Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Round 1 To The Champ

The Princeton women's basketball team has won the last four Ivy League championships, making it the only Ivy women's team to do so in the 30+ years of double round-robin.

Only once since freshmen became eligible 40 years ago has a men's program won four straight Ivy titles in men's basketball. That would be Princeton's run from 1989-92.

TigerBlog thought about how - and where - that first run ended before the start of Princeton's Ivy opener Saturday.

Back on Jan. 30, 1993, Princeton played at Penn in the third game of the league season for both.

Princeton had won the previous four championships, led by an army of players who had graduated in the prior two years and had been the cornerstone of the four straight titles. In case you forgot, maybe these names are familiar:

Class of 1992 - Matt Eastwick, Sean Jackson, Jimmy Lane, George Leftwich, Chris Marquardt
Class of 1991 - Jerry Doyle, Matt Henshon, Troy Hottenstein, Kit Mueller

The 1992-93 Tigers defeated Harvard and Dartmouth in the first Ivy weekend before taking on Penn at the Palestra in Game 3. Penn, likewise, was 2-0 after the sweep of Harvard and Dartmouth.

TigerBlog remembers going into that game thinking it was a fairly even matchup and that Princeton had a legitimate chance to make it five straight championships. Certainly nothing that happened in the first half made him think he was wrong, not when Princeton went in with a 26-25 lead at the break.

And then the second half happened. Penn went on a dominating run, and when it ended, the Quakers had a 64-46 win - and a major step in the direction of the league title. In fact, it was like a heavyweight fight that was pretty even for the first six or seven rounds and then ended in a dramatic knockout.

That's basically what it was, a knockout. Princeton's run as Ivy champ was basically over after that night, while Penn started down the path to three straight championships with a 42-0 record during that stretch.

As an aside, the game that night featured three current Division I head coaches among the 10 starters in the game. Can you name them? TigerBlog will give you a few paragraphs to think about it.

Fast forwarding Saturday afternoon, and there were the Princeton women, at the Palestra, against Penn, in the Ivy opener for both.

Princeton's women, like the men, had graduated back-to-back extraordinary classes, and there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding a run for a fifth straight title.

And while Penn's current women aren't on the level with the 1993-95 Quaker men - one of the great teams in Ivy history - the team did come into the game having won eight straight games and, at 8-2, with the best non-conference record in Ivy women's basketball.

Would this be 1993 all over again? Would Penn end Princeton's run then and there?

Nope. Not on this night. For this night, at least, the champ was still the champ.


Princeton trailed in the first few minutes and then opened up the throttle, rolling to an 84-53 win over a Quaker team that came in allowing just 57 points per game.

It was a major, convincing statement from the Tigers, one that screamed that they will not be going quietly this year. And it's a score that the rest of the league was eagerly anticipating seeing, one that probably caused a bunch of "oh, nos."

It's just one game, of course. Princeton now has the difficult task of coming back from first-semester exams to take on Harvard at home. Harvard also won its Ivy opener, defeating Dartmouth by 10, and the Tigers and Crimson are now the only league teams in double figures in wins.

That one will be a huge game as well for Princeton.

So what about the 2013-14 Tigers?

Well, they certainly score points. That's for sure.

Here's Princeton's per-game scoring average for the last five seasons:

2010 - 70.7
2011 - 69.2
2012 - 72.0
2013 - 71.2
2014 (to date) -74.5

The four Ivy title teams between them averaged 70.8 points per game, which is a lot, by the way. The current Tigers are averaging nearly four points per game more than that.

Against Penn, Princeton was hardly a model of offensive perfection. The Tigers shot 43% from the field and were 7 for 17 from three.

But what they do is come after you in all directions, inside and outside, and the pressure to match them possession for possession is relentless. 

There's a long way to go before a fifth-straight title can be celebrated. Hey, there's a long way to go until Game 2 in the league, which is still 16 days away, and that game will set the early tone for the direction the race is going to go.

Round 1, though, went to the champ. In a big, hugely impressive way.

This was not to be the 1993 men's game all over again.

Oh, and speaking of that game, the three current DI head coaches who started were: Jerome Allen (Penn), Chris Mooney (Richmond), Mike Brennan (American).

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