was a much better low-post player than outside shooter during his 12 years of playing lunchtime basketball at Princeton. Carmody was correct, though, in that TB could step out and knock down a shot every now and then.

Carmody was fired Saturday after 13 seasons as the head coach at Northwestern. During his time at Evanston, Carmody never took the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament, which probably makes him unique in that coaches in power conferences rarely last that long without at least one NCAA bid.

In fact, TB's second thought when he heard Carmody was fired was to wonder how many other coaches in similar circumstances had lasted 13 seasons.

Coaching men's basketball at Northwestern is not easy. The school is playing in what is year-in, year-out either the best basketball league in the country, or at least in the top two or three, and doing so without the facilities or resources that the rest of the Big Ten has.

This year was no exception. Where are the easy wins? There aren't any.

And Northwestern seemed to have the worst luck, whether it was losing its best players to injuries (something that seemed to happen all the time) or letting signature wins get away in the last minute because the other team's NBA players made ridiculous plays to break the Wildcats' collective hearts.

That was TB's second thought.

His first thought was back to the four years when Carmody was Princeton's head coach and TB was the men's basketball SID.

Carmody went 92-25 in his four years at Princeton, and TigerBlog was at every one of those 117 games, in the locker room after each one, on the walk to the interview room after each one.

He ran the press conference in Indianapolis, hastily called, when Carmody officially took over for Pete Carril. Somewhat famously, Carril had announced his retirement after 29 seasons at Princeton after the Tigers had defeated Penn in the Ivy playoff at Lehigh in 1996 a few days earlier, when he went up to the podium in Bethlehem and basically said this:

"I'm retiring at the end of this year ... and Billy Carmody will be the new coach."

TB remembers vividly walking Carmody from the locker room into the media room in the RCA Dome (a building that no longer exists) and to a small circular table like it was yesterday, as opposed to 17 years ago.

He remembers Carmody's first game as head coach, in the 1996 preseason NIT at Indiana. After the Tigers had played hard and lost, Carmody was asked about his team's performance. He said this:

"We run the shoot and run. One guy shoots, everyone else runs back on defense."

Princeton would go 24-4 his first year and then 27-2 his second with an Ivy League record of 28-0 those two years combined. Princeton lost to Cal, with future NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez, in the 1997 NCAA tournament and then defeated UNLV before losing to Michigan State in the 1998 tournament. Princeton and Michigan State were tied in the final minute; the Spartans would start four of the same players two years later when they won the NCAA title.

The Tigers reached the NIT the next two years, but even those years had silver linings.

Princeton won that Rainbow Classic by beating Florida State, Texas and Charlotte on consecutive nights. The 1999 season featured the amazing comeback win over Penn at the Palestra, when the Tigers trailed 27-3 and 40-13 with 15 minutes left, only to rally for a 50-49 victory.

And there was the 1999 NIT, when Princeton beat Georgetown at home (playing the same five guys the entire game) and North Carolina State in Raleigh (last game in Reynolds Coliseum) before falling at Xavier, who could come back to Jadwin the next year and see future NBA player David West shoot 1 for 11.

Added up, it came to four seasons, two NCAAs, two NITs, a Top 25 national ranking in 1997, a Top 10 national ranking in 1998, 13 wins over teams currently in BCS conferences, in-season tournament wins as far away as Hawaii and as close as Madison Square Garden (where he famously called timout and when, asked by the players how to attack the zone that they didn't expect, said "you're smart guys; you'll figure it out) and perhaps the best game in any sport TigerBlog was ever at (the comeback at the Palestra).

As TB has said so many times to people since, no Ivy League basketball SID can ever ask for more than Bill Carmody provided during his time here, starting with the day Carril retired and lasting for Carmody's four years as head coach. TB was the one lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Beyond just the winning, Carmody was hilarious, especially during the walks to the postgame interview rooms and his interactions with the media once he got there.

TB can't remember ever having one problem with Carmody during the entire time he worked with him. He respected what TB did and, like the best coaches TB has worked with, made him feel like what he did was important to the program without being a phony or condescending about it.

Carmody is among the most competitive people TB has ever met, something that came out every time he'd play lunchtime basketball, let alone coach the Tigers.

TigerBlog wonders what's next for Carmody. Maybe the NBA? TB thinks he'd be awesome on television, for that matter.

He hasn't spoken to him about anything; in fact, he's only spoken to him once in the 13 years since Carmody left here.

But he's rooted for him the entire time he's been at Northwestern, a place where it's impossible to win big at and a place where he won more than the school was used to winning.

TB has two stories that completely encapsulate what Bill Carmody is all about.

The first was in practice at Jadwin one day, when a backup got beat for a layup and yelled a curse really loudly in the empty gym.

"Hey," Carmody snapped at him. TB assumed he was going to tell the kid not to use that language anymore.

"The idea of the game," Carmody said, "is to get the other guy to curse."

Then there was the lockerroom in 1999, after Princeton had defeated the Bison in Lewisburg 50-48 on Mason Rocca's hook shot with two seconds left. It was a Tuesday night, TB believes, and he's pretty sure it was raining.

