Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What A Crowd

TigerBlog would like to start today by taking you back to the 1997-98 season, when the Princeton men's basketball team began the season unranked and then climbed as high as eighth in the rankings.

Princeton would have the best record in Division I that year at 27-2 and would knock off UNLV in the first round of the NCAA tournament before falling to Michigan State in a game that was tied with a minute to go.

If you've forgotten that Michigan State game, then 1) the Spartans had four players who would start two years later when they won the NCAA title and 2) it still bothers TB that Princeton lost and missed out on getting North Carolina at Rupp Arena in the Sweet 16.

Anyway, of Princeton's seven Ivy home games in 1996-97 - all of which the Tigers won as they went 14-0 in the league - four drew 3,500 or fewer fans and two others drew in the 4,000s. This was a year before the huge year.

Moving ahead a season, Princeton then drew 3,021 fans to its game against UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 3, 1997, in its first game since moving into the rankings (at No. 25). The next game, against Lafayette three days later, drew 4,010.

Princeton's next home game that year wasn't until Jan. 3, 1998, against Manhattan. The crowd that night totaled 6,230; TB's biggest memory of that game was the opening tip, which Steve Goodrich won to Mitch Henderson, who got it to James Mastaglio, who dunked five seconds into what became a 77-48 win.

From that point, Princeton played eight more home games - seven Ivy games and a Division III game against the College of New Jersey. Of those eight games, six drew at least 6,000 and two drew at least 7,000.

In other words, it looks like it went like this: the team was good in 1996-97 but wasn't what it was a year later, when attendance skyrocketed. But it didn't skyrocket right away.

It took a little while for attendance to catch up to what the team was doing. It's also clear that once it became obvious that that team was something special, people wanted to see it play. 

What's the point of all of this?

TigerBlog brings this up because he's wondering what women's basketball attendance will be this weekend at Jadwin Gym.

Princeton's women's basketball team is 19-0 and ranked 18th by the AP. It is the highest ranking ever for a women's basketball team in Ivy League history.

The Tigers have started to get all kinds of national attention, and deservedly so. There are only three undefeated teams in Division I basketball - the Kentucky men and the South Carolina and Princeton women. The other two are the No. 1 ranked teams in the country.

So what will it mean for a team that is currently averaging 724 fans per game?

Princeton's women have played just five home games so far this year and hasn't played at home since Jan. 10, when it defeated Penn.

The Tigers attendance so far is this:
568 for Drexel on Nov. 19
769 for Georgetown on Dec. 6
558 for Binghamton on Dec. 13
645 for Portland State on Dec. 19
1,081 for Penn on Jan. 10

And this weekend?

It'll be Columbia here Friday night at 7 and Cornell Saturday night at 6. What's your guess?

TigerBlog isn't sure. He doesn't expect lines around the block, but he thinks attendance is going to be in the 1,500-2,000 range. This would be two or three times what the first four figures for the year were.

Who knows? Maybe he's underestimating things. Maybe the crowds will top 3,000.

He does know this. If you see this team once you'll want to see it again. And, if 1998 is an indicator, a nationally ranked team is a huge attendance lift.

TigerBlog would love to see a huge turnout of men and boys too, showing that there is an appreciation for what this team is, which is fast-paced, exciting and easy to root for, rather than a sexist scorn for the women's team.

If you want to dismiss this team as "the girls' team," as TB has actually heard this year, then hopefully your cave has good internet and you can watch the game online to see for yourself. Then you'll come to the next game.

Anyway, TB can't wait to see what the numbers are.

It's part of what is great about having an incredible season, like the one Princeton's women are currently having.

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