Thursday, March 16, 2017

Scouting Irish

TigerBlog spoke yesterday about the experience of participating in the NCAA men's basketball tournament and how he hoped Princeton was cherishing the opportunity.

Now, this afternoon, it becomes more serious. Actually, early this afternoon, since Princeton and Notre Dame tip off the whole two-day basketball frenzy at 12:15. You can see the game on CBS or hear Derek Jones and Noah Savage on WPRB.

Speaking of the experience piece, TigerBlog saw a picture on Twitter of the entire Princeton team at the Anchor Bar restaurant, whose Twitter feed says that it is home of the original Buffalo chicken wings. The person in the picture closest to the camera was Derek Jones, who seemed to be enjoying his wings.

TigerBlog, for the record, is not a fan of Buffalo chicken wings, for several reasons. One, they're really messy. Two, you really have to fight with the wings to get the chicken meat out of them. It's like eating crabs and lobster - they're good, but they're too much trouble. And three, TB isn't a huge fan of the Buffalo sauce.

Oh, and speaking of Buffalo sauce and before all the basketball stuff, can TB tell you what happened to him on the way the men's lacrosse game at Rutgers yesterday? He asked his RU colleague Jordan Ozer where to stop to get a good sandwich, and he told TB to go to Hansel 'N Griddle on Easton Ave.

So TB pulls up in front, parks and goes inside, where he was confronted by one of those giant menus with all kinds of choices. Usually in that situation, TB is looking for a key word, like "avocado."

The guy behind the counter, who looked a little like Opie from "Sons of Anarchy," asked if TB had ever been there before, and when TB said no, he recommended the Buffalo chicken crisp, which is their version of a quesadilla. TB opted for the BBQ chicken crisp and the potato/bacon soup, which both were off the charts good.

Anyway, he went back outside to his car, started it up, went to pull out of his parking space - and went nowhere. He was stuck. He tried rocking the car, turning it, everything. Nothing worked. He finally had to go back inside and get a shovel, and he began to dig himself out. Then one of the other guys behind the counter came outside and pushed TB's car out of the snow.

So yes, TB recommends Hansel 'N Griddle, for a lot of reasons.

And now, let's talk hoops.

The Princeton men's basketball team spent yesterday doing all of the things that are such a big part of the experience. There were the press conferences. There was the shootaround. There was all of the preparing.

All of that leads up to today, and the big question - Can Princeton beat Notre Dame?

TigerBlog has seen about five minutes of Notre Dame basketball this season on television. That's it. In fact, he saw more college basketball last weekend at the Palestra than he saw on TV all season. Actually he saw more basketball on the Ivy League Digital Network than he did on TV.

It doesn't make him an expert heading into the NCAA tournament. He will offer a prediction of UCLA, Oregon, Villanova and Florida State in the Final Four, with no confidence at all in these picks, unlike some of his recent predictions, which as you know have been pretty spot on.

As he said last week, TigerBlog can see the future, and in this case, he sees his Final Four choices not coming true. Unless they do, right?

TigerBlog does know that Notre Dame has one of the best players in the country, Bonzie Colson, a 6-5, 225-pounder who is a first-team All-ACC selection, a likely All-America and the only ACC player to average double figures in points (17.5) and rebounds (10.2).

What else is there about Notre Dame? TigerBlog went to the Fighting Irish webpage to find out.

There are a few things that jumped out him.

First, Notre Dame reached the final of the ACC tournament, falling to Duke 75-69 in the championship game. The Irish played eight players in the game, but only one player off the bench played more than four minutes and four starters went at least 35.

Of the five starters, none is taller than 6-8. Notre Dame isn't huge - the team goes 6-8, 6-7, 6-6, 6-5 and 6-1 - among its starters. TB isn't sure if they play bigger than they are, but Princeton should be able to use its lineup of Myles Stephens, Amir Bell, Devin Cannady, Stephen Cook and Spencer Weisz without being vulnerable to someone 6-10 or 7-0 or someone like that.

If Princeton can play those five together offensively for large stretches and not get hammered defensively in the process, that's a big plus.

Second, Notre Dame is one of the national leaders, second to be exact, in assist to turnover ratio. This suggests a team that doesn't hurt itself with bad mistakes and is hard to rattle. It also suggests a team that doesn't just rely on its star. This could be a huge advantage for Notre Dame.

Also, it's impossible to notice the edge that Notre Dame has in NCAA tournament experience.

Princeton has no player who has ever played in an NCAA tournament game. Its head coach, Mitch Henderson, played in five of them and played well in all of them. And a lot in all of them - with at least 37 minutes in all five and two 40-minute games.

His best game was a 19-point, six-assist, three-steal effort in a 69-57 win over UNLV his senior year, 1998.

As for Notre Dame, it has six players who have played in at least four NCAA games and three who have played in eight.

Is that an edge?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Princeton won its first round NCAA tournament game in 1996, with a team that didn't have a player with any experience, against a UCLA team that was the defending national champ. Henderson "only" played 37 minutes in that game, with eight points, three assists and four steals.

Did NCAA experience matter in that one? Not in the least. In fact, you can make the case that UCLA self-destructed a few times during the game, most notably when it went up 41-34 with six minutes left and then never scored again.

There are two ways to win this game.

First, there's what Princeton did to UCLA in 1996, which is completely take the Bruins out of their rhythm. Princeton hardly played a perfect game, which is a fairly common myth. What did Princeton shoot in that game? How about 37% from the field and 29.6% from three-point range.

The other way is to shoot 15 for 27 from three-point range. Should Princeton come out on fire and start making threes from all over, it'll win.

At its most simplistic level, the idea that the Ivy League champ should be able to compete with the ACC runner-up, a team that has been nationally ranked all year, seems a little much. But hey, this is what this time of year is all about, and Princeton has earned its shot.

Now it can just make a lot of them, it'll get another one after that.

Either way, it's Princeton-Notre Dame, today at 12:15. Make sure you watch.

Princeton has a great team, the first 16-0 team in Ivy history. And it's a good group of guys, and it's really easy to root for this team. It's an exciting moment, an exciting opportunity. 

Hey, you never know when history is going to happen.

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