He stood in the back of the locker room, sort of in an adjoining room, so he couldn't see anyone, could only hear what was being said.

Carmody told his team that night that yes they had won but no they hadn't given their best effort. He told them that they only get four years worth of opportunities to give their best effort, and to let one of them get away was something they'd regret later on.

It was such a great speech, so passionate, so insightful. It was the last thing TB expected to hear. He thought it would be "great job, let's get out of here." Instead, it's something that TB has never forgotten, something that he has referred back to in his own experiences since.

And he wasn't even a player.

One of TB's all-time favorites was fired Saturday. His time at Princeton was a glorious one, and TB laughs and smiles every time he thinks back to those days.

TB was just lucky to have a front row seat for the Bill Carmody era here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Again, What's The Point Of This?

Perhaps TigerBlog should have waited a few days for his annual anti-Ivy League basketball tournament thoughts. Perhaps he should have waited for today.

Oh well. He can always add another verse.

Back on Tuesday, TB wrote about how the conference tournaments do more harm than good for one-bid leagues.

It's only gotten worse as the week has gone on.

How about the MEAC, where the semifinals feature the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth seeds. Remember last year, when Norfolk State defeated Missouri in the first round of the NCAA tournament? Remember this year, when Norfolk State was 16-0 during the regular season?

Remember the other day, when Norfolk State lost 70-68 in overtime to Bethune Cookman, improving the victors to 14-19 on the year and ending any thought the MEAC had of another NCAA tournament win?

You want closer to home?

How about the WAC? Well, maybe that's not exactly close to home geographically, but how about what happened to former Princeton coach Joe Scott?

A week ago, the Pioneers were cutting down the nets after defeating Louisiana Tech to tie for the league championship.

Yesterday, both teams went out. La. Tech fell to 11-21 Texas-San Antonio. Denver fell to 12-21 Texas State. The league fell from a good seed to a bad seed (if New Mexico State wins) and a terrible seed (if anyone else does).

Again, TigerBlog does not understand why these leagues want to completely devalue their regular seasons, all in the name of having a conference tournament to determine the representative to the NCAA tournament.

Again, add the MEAC and WAC to other leagues where the regular season meant absolutely zero, not one thing at all. No game, not one single game, mattered.

It's like that in every one-bid league.

Remember, Division I exploded in the number of teams and conferences in the 1980s or so. Back in 1979, there were 21 leagues that earned automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. Now there are 31.

The growth of ESPN is what really led to conference tournaments, as the network began to televise as many title games as possible. Back then, this would be the only way for a league to ever dream of having a game on ESPN or ESPN2.

Hey, TB was at the 1993 Northeast Conference final between Rider and Wagner, when Rider's Darrick Suber made a classic buzzer-beater to send the Broncs to the NCAA tournament for the first time. It was a highlight all over SportsCenter, and it made it onto highlight reels from Championship Week for years to come.

It's one of the greatest sporting events TB has ever seen in person.

Is that worth the risk of what is happening now to so many one-bid leagues? The only reason some of these teams won't be 16-seeds is because there can only be so many of them.

Here are TB's reasons for being anti-conference tournament:

1) the regular season means nothing at all. If you want to say that in the Ivy League there are late-season games between teams that are out of it that mean nothing, okay. But what about a league like the MAAC, where there is so much balance every year? What regular-season game matters? None. Or, for that matter, in any one-bid league?

2) every league has games on television now. It's not longer necessary to have a championship game as the only vehicle for getting TV exposure, since so many regular season games from every league are on. And, beyond that, there are so many championship games on now that who is watching any of them anyway? They all start to look the same for the one-bid leagues.

3) a league gets its real exposure from winning in the NCAA tournament. It takes your strongest representative to do that

4) an Ivy tournament would surely be a money loser, likely played in front of tiny crowds

Here are the reasons, as TB understands it, for wanting to add a conference tournament:

1) everyone else does it - this is simply absurd thinking.

2) it gives every team a second chance, so that a team like Columbia, who got off to a 1-3 start in men's basketball this year, still has something to play for the rest of the way. The flip side of this is that by doing this, no regular-season game matters. In any way

3) the experience for the athletes. Extrapolate this out and the implication is that players who might otherwise want to play in the Ivy League choose to go elsewhere because those leagues have a conference tournament and the Ivy League does not. Is there a single player anywhere who has ever made such a decision? TB used to have the same conversation about media guides, by the way.

4) exposure. This argument resonates a little with TB. It's not so much the game on TV part; it's the idea that the Ivy League champion is often crowned in very anti-climactic circumstances. Still, how many people remember Suber's shot? Compare that to how many people remember Gabe Lewullis' shot.

5) there is only one reason TB would want to see an Ivy League basketball tournament, and ironically it's for a reason that rarely is discussed. Were there an Ivy League basketball tournament, it would also guarantee the league an NIT bid in the event the regular season champ did not win the conference tournament.

TigerBlog would trade 10 dramatic buzzer-beaters in conference tournament finals for one epic NCAA tournament win for a one-bid league. You don't get the win in the NCAA tournament when your semifinals are 5 vs 8 and 6 vs. 7.

