Thursday, March 10, 2016

When 12-2 Is A Little Short

The Princeton men's basketball team defeated Penn 72-71 Tuesday night to finish its regular season at 22-6 overall and 12-2 in the Ivy League.

The Princeton women's team lost in a heart-breaker in the first game of the doubleheader, falling 62-60 to Penn in the winner-take-all women's game. That left Princeton at 23-5 overall, 12-2 in the Ivy League.

Neither Princeton team won an Ivy League championship.

In the entire history of Ivy League men's basketball, only five times has a team gone 12-2 and not gotten at least a share of the championship. Until this year, the last time was in 2003, when Brown did so. Before that, the last time as in 1977.

As for the women, the last time a team went 12-2 and didn't get at least a share of the championship was ... never. This is the first time.

For Princeton, though, it's tough to be on the wrong side of that kind of history. Everyone remembers the great Harvard-Yale men's playoff game a year ago right? How many people remember that both of those teams went 11-3 in the league?
Hey, those are the breaks sometimes. Yale won the men's title and Penn won the women's. Both were 13-1. TigerBlog congratulates them.

The Princeton men, who should at least be in the conversation somewhere for an at-large NCAA tournament bid, hope to at least be headed to the NIT. They'll find out Sunday.

And the women? TigerBlog will get back to them shortly. First, he wants to talk about something else that he couldn't help but notice Tuesday night. 

When Annie Tarakchian's three-pointer splashed through the net, pulling Princeton within one of Penn with 2:38 left, TigerBlog, doing the game on the Ivy League Digital Network and ESPN3 with Dan Loney, remarked that he thought that in the history of Jadwin Gym, it had never been louder for a women's game.

For everything that Courtney Banghart has accomplished with the women's basketball program here, the one that gets overlooked the most is what she's done to the games themselves.

It's easy to focus on the success. Even after Penn held on in a thriller, 62-60, to win the 2016 championship, Banghart has led Princeton to five Ivy League championships, five NCAA tournaments, the first NCAA tournament win in program history, the highest national ranking ever by a women's basketball team in the league, the five highest NCAA seeds in Ivy women's basketball history, a WNIT berth and a WNIT win.

All of this came with a program that had never before played in the NCAA tournament.

By any definition, Banghart is already one of the best coaches in Ivy history. And that's not just in basketball.

As TigerBlog says, though, what she's created at Jadwin Gym that is as impressive.

Attendance at women's basketball games has skyrocketed to unprecedented heights in her tenure. She has put an exciting team on the court year after year, one that has crossed over gender lines to appeal equally to male fans and female fans.

Perhaps she's had help with that in the changing times. Women's basketball is all over television now. Maybe the world is more open to equality in athletics than ever before.

Still, it's come a long way, and Banghart has been the driving force behind it. TigerBlog sees the same faces at Princeton basketball each weekend, whether it's the men or the women at home.

Even better, it's not just the men. It's the boys. There are almost as many of them at Princeton women's basketball games as there are girls.

You'll have to believe TigerBlog on this, but it wasn't always like this. It wasn't really that long ago that the average male fan would have no interest in the women's game. Honestly, if you'd asked TigerBlog 15 years ago if he could ever envision what Princeton women's basketball has become, he would have said no way.

Hey, TigerBlog can't tell you how many times he used to hear those games described as the "girls" game. This wasn't meant to be insulting or demeaning. It was just a subtle way of saying that this game wasn't as important as a men's game, which TigerBlog has never, ever heard referred to as the "boys" game.
The game Tuesday night was one of the best Ivy women's basketball has ever seen. It was fierce and competitive and hard-fought to the end, and the crowd responded as you would think it would.

Make no mistake. This was because of Courtney Banghart.

This, TigerBlog hopes, will be as much a part of her Princeton legacy as all of the winning, whenever her Princeton career comes to a close.

As for her ninth season, there is disappointment that it didn't end in an Ivy title. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the other team.

The two Princeton-Penn games this year were epics, and Penn won both by two points. It's a razor-thin margin, and little separates these two, but Penn is a worthy champ this year.

So where does this leave Princeton?

On the bubble.

TigerBlog has seen a bunch of NCAA tournament predictions, and it's about 50-50 as to whether or not Princeton will be included in the field.

Should Princeton get in, it would be another piece of history. No Ivy League basketball team - men's or women's - has ever gotten an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Whether or not the Tigers do make that history, their season is not over yet. The consolation prize would be a WNIT bid, and Princeton could make a nice run in that tournament.

The NCAA women's Selection Show is Monday at 7. It'll be fascinating viewing for Princeton, that's for sure.

Hey, if nothing else, maybe the committee figures it owes one to the Tigers after their 30-0 regular season a year ago merited only an eighth seed.

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