Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Consolation Prizes

TigerBlog has a friend who used to live in Spokane. She hated it. Said it was a dreadfully dull place hundreds of miles from anything.

And the weather was awful.

From what she said at least, it's hardly the destination anyone would choose over, say, New Orleans. Of course, sometimes circumstance overrides just the destination.

The college basketball postseason is one of those time.

Harvard finds itself in Spokane today after chartering from Boston last night in advance of Thursday's NCAA tournament opener against Cincinnati. Harvard, the Ivy champ, is the 12 seed in the East, going against the fifth-seeded Bearcats, with the fourth-seeded Michigan State Spartans the likely opponent in the next round should the Crimson advance.

Princeton? It gets a trip to New Orleans, to take on Tulane tomorrow night in the first round of the CBI.

As consolation prizes go, it's not a bad one. And it completes a one-season double of playing in America's two most notorious party cities - Las Vegas and New Orleans.

TigerBlog has been to New Orleans twice, both times because Princeton was playing basketball there. The first was for a tournament between Christmas and New Year's of 1994, when the Tigers defeated Texas A&M 71-66 in three overtimes (James Mastaglio and Chris Doyal played all 55 minutes; current Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson "only" played 40) and then lost to New Orleans 50-43 the next night when the team was running on fumes - and when the refs sent the home team to the foul line 32 times and the visitors just once. 

In between, Pete Carril uttered one of his best lines ever. When asked about his team's matchup for the final, he said that he was concerned because of how big UNO was. When the reporter countered that Princeton also had some tall players, Carril responded without flinching: "yeah, but I didn't go down to the docks to get them."

The other time TB was there was for the 2001 NCAA tournament, when future All-Pro defensive lineman Julius Peppers was the dominant force in North Carolina's win over the Tigers. In fact, it was the second time in four years that a future NFL star knocked Princeton out of the NCAA basketball tournament, after Tony Gonzalez had been the difference maker for Cal in 1997.

If you've never been to New Orleans, it's certainly worth going to see. There's something for everyone - great food, jazz, nightlife, Bourbon Street, a great sense of ownership of the city by its citizens.

Princeton will head there today and take on Tulane tomorrow in the CBI. The winner of that game will play the winner of UTEP-Fresno State in the second round.

For the Tigers, the obvious storyline of the postseason is the opportunity for T.J. Bray to reach 1,000 career points. Bray needed 23 heading into the season finale against Penn to get there and came up with 18, leaving him five away from the milestone.

Were it not for the CBI, that's where Bray would have ended his career five points short, which wouldn't have been much fun. On the other hand, there was Bill Carmody's line from the time that Villanova and UConn agreed to allow a UConn women's basketball player to score an uncontested layup after she had torn her ACL earlier to give her a school record and then allowed a Villanova player to do likewise, making it 2-2 essentially to start the game. "Al Kaline," Carmody said when asked about it, "had 399 career home runs. What's the big deal?"

So the men get to the Big Easy. The women don't get to go anywhere, which is just fine with them.

Princeton's women drew a home game for the WNIT. The Tigers will host VCU Thursday on Carril Court at Jadwin Gym.

Like the men, the reward of the postseason for the women is a nice prize for an outstanding season. And it provides the opportunity to get back on the court after last week's disappointing game against Penn for the Ivy championship.

The Quakers ended Princeton's four-year run in the NCAA tournament, and they will play Texas at College Park, also as a 12 seed.

Like the men, the women aren't playing in the preferred tournament, but that doesn't mean there's no value or excitement to it.

For all the great NCAA tournament experiences that TB has had with the men's basketball team, the 1999 NIT was a great run, with wins over Georgetown (where five players went all 40 minutes) and North Carolina State before a quarterfinal loss at Xavier.

Perhaps the women can put together something like that. If nothing else, getting the chance to do so means the season will not have ended with the Penn game.

And next year? The goal is to get back to the NCAA tournament, for the men and women.

In the meantime, there's a trip to New Orleans for the men and an additional home game for the women.

To be playing beyond the regular season is always good, even if it isn't in the big tournament.

As consolation prizes go, both Princeton teams have gotten a good one.

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