Like TB said Tuesday, there's a huge difference between an Ivy lacrosse tournament and an Ivy basketball tournament. It's certainly possible to be pro the first and anti the second.

If there had to be an Ivy League basketball tournament, per se, then TB would want to see either the top four only or, even better, the top three only. In that situation, 3 would play at 2 one day and the winner would play at 1 the next.

This way, the regular season still matters a lot.

TB said it last year (and he'll probably say it next year as well), but he just doesn't get how so many of these leagues don't abandon (or radically change) the conference tournament format.

In the meantime, there are so many teams that have earned the right to be in the NCAA tournament who won't be because of these tournaments. And once those teams lost, the chance for those leagues to make a bigger splash next week has vanished.

Okay, two anti-conference tournament rants in one week is all you get.

So good luck to Harvard when the bids come out Sunday.

Maybe as a Princeton fan, TB is disappointed that his team won't be on the board. On the other hand, he knows that Harvard clearly has earned the right to represent the league.

Anyway, TB has a big lacrosse game to worry about tomorrow, as Princeton is at Penn at 3, so no more about conference tournaments.

Until next year.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papum

Whether or not you are Catholic - and TigerBlog is not Catholic - you have to be fascinated by the process of choosing a new Pope.

TigerBlog certainly was.

The whole black smoke/white smoke part is wildly dramatic, especially when news broke yesterday that white smoke was coming out of the chimney at the Vatican, much to the delight of the 100,000 or so in St. Peter's Square.

The white smoke meant that there was in fact a new Pope, chosen by a two-thirds majority by the Cardinals who had gathered only a day earlier to choose the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

This led to about an hour of heightened suspense, as the world waited to see who it was. Would it be the first American Pope? Would it be an Italian? Would it be an African?

Instead, it turned out to be Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who chose the name Pope Francis I. The new Pontiff is from Argentina, making him the first South American Pope.

TigerBlog wonders if the election itself was contentious in any way, or what the actual business of choosing the new Pope would be like. Bergoglio was chosen on the fifth ballot.

And then there's the unveiling of the new Pontiff.

First the lights behind the curtain go on. Then the curtain opens. Then one of the Cardinals comes onto the balcony and announcers "Habemus Papum," or "We have a Pope," and then he says who it is.

And then the new Pope steps out.

TB suspects that the moments before that are fairly overwhelming for the man who was just elected.

Because Benedict retired, there is the almost-never-before situation of having a new Pope and living ex-Pope, something that hasn't happened in 700 years.

Pope Francis I is 76 years old, which is older than TB thought the new Pope would be. As Cardinal, Bergoglio lived in a small Buenos Aires apartment, took the bus to work and spent a lot of time with the poor in the slums. He is by all accounts a humble man.

TigerBlog has no segue from the new Pope to Princeton Athletics, and he's not even going to try.

Instead, he'll simply transition to the new subject.

Princeton has reached an interesting point in its athletic calendar.

It's mid-terms week, which will be followed by spring break. As a result, the next 43 Princeton athletic events will all be on the road.

In fact, there is no home event until a week from Friday, when Princeton hosts Yale in men's lacrosse.

Going even further, until the following weekend, there are 67 away events and six home events. The six? The men's lacrosse game, two women's lacrosse game, two men's volleyball matches and one rowing event.

The baseball and softball teams have their home openers March 30/31, and then the spring seasons really get into high gear.

For now, it's mid-terms and spring break trips. Baseball and softball, for instance, will go south next week and hope for 1) no rain and 2) warmer weather, in that order.

Not all road trips are long ones, as the men's lacrosse team is at Penn Saturday in a huge Ivy League opener. Princeton is ranked sixth or seventh, depending on which poll you like, while Penn is 13th or 14th. The Ivy League is 23-8 overall in non-league men's lacrosse games to date.

So there it is. After a winter of juggling what seems like a million events on campus each weekend, with home hockey and basketball every Friday and Saturday and then any number of other sports mixed in, the next two weeks are pretty quiet around here, as everyone is taking to the road.

And there's a new Pope.

It's a segue-free Thursday.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Failed Pre-Law Student Updates The Ivy All-Sports Points Standings

It was about 2:00 yesterday afternoon when TIgerBlog saw the buses on the Jadwin apron.

The Coach USA buses always pull up there to load teams for road trips. Often there are multiple buses, especially on Thursday afternoons in the winter or Fridays in the fall and spring.

TB's first thought when he sees buses at random times, like a Tuesday afternoon, is basically "who is playing where tonight?"

He had the same thought yesterday, when it took him a few seconds to remember. Oh yeah. It was the basketball doubleheader at Penn.

There were many years when Princeton at Penn basketball was TB's favorite event of any athletic year, more so than the Super Bowl even.

It dated back to long before he rooted for Princeton in the rivalry, back to when he was a student at Penn, when he first saw one of the games between the two at the Palestra, from a seat behind the basket about halfway up.

Could he have even dreamed back then that Princeton-Penn basketball would become such a big part of his life? Not back then. Not when he was what he thought was a pre-law student.

