Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hooping In West Long Branch

Miss TigerBlog drove up to the traffic light, which was red. She sort of slowed down at least before making a right turn.

TigerBlog, in the passenger seat had already looked over and saw no traffic was coming. He pointed out to MTB that, before making a right on red, she actually had to come to a complete stop.

Her response left him baffled, and a bit concerned. "I thought it was green," she said.

How exactly is that possible? Scary. Very scary.

MTB is a little more than two months away from taking her driver's test. She'll be fine. She'll get her license and all, and then about 20 minutes after she first goes to drive somewhere, she'll be completely lost, even if it's in her own neighborhood.

Oh well.

TigerBlog got his driver's license at the Motor Vehicle office in Eatontown, on Route 36. In New Jersey, your driver's test is on a closed course, and TB was able to negotiate it fairly easily, as he recalls.

Eatontown is the next town from Long Branch, along the northern part of the Jersey Shore. The most famous thing that ever happened in Long Branch was that President James Garfield died there after being shot in 1881.

Long Branch was one of the first major shore towns in New Jersey in the 1800s, but by the time TB was in high school, it seemed like a bit of a forgotten area, along with Asbury Park. Today, both areas have been rebuilt in an extraordinary fashion, one that takes a visitor completely by surprise after being away from either for a few decades.

Today the Long Branch waterfront is a vibrant area, with a nice boardwalk, a major hotel/resort and a great little shopping area with restaurants and such. It's definitely worth a trip there these days, even if it isn't the summer.

Princeton will be making the short drive there today, but not to hang out on the beach. Nope, Princeton is there for what figures to be a really, really good men's basketball game.

Actually, Princeton will technically be in West Long Branch, on the campus of Monmouth University, to take on the Hawks. Tip-off tonight at the OceanFirst Bank Center is at 7.

The OceanFirst Bank Center, by the way, opened in 2009 and seats 4,100. TigerBlog has never been there, but he hears it is very nice.

Monmouth, if you've been paying attention to college basketball the last two years, is for real. The Hawks rose to fame a year ago because of the celebration antics of the guys on the end of the bench, but that overshadowed that those guys have had a lot to celebrate.

Here's a list of some schools Monmouth beat last year: UCLA, USC, Notre Dame and Georgetown. So far this year, Monmouth is 9-2 overall (2-0 in the MAAC) and riding an eight-game winning streak, with the most recent win last Tuesday at Memphis. It's only losses are to South Carolina and Syracuse.

Princeton is playing the first of two road games this week, with a game at Bucknell set for Thursday.

The Tigers will be playing for the first time since the announcement that Henry Caruso will miss he remainder of the season due to a toe injury. Caruso is the second major piece of Princeton's lineup to be out for the rest of the year, after the announcement a week earlier that Hans Brase would be out after reinjuring his knee.

Between the two, they combined for 3,740 minutes and 1,553 points.

Caruso, by the way, is one of TB's favorite kinds of players, the one who is a bit undersized (6-4, 190) but who can be an unstoppable scorer anyway. He just has a knack for putting the ball in the hoop, witness the 1,453 he scored in high school.

It took him a little while to work his way into the lineup, but once he did, he delivered. In fact, he led Princeton in scoring, rebounding and steals a year ago, earning first-team All-Ivy League honors to boot. 

Princeton's biggest strengths last year and the beginning of this have included its depth and the fact that no one player had to be the star night after night after night. On any given night, it could be any one of maybe eight or nine players who could go off.

In fact, if you had asked TigerBlog who is the one player the team could not afford to lose, the answer was never really clear. There were a lot of interchangeable parts, and the result of that was that no player was the definitive No. 1.

It's a testament to that depth that even without Brase and Caruso, Princeton still has a whole rotation of experienced players. The starting lineup has shifted a bit, and it could still shift some more before Princeton heads down the heart of the Ivy League season, with an eye on the first Ivy tournament in March.

Tonight's game isn't about any of that. It's another chance to play another very good opponent, and do so not that far from home.

In West Long Branch.

Go early, and check out the Long Branch boardwalk area and one of the restaurants that has been built there.

TigerBlog highly recommends it.

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