Friday, June 27, 2014

Advancing ... And Seeing Pete

TigerBlog doesn't understand why everyone either associated with or rooting for the U.S. at the World Cup was content with what happened yesterday against Germany.

Isn't the point to try to win the World Cup, not just get to the round of 16?

The U.S. went into its game yesterday against Germany knowing a win would mean first place in the group (and can everyone stop saying "Group of Death" please?). Instead, the U.S. lost 1-0 in a game in which it had no shots on goal and the German goalkeeper therefore had to make no saves.

Yes, the U.S. advanced to the knockout stage. Is that really all that matters?

Four years ago, with a Princeton alum as the coach, the U.S. did that and also won the group, so a loss in the next game would mean that the U.S. didn't quite match what it did in South Africa in 2010.

The U.S. moved on because Ghana lost to Portugal 2-1 and the U.S. had the edge on Portugal in goal differential. The Ghana-Portugal game provided some big drama, since it was 1-1 for awhile in the second half and a 2-1 Ghana win would have meant that Ghana moved on and the U.S. went home because of goal differential, even though the U.S. beat Ghana head-to-head, which doesn't matter.

The point nobody seemed to want to make was that the difference between being first and second in the U.S. group was on paper at least astronimical.

Germany, by virtue of its win, plays Algeria in the next round, and the winner of that game will play the winner of France and Nigeria. The U.S., by coming in second, plays Belgium, with the winner to play the winner of Argentina and Switzerland.

What's the difference?

Well, all three of the teams in Germany's part of the bracket are ranked below the U.S. in the FIFA rankings, while all three in the U.S. bracket are ahead of the Americans.

For the record, here are their rankings:
2. Germany
5. Argentina
6. Switzerland
11. Belgium (and the ranking doesn't take into account that Belgium is Princeton men's soccer coach Jim Barlow's darkhorse pick)
13. U.S.A.
17. France
22. Algeria
44. Nigeria

That's a ridiculous gap. And yet nobody talked about it. The U.S. has to play the team ranked 11th; Germany gets the team ranked 22nd.

Silly TigerBlog. He thought the point was to win the whole thing. Or at least do better than last time.

Yes, advancing past a group that included Germany, Portugal and Ghana wasn't going to be easy and is an accomplishment itself. But what about at least some sense that a great opportunity to be ranked ahead of the other three teams in the bracket leading to the semifinals got away.

Hey, maybe the U.S. can beat Belgium.

Anyway, that was what TigerBlog noticed about the game yesterday.

He also noticed that everyone around here was watching it. And everywhere else.

Ratings have been great for the 2014 World Cup so far, and TB attributes that 1) to the rise of international soccer coverage in this country in the last 10 years and 2) the fact that soccer is a fairly perfect TV sport.

The games fit nicely into two-hour windows. And there are no media timeouts.

Think about the difference between watching an NFL football game, a college basketball game and a World Cup match on TV.

The NFL has the dreaded score, TV timeout, kickoff, TV timeout, play situation in which the only live action in about a six-minute stretch is the kickoff, which often is a touchback anyway.

And a college basketball game? There are nine media timeouts and up to 10 called team timeouts in regulation, and the last two minutes of game action regularly take 15-20 minutes of real time to play.

Soccer has none of these issues. The game is played, and it never stops for artificial timeouts.

As a result a 90-minute game is played in less than two hours. In football, a 60-minute game takes three. In college basketball, a 40-minute game takes more than two.

ESPN must be making money off the World Cup, no? Even without TV timeouts.

Perhaps there's something in there that could apply to the football and basketball games on TV?

Speaking of basketball and Princeton, the Tigers' men's team will play in the Wooden Legacy in California this coming November, which will be here before you know it, TigerBlog surmises.

Princeton will be traveling the furthest to get to the event, which will be held in Fullerton and then Anaheim. The other seven teams are Western Michigan, Xavier, San Jose State, Washington, UTEP, San Diego and Long Beach State. The matchups will be announced later this summer.

For its long history of great basketball, Princeton has only played in Los Angeles once before. That was back in 1970, when Princeton played in the Bruin Classic.

The Tigers defeated Indiana in the first game and then lost 76-75 to UCLA - who would win the NCAA title again - in the final. Princeton lost on a buzzer-beater by, as TB recalls, Sidney Wicks.

Pete Carril was the Tiger coach back then. The win over Indiana was his 43rd at Princeton. The win over UCLA in the 1996 NCAA tournament would be his 514th and final one.

TigerBlog wrote about Carril a few years ago - actually more than seven years ago - and he had this to say:
“I get calls every year when the tournament comes around,” says Carril. “We played some games much better than that one. That one got a whole lot more recognition for that one than for some others. We played UCLA out there once [a 76-75 loss at UCLA in the 1969-70 season] when they were No. 1. We lost by one at the buzzer. We were ahead the whole time. Nobody ever really talks too much about that one.”

He's right. Almost nobody talks about that game.

TigerBlog saw Carril yesterday here at Jadwin. TB said hi, and Carril answered with a hearty "yo." TB asked how he was, and Carril said "still hanging in."

Yes he is. His 84th birthday is next month, and yet he remains what he has always been - a personality larger than any other that has ever walked into this building. TB thinks that point is indisputable.

And so it was, as it always is, great to see him.

Anyway, today is a day off at the World Cup, which resumes tomorrow with the first knockout games.
The U.S. plays Tuesday; will it be seen as a great run by the U.S. if it loses?

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