TB actually went to college figuring he'd go to law school. Every now and then, he wonders what would have happened if he actually had done it. Would he have done what most lawyers he knows do and ended up in compliance?

TB can't imagine himself as a corporate lawyer. Maybe a judge. Yeah, he could see himself as a judge.

Ah, but that was not to be. Instead, he ended up in college athletics, in a league where Princeton and Penn dominated the men's basketball landscape for so many decades that their annual meetings where inevitably classics.

With his background as a failed pre-law student at one and an employee of the other, it's not hard to see why the rivalry became so big for him.

And there he was yesterday, focused on Princeton's lacrosse game with Manhattan, and as a result, he completely forgot that there was a basketball doubleheader at the Palestra.

In a million years he never would have guessed that would be possible.

Princeton's 15-2 win over Manhattan was the 100th in the coaching career of for Chris Bates. Next up is a trip to Penn Saturday, so TB will get there this week after all.

The games last night at the Palestra and Harvard's win over Columbia in women's basketball were the last Ivy League games of the winter season.

As with the end of any season, it was time for TB to update the Ivy League's unofficial all-sports points standings.

Again, to review, teams are awarded points based on league finish, with eight points for first, seven for second and so on. If teams tie in the standings, then they split those points, so that a tie for third is worth 5.5 points for each team.

Also, for sports where fewer than eight schools compete, the first place team still gets eight points and so on down. Only the 33 sports where the Ivy League crowns a champion are factored into the standings.

Princeton has won this "championship" for the last 26 years.

As a disclaimer, this is not an official Ivy League award or anything, just something that Princeton has been tracking.

As you might remember, Princeton won last year's title by the slimmest of margins, a one-point win over Harvard. To win by one point after contesting 33 sports is cutting it very close, something that caused TB to recheck the math three times.

With last year's tight finish, it was clear that almost any outcome of any game, even those that didn't involve Princeton and Harvard, impacted the final rankings.

Anyway, where do the standings for this year sit after the fall and winter?

Princeton is in first with 134 points, followed by Harvard with 116. Last year, when it became a one-point win, Harvard outscored Princeton by six points in the spring.

No other league school has more than 88.5 points.

As for total championships won through the fall and spring, Princeton has won nine so far this academic year, followed by five each for Cornell and Harvard.

One goal for Princeton each year is to reach double figures in Ivy League championships. Obviously Princeton needs one in the spring to get there.

Another is to keep the two big streaks alive.

The first, the one with at least one team or individual national champion, now sits at 42 straight after the field hockey and distance medley relay teams both won NCAA championships.

The Ivy all-sports championship streak is at 26, hoping to get to 27.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What's The Point Of This?

Hey, Sun Belt Conference, welcome to a No. 16 seed.

What? That possible Sweet 16 trip? That's gone. Way gone. That ended when Middle Tennessee State, whose regular-season league record was five games better than any other team in the league, was beaten by Florida International in the conference tournament semifinals.

FIU then lost to Western Kentucky, the sixth seed, in the championship game. Western Kentucky, at 19-15, is likely headed to a No. 16 seed and quick first-round exit, whereas Middle Tennessee State might have made some noise with the right draw.

And then there's the Big South, where Liberty is headed to the play-in game, which makes one's league look like something of a joke. In the 12-team Big South, only two teams - Presbyterian and Longwood - had worse records than Liberty. Those two teams? Yeah, they were a combined 16-49 overall.

Liberty? The team got hot for a few days and stole the tournament. Good for them. Now they're headed to a play-in game.

Of course, there was a huge crowd to see Liberty defeat Gardner-Webb in the final. Well, if you consider 2,598 to be a huge crowd. The Sun Belt Conference final? The box score doesn't even list attendance.

TigerBlog, again, cannot for the life of him understand why one-bid basketball leagues want to have a conference tournament.

The big conferences? Yes, TigerBlog gets it. Huge crowds, a money-making venture, a chance to perhaps grab an additional bid or two.

The one-bid leagues? Where is the upside?

The idea that Middle Tennessee State isn't representing the Sun Belt in the NCAA tournament is ridiculous. As bad as it is that the league's chance to actually win an NCAA game is gone, even worse is the fact that every single regular-season game in the league was meaningless.

Every single one meant nothing. In fact, every single regular-season game in every one-bid league is meaningless, except for whether or not a team can get a bye in the first round of a tournament.

Ask Niagara, Loyola and Rider about the value of the MAAC regular season, where those three had a great race to the finish. None made the final, let alone the NCAA tournament.

MTSU entered the conference tournament knowing that its 27-4 record at the end of the regular season was worthless. It knew that it had to win the tournament to get into the NCAA. That's a lot of pressure to have hanging over you.

All of this brings us to the Ivy League.

Princeton is at Penn tonight in a doubleheader, with the women at 5 and the men following. Neither game means a thing for the postseason, as Princeton's women and Harvard's men have already clinched the conference titles and will represent the league in the NCAA tournaments.

As it should be.

