Thursday, May 8, 2014

Oh So Close

TigerBlog isn't sure whom he likes in the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament.

He knows what he doesn't like about it. Princeton isn't in it.

TigerBlog had pretty high hopes for Princeton for this season. In the hit-or-miss world of college lacrosse, sometimes the breaks go your way and sometimes they don't, and when they don't, there's no room for error.

To succeed in Division I men's lacrosse, more than anything else, a team must win close games. There were 21 Ivy League men's lacrosse games played this season, and 10 of those - one fewer than half - were decided by one or two goals.

If you take out the six that Dartmouth played, of which none were decided by one or two goals, then the 15 games that involved the other six teams saw 10 decided by one or two goals. Princeton went 2-4 in the league, with three one-goal losses and one two-goal loss.

Those numbers don't include the Ivy League tournament, where two of the three games were one-goal games. 

In games like that, little things make a huge difference. For Princeton, the season began to get away in back-to-back losses at Yale (16-15) and Brown (11-10), putting the Tigers into a hole from which they never managed to escape.

And what did Princeton in those two games? The Tigers were missing Justin Murphy, the face-off man, due to an injury. In those two games, Princeton won 20 of 60 face-offs.

Murphy won 55% of his face-offs for the year. Even if he only won 50% in those two games, that would have meant five more possessions that Princeton would have had and five fewer that its opponent would have had in each game. Would that have been enough to sway those two games? Would that in turn have changed the entire season?


Princeton went 7-6 with three one-goal losses and two two-goal losses, and one of those two-goal losses was to North Carolina, who scored with 13 seconds left or else it would have been another one-goal game.

Compare Princeton to Penn. Princeton did not reach the Ivy League tournament or NCAA tournament. Penn won the Ivy League tournament and is the No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Want to know what separates Penn from Princeton? Penn is 7-0 in one- or two-goal games. Want to know a game that Penn didn't win? Princeton 15, Penn 12, in the Ivy opener for both.

It's subtle. A team wins a few close games and gets its confidence that it can do it again. A team loses a few one-goal games and the "here we go again" vibe starts the next time the game is close.

TigerBlog knows that Princeton could play with any team in the country. He also knows that doesn't matter, that a few moments here or there derailed the entire season.

Okay, it happens sometimes. Seasons get away. TB gets it.

What he doesn't want is for the fact that the Tigers didn't reach the postseason to detract from the career that Tom Schreiber had at Princeton.

TigerBlog saw every game Schreiber played at Princeton. He is an extraordinary player who can do things that TB has never seen anyone else who ever played at Princeton do, and his unmatched career numbers don't begin to capture his greatness, as impressive as they are.

Schreiber is one of five players in Ivy League history - and the only Princeton player and the only middie on the list - with at least 100 career goals and at least 90 career assists. Think about that. For a middie to have 100 goals is rare enough (only Josh Sims at Princeton has ever done it besides Schreiber; Jake Froccaro has 51 goals in two years), but 90 assists?

His ability to feed and to shoot with either hand is awesome. He continually wowed crowds every time he touched the ball, and he was as unstoppable as any player who ever played at Princeton.

Beyond that, he's a fierce competitor, a natural leader, a great clutch player - and real class act. He's all of those things.

Unfortunately, his career at Princeton is over. His lacrosse career isn't.

TigerBlog figures Schreiber will be a force in Major League Lacrosse and ultimately on the U.S. national team for years. His post-Princeton career, TB figures, will be fairly similar to Matt Striebel's, another Princeton middie, who holds the MLL record for career games played and who has won multiple professional and international championships.

As for the 2014 NCAA tournament that Princeton won't be in?

TigerBlog didn't see that one team this year that he thinks will roll through. He's rooting for Denver and Bill Tierney, of course. And he thinks the Ivy League will do well this weekend.

He sees the quarterfinals as Duke-Hopkins, Penn-Denver, Syracuse-Cornell and Loyola-Harvard.

He sees a Final Four of Duke, Denver, Syracuse and Loyola. He sees a final of Duke and Loyola.

He'll go with Duke to win it all.

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