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Monday, December 20, 2004

The Significance Of Temple Versus Princeton Tonight

Tonight's Princeton-Temple game at the Apollo at Temple gives me pause to reflect on many topics near and dear to my heart, such as college basketball (and I admit that I've journeyed away from college hoops because college football and baseball have given me so much to write about), Philadelphia's Big Five, the Temple Owls and the Princeton Tigers. Read on, and you'll see how this game ties up many things in a big bow for me come this holiday season.

To most, this is just another game, a game between a Temple squad trying to define itself and show some discipline (its coach called the team out during an interview on local TV a few nights ago) and a Princeton squad showing more than it's a feisty Ivy program, that it can really hang with and beat bigger-time programs. Temple is no longer in the Top 20, hasn't been for years, and Princeton, while favored to win the Ivies, isn't favored to beat that many non-Ivy teams of note. Princeton's arch-rival, Penn, almost upset the Owls about 10 days ago, rallying to lose by one, 52-51. So, you must be saying, either Penn is not that bad or Temple isn't that good, and how you view that result depends on whether you're an Ivy fan or a big-time college hoops fan. Ivy fans will take heart from Penn's effort, while big-time hoops fans will dismiss it by saying that this isn't a Mark Macon (or even Marc Jackson) Temple team.

All of the above has merit, but this game has a greater significance to me, a personal one. You see, my father, who has been dead for a long time, went to Temple, and I went to Princeton, and the teams haven't played since the 1974-1975 season. I went to many college games with my father, learned a great deal from him, and developed my passions and interests in various teams because of him, but our alma maters never played for the short time he was alive after I graduated from college up until right now. He was great to go to a game with, always had interesting insights about strategy and great stories about the history of games, and, well, I just wish he could be sitting with me tonight, elbowing me in the ribs when Temple C Wayne Marshall makes Princeton C Judson Wallace look like he should be centering the Lilliput hoops squad, or nodding in acknowledgment that Princeton G Will Venable can hold his own against Temple PG Mardy Collins. I loved his stories about one of Temple's all-time best players, Bill Mlkvy, a two-time all-American who was known as "The Owl without a Vowel." We watched Harry Litwack's teams play and Don Casey's as well.

We went to full houses at the Palestra, watched the ECAC Game of the Week on NBC and watched Big 5 doubleheaders on UHF TV with Al Meltzer calling the games, mindful that you had to hit the UHF dial hard to make it stay in place, twist the UHF antenna just so, and hope that the dial didn't move while LaSalle was making its run against St. Joe's or while Penn was having its way with Villanova. There weren't tons of channels or games then, so the Big 5 on local TV was about as good as it got.

And it doesn't get, and hasn't gotten, much better than that. Storied programs, the best venue in college basketball, and kids who played at local high schools populating many of the local teams. Tough players, coaches who were destined for greater theaters of play, the intensity of the Palestra. Watching the games with my dad. Special, uncomplicated times, at least as far as basketball was concerned. In some locations you need to get by speaking a foreign language; in Philadelphia back then, if you could speak basketball, well, that was enough of a second language, depending on the circles in which you traveled.

It will be ten degrees tonight in Philadelphia, but for me the Apollo will generate a lot of warmth. I won't be wearing Princeton colors tonight (I don't have any cold-weather orange wear), but in honor of my dad, I've donned a cherry and white scarf (Temple's colors, for the uninitiated, which are most of you, as Temple's colors aren't as well known as, say, Michigan's), and I'll bask in the game not because it will have any greater meaning in terms of national rankings, but because, in a way, it brings my college hoops experiences full circle.

This game also marks my return to spending more time blogging about college hoops. I initially got the idea for a blog after about 8 years of sending e-mails to friends about Ivy basketball (with a focus on Penn, for whom I grew up rooting, except when they played Temple, and Princeton), and figured that I would post for a broader audience. I love the game of college basketball, particularly the Big 5 and my alma mater's perennial Cinderella status (which is basically the status of every low- and mid-major DI college basketball team). There are lots of great college hoops blogs out there, including several to which I have linked, so I only hope I can do them justice with my posts.

For what it's worth, my pre-game preview is that you don't know which Temple team will show up, the one that almost blew a big lead against Penn, only to win by one, or the one that played #7 Wake Forest hard only to lose by 5. Princeton plays physical defense, fouls a lot, and still is looking to find its shooting rhthym. There also a few players short, missing PF Andre Logan and SF Luke Owings, but they have some pleasant surprises in frosh F Noah Savage (who has shown impressive offensive ability) and G Matt Sargeant. Temple has an outstanding guard in Mardy Collins and some good big men inside, and, as usual, they are athletic. For Temple to win, they have to play tough defense, not turn the ball over on offense and keep their focus for a full 40 minutes. For Princeton to win, they have to defend well against the three, stay close to Temple on the boards and not end up with too many offensive sets that end up in a missed shot and a Temple rebound.

This will not be a pretty game for either team, and Temple will win because they're playing at home and have more talent. Princeton will have its moments, but in the end I look for a final score of Temple 48, Princeton 44.

But regardless of the frosty temperatures outside or the cold shooting percentages (potentially) inside, it will be a very warm night for me.


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