The regular season matters. Maybe there are games at the end between teams that are mathematically eliminated, but then again the games tonight in Philadelphia wouldn't mean anything if there was a conference tournament coming up either. 

Isn't it obvious? TigerBlog doesn't for the life of him understand why any league would want to compromise its chance to send its best team to the NCAA tournament. For what? To have a game on ESPN?

The big payoff is the NCAA tournament, figuratively and, if you manage to win, literally.

TB is a big fan of the Ivy League lacrosse tournaments? Why? Because the Ivy League isn't  a one-bid league. Plus, after a single round-robin, the separation between the top teams in the league isn't as definitive.

The same is not true after a double round-robin.

Plus, in the Ivy League lacrosse tournament, only the top four in the regular season advance. The result is that the regular-season is completely enhanced, since every game ends up being wildly important.

If a one-bid basketball league wanted to have its top four play for an NCAA bid, okay, maybe.

Nah. On second thought, no way.

TigerBlog would love to see all of the other one-bid leagues follow the Ivy League example and simply send the regular-season champion to the tournament.

Until they do, then they're going to have completely meaningless regular seasons where nothing matters except for a few days this time or year.

It's not smart at all.

Monday, March 11, 2013

"We Believe In Pete"

It was completely beautiful Saturday morning at around 10 as TigerBlog made the right turn off 15-501 onto the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

As he came up the hill, he reached the stop sign where, if he made a left, he'd drive right past the mammoth Dean Smith Center, the home for Carolina basketball. Since he was early, he figured he would, and as he did, he found a few hundred people already milling around outside the building.

It was a pretty impressive site, considering that tip-off for UNC-Duke basketball was still 11 hours away. And, as TB tweeted, the Carolina fans were wearing t-shirts that seemed to indicate that they didn't quite like the Blue Devils.

TB then made a U-turn and headed up the hill, winding past Kenan Stadium and the baseball field (which is nicer than Waterfront Park, where the Trenton Thunder play, and Waterfront Park is pretty nice) and then to the top, where he turned left, parked and made the short walk down to Fetzer Field.

It was already near 60 and completely sunny by then, and it would get even warmer by the time the Princeton-North Carolina men's lacrosse game began at noon.

And by the time it ended, it was temperatures in the mid-60s and shots in the high 90s, as in 99 total shots between the teams, in a 16-15 Carolina win.

The men's lacrosse game was followed by UNC-Virginia women's lacrosse, which Carolina won 8-7.

TigerBlog joked yesterday that he wondered if there was a Carolina fan anywhere who said something like "well, the men's basketball team got thumped by Duke, but at least we won two good lacrosse games."

His sense is no.

What about at Princeton?

It's more likely that there are people here who thought "pretty good weekend even with what happened to men's basketball" than there were at Carolina.

Yes, Princeton did not have a great weekend in men's basketball. The Tigers fell twice on the road, Harvard swept, and the race is now over.

And it would have been great to get the lacrosse game, especially how it played out in the final 90 seconds.

Still, there were some great moments to this weekend.

First, the women's basketball team and men's swimming and diving teams both won Ivy League championships, something that has become an annual occurrence for both, with four straight for the women's basketball team and five straight for the men's swimming and diving team.

TigerBlog ranked the top five events of last weekend and heard some feedback from those who disagreed.

Were he ranking this week's big winners, he would have women's basketball and men's swimming and diving two and three, or maybe tied for second.

No. 1 this weekend?

The men's distance medley relay team of Michael Williams, Austin Hollimon, Russell Dinkins and Peter Callahan (go to the 3:45 mark of the video, by the way).

For the third straight weekend, the DMR used a furious finish by Callahan to win a huge event, first at Heps, then at a meet at Notre Dame that qualified them for the NCAAs and ultimately at the NCAA championship itself in Fayetteville, Ark.

What makes it more amazing is that Callahan is a senior who basically was out for the last 12 months due to injury. He ran for the first time after that recovery - and clearly is showing no ill-effects.

In the video of each race, Callahan bursts from the pack for a stunning kick to win going away.

And each time, he looked like it was effortless.

The kick Saturday night in Fayetteville began just a few steps before the start of the final lap. Callahan was sitting in third in what appeared to be anyone's race - and then he was gone.

And no one in the field could mount any kind of counter move.

TigerBlog isn't a track and field guy and doesn't pretend to know much about it, but it's wildly impressive to see what Callahan has done the last three weeks. Each time, he looks like he's simply shifting into another gear, and away he goes.

It's one thing to do it at Heps. It's another thing to do it the way he has the last two weekends, against teams stocked with runners of the highest level nationally.

If you take for granted the success of Princeton's track and field programs, then events like this should be a reminder of just how impressive what the Tigers do can be.

For Princeton, it was the first NCAA indoor running championship since 1975, when the Tigers won the 4x 2-mile, an event no longer contested. Of course, the last outdoor running title was a year ago, when Donn Cabral won the NCAA steeplechase.

TB loved the post race interview with the four Princeton runners, especially when Hollimon said "we believe in Pete."

Why wouldn't they?

After what he's done the last three weekends, who wouldn't?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Elaine, Elaine, Elaine, Elaine

You know what movie was on the other night?

"The Graduate."

TigerBlog had already seen it several times before the night a few days before commencement when the movie was shown to any soon-to-be Penn graduate who wandered in for the screening. That's the viewing that stands out the most, especially the part where Ben's dad asks him what those four years of college were for, and Ben has absolutely no answer for him.

That made the entire class howl with laughter. Perhaps some of it was nervous laughter, knowing that everyone in the room had to face the same question.

The movie tells the story of Ben, an accomplished student, cross country runner and college newspaper editor who graduates from a prestigious Eastern college, comes back to California and, well, starts having an affair with his father's partner's wife, whose name is, of course, Mrs. Robinson.

As an aside, Ben is played by Dustin Hoffman and Mrs. Robinson is played by Ann Bancroft. In the movie, they're supposed to be separated by 25 years or so. In reality, Bancroft was only six years older than Hoffman.

Anyway, it doesn't really work out between Ben and Mrs. Robinson, largely because Ben falls in love with someone else, Elaine Robinson. It gets a bit complicated at the end, and eventually they both somehow have the right amount for bus fare in Santa Barbara shortly after Ben shrieks Elaine's name several times from high above a church.

If you haven't seen the movie, make sure you put it on your list.

The movie is from 1967, and you don't need to look at the movie's Wikipedia entry to know that. It's obvious by the hairstyles, the clothes, the societal mores - all of it.

There are two things that stood out to TigerBlog the first time he saw it, the 25 or so times since then he's seen it, and the time the other day that he saw it.

First, the Simon and Garfunkel music fits so perfectly into the storyline.

Second, there are some extraordinary camera angles, which resulted in having so much of the filming be so unique.

TigerBlog had his mind on other graduates this week as well as he wrote the script for senior night for the women's basketball team, one of three teams competing for Ivy League championships this weekend.

Princeton hosts Yale and Brown tonight and tomorrow, and should Princeton win both, then the team would clinch a fourth straight outright Ivy League title.

Add in the fact that Princeton beat Yale by 46 and Brown by 31 the first time around, on the road, and the chances for there to be a celebration at Jadwin Gym this weekend are reasonable.

It's also senior night for the most successful class in Ivy women's basketball history. Should Princeton win the league, then the Class of 2013 would be the first in league women's basketball history to play in four NCAA tournaments. The only other class to play in four NCAAs (dating back to freshman eligibility in the mid-1970s) was Princeton's men's class of 1992.

Attendance for women's basketball has nearly tripled from the time this class arrived to now. Much of that can be attributed to Niveen Rasheed, who plays for the final time in her spectacular career at Jadwin.

The men are also playing for a championship this weekend.

Princeton is 9-2 in the league. Harvard is 9-3.

Princeton is at Yale (who beat Princeton the first time) and Brown this weekend and then Penn Tuesday. Harvard is home against Columbia (who beat Harvard the first time) and Cornell.

Obviously if Princeton wins out, it will win the league championship outright and advance to the NCAA tournament. If Harvard gains one game in the loss column the rest of the way, then there will be co-champions and a one-game playoff for the Ivy's bid to the NCAA tournament.

For Princeton, it's an envious position. Win three and you're in the tournament. Of course, all three are on the road.

For Harvard, it's win twice at home and hope for some help.

The other Ivy title up for grabs is in men's swimming and diving.

The champion there will also either be Princeton or Harvard. After Day 1 Thursday at Brown's new pool, Harvard had 467 points, Princeton had 423 points, and nobody else had more than 301.

TigerBlog doesn't know much about the order that the events are held in and who is favored where, so Harvard's lead could be anything from a mirage to insurmountable.

Still, Princeton and Harvard have a great rivalry going in men's swimming and diving. In fact, when was the last year that someone other than one or the other got even a share of the title was in 1993, when Yale and Harvard split the league championship.

The last time a team other than Princeton or Harvard won it outright? How about 1970.

These are the last three Ivy titles of the winter. They could all be decided this weekend or linger into Tuesday.

And there's a chance for another playoff or two (mathematically at least) next weekend.

If nothing else, make sure you're at Jadwin Saturday night, to see Niveen Rasheed and the rest of the Class of 2013 play there for the last time.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Spotlight Shines On Chris Massey

Chris Massey stands in the middle of the picture, the center of attention for once.

He's surrounded on both sides by three teammates, a total of six men in the 30s who together dominated the world of college lacrosse as Princeton undergraduates in a way that has not been duplicated since.

TigerBlog took one look at the picture and immediately recognized the faces. He could run down the considerable list of achievements for all the men in the picture, and he was going to do just that until he remembered, for once, it's all about Chris Massey.

TigerBlog thinks that Chris Massey is the most underrated player he's seen in the 24 years he's been around Princeton lacrosse.

Massey is the second leading goal scorer in Princeton history with 146. Sean Hartofilis, who TB thinks is the second most underrated player he's seen here, is third with 126.

Massey holds the school record with at least one goal in 46 straight games. He scored 31 goals in 11 NCAA tournament games, a total that ranked ninth all-time when he graduated.  His 192 points are fifth all-time at Princeton.

So how can he be underrated?

It's because of some of the other people in the picture. Especially the one two in from the left (Jon Hess) and all the way to the right (Jesse Hubbard).

Princeton's attack unit back then was always Hess, Hubbard and Massey. Never Massey, Hubbard and Hess.

Hubbard was one who wowed people with the power of his game and his sheer physical presence. Hess was the one who wowed people with his finesse and vision, and he was clearly the spokesman for the group.

Massey? He was steady. All he did was show up game after game after game and score goal after goal after goal, often in huge spots.

And he never got the attention of the other two. Which was fine with him. Hey, he was never even a first-team All-America, something that is ridiculous, given that Massey is as good a lacrosse player who played anywhere from 1995-98.

All of that is why it was a bit rare for him to be the center of attention the way he was this past Saturday night, when he was inducted into the Long Island Lacrosse Hall of Fame, by the U.S. Lacrosse Long Island/Metropolitan New York chapter.

Getting into the Long Island Hall of Fame for lacrosse is like getting into the Texas Hall of Fame for high school football or the Jersey Shore Hall of Fame for beaches.

Massey won championships in high school (Garden City) and professionally (Long Island Lizards) on Long Island. His greatest moments in lacrosse came at Princeton.

Okay, TigerBlog will include two Hess-Hubbard-Massey numbers, because even though the spotlight was on Chris Massey, it's hard to ignore what the three of them did together, including:

* 618 points in 60 games
* 121 points in 11 NCAA tournament games

Princeton averaged 15.7 goals per game in 1996, 14.9 in 1997 and 14.5 in 1998.

The current Tigers don't approach those numbers, but the current 11.7 goals per game would be the most by a Princeton team since the 2002 team averaged 12.1.

Princeton is off to a great start at 3-0, with three very impressive wins.

The first, at Hofstra, was the debut of the completely rebuilt Tigers. The second, at Johns Hopkins, was, well, at Johns Hopkins, which speaks for itself.

Most recently, Princeton exploded past Villanova in the fourth quarter of a 14-11 win Tuesday night. After trailing 10-7 in the third, Princeton scored seven of the last eight goals.

These Tigers are exciting, that's for sure. The attack unit of Ryan Ambler, Jeff Froccaro and Mike MacDonald and the first midfield of Tom Schreiber, Kip Orban and Jake Froccaro share the ball well and play at a fast, aggressive tempo.

The rules changes that were intended to push the pace of the game have certainly favored Princeton, which wants to play that way. The defense and goalie, completely overhauled since last year, have been impressive.

Next up for Princeton is a game Saturday at North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 2-2, with three straight one-goal games (losses to Notre Dame and UMass with a win over Fairfield), but UNC's roster is stocked with explosive talent everywhere.

It'll be a big test for Princeton, who has the short turnaround after the game against 'Nova and the long bus ride to Chapel Hill, plus an early start Saturday (noon).

Still, it's been a great few weeks for Princeton lacrosse. The Tigers aren't alone among Ivy League teams that have gotten out of the gate quickly, but perhaps no team in the country has been more impressive in the early going relative to what was expected after the massive graduation losses from last year and key injuries from this year.

These Tigers are definitely fun to watch.

And it's early yet.

Saturday is a good test, but it's not even midterm week yet. On the field or off.

So far, though, Princeton gets a solid A.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


TigerBlog watched the video of the Princeton men's distance medley relay team as it qualified for the NCAA championships, and he couldn't help but be impressed.

With the closing sprint of Peter Callahan, obviously, and then the shot of the scoreboard after.

Anything that reads " 1. Princeton, 2. Stanford" is fairly impressive, no?

The distance medley relay is a fairly unique event, in that the four competitors run different distances. The first runner goes 1,200 meters, followed by 400, 800 and 1,600. In the end, it all adds up to 4,000 meters.

At least that's what it says on Wikipedia, where the event has its own entry.

According to Wikipedia, the world record is 9:15.56, an outdoor mark. The American indoor record is 9:21.77.

Princeton - with a foursome of Michael Williams, Austin Hollimon, Russell Dinkins and Callahan -   ran 9:27.74 at the Alex Wilson meet at Notre Dame over the weekend, and in doing so did more than come less than six seconds away from the American record.

For starters, it's an Ivy League record. For another, it was the second-fastest time this year by a college DMR, and it qualified Princeton for this weekend's NCAA championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Princeton would not be getting out of town now had it not been for the ridiculous run that Callahan had. Running not far from his home of Evanston, Ill., Callahan was in sixth - and last - place with fewer than two laps to go and then in fifth with half a lap to go.

And then?

Bang. He was off and gone.

Callahan blitzed past runners from Illinois, Oklahoma State and Arkansas and then found himself trailing only Stanford, though he was quickly running out of time. Not that it would matter.

Callahan went from well behind the leader to well in front of him in no time. By the time Callahan crossed the finish, he had plenty of room to spare.

And, judging from the video, he didn't look like it was all that tough for him. Half a lap to go? Fifth place? No problem. He simply went into another gear.

In fact, it looked like the runners in the other video were putting out way more effort. Those runners would be the members of the Princeton track and field team who were watching in the lockerroom in Caldwell Field House and appeared to use up way more energy cheering and celebrating than Callahan did chasing down the field.

There will actually be five Princeton men's athletes competing, as Damon McLean will be in the triple jump, where he finished eight outdoors last year.

By the way, the video from the lockerroom is what TB envisioned when the decision was made to abandon printed recruiting guides a few years back. The goal was to show in live action what the experience of a Princeton student-athlete is. That video, shot with a cell phone, accomplishes way more than any printed piece could.

TigerBlog had a listing of the top five achievements from this past weekend, and the DMR race wasn't one of them.

Again, that shows how great a weekend last weekend was for the Tigers.

This one could be pretty good too, with men's basketball, women's basketball and men's swimming and diving competing for the final Ivy League championships of the winter and some nice early-season matchups for spring teams, including the men's lacrosse game at North Carolina Saturday.

And then there are the NCAA track and field championships.

Princeton has the second-fastest time in the country this indoor season (1.14 seconds behind Penn State), so clearly the Tigers have to be taken seriously as contenders.

Especially with the way Callahan can finish a race, something he's now done two weekends in a row, first at Heps and last weekend at Notre Dame.

Can he do it three weekends in a row?

It'll be worth watching. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Stop Storming

As we learned yesterday, TigerBlog watched the second half of the Princeton-Harvard men's basketball game Friday night in the Johns Hopkins sports information office.

As the final seconds ticked away, TB had these two thoughts:

1) nice win
2) don't storm the court; please don't storm the court

TigerBlog is a fan of great moments of spontaneous celebration, with the emphasis on the word spontaneous.

Court storming? Not spontaneous.

And possibly dangerous. Someone's going to get trampled at some point, right?

Oh, and by the way. If your team beats Duke and you really want to rub it in? Calmly applaud and then leave quietly, as if it's something you actually expected your team to do, rather than acting like a win over Duke is the ultimate accomplishment in all of human creation.

Thankfully, nobody stormed the Jadwin Gym court Friday after the win.

For starters, it wasn't the ultimate accomplishment - though it was a huge one.

Princeton spent all of last week focused on Friday night, knowing full well that a loss to Harvard in that game would basically have ended the Tigers' season. Had Princeton lost, then Harvard would have been two games clear of Princeton in the loss column with three remaining.

Yes, yes, TB knows what happened Saturday night. Harvard fell behind big at Penn and tried to come back, only to fall short at the end.

And perhaps the same thing would have happened had Harvard won Friday. It's just that the Crimson would still be one game up with two to play, and Princeton would need help from Columbia and/or Cornell.

As it stands now, Princeton knows that if it wins all three of its games (at Yale, at Brown, at Penn) that it will be the outright champion. If it wins two of three, it'll be no worse than co-champion with a playoff game for the NCAA bid.

That one game Friday was a huge swing.

TB doesn't want to talk about Friday, though.

He wants to talk about Saturday.

When you're around Ivy League basketball as long as TB has been, it's easy to forget the uniqueness of the format. In an effort to minimize the amount of class time missed, the league schedules its games for Friday/Saturday.

The road teams have to travel between the games, either a short distance between Philadelphia and Princeton, a more-than-two-hour distance between Providence and New Haven and Hanover and Cambridge or a nearly four-hour ride between Ithaca and New York City.

 And then they have to play again. It's not easy.

It might even be harder than playing back-to-back in hockey, because the minutes are spread among seven or eight players rather than an entire hockey roster.

The physical grind took a back seat to the mental one this past Saturday though, at least for Princeton and Harvard.

It was clear that they were both so focused on the game Friday that they had little emotion left for Saturday. The result was a lackluster first half for Princeton that saw the Tigers trail Dartmouth at intermission before Will Barrett put on an epic shooting display en route to a career-high 24, as Princeton escaped 58-53 against a team it had beaten by 18 on its home court earlier this season.

Harvard wasn't as lucky. The Crimson had a lost weekend, largely because of the slow start against Penn. And that was natural. Why wouldn't Harvard be a bit flat?

TB wonders whether or not it's better to have the bigger game Friday or Saturday. If it's Friday, then there is the huge risk of being unable to pump it back up the next night. If it's Saturday, then Friday is going to be a struggle emotionally.

The fact that Princeton and Penn dominated the league for so long meant that there weren't too many head-to-head battles for first place on Fridays and Saturdays through the years.

Now it's about the final seven days of the season, or possibly more.

Princeton has already lost to Yale, and Harvard has already lost to Columbia.

TigerBlog's sense is that the Crimson are going to win twice this weekend and be 11-3 in the clubhouse a week from today, when Princeton is at Penn. At least Princeton has to think that way.

Brown, by the way, is playing better now, so Saturday night won't be easy either. Nor will Tuesday.

It's an exciting time for the men's basketball team and the Ivy League race.

And it goes without saying that TB is happy that Princeton and Harvard are playing for more than just the top seed in an Ivy tournament.