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Friday, February 17, 2006

Before You Put Them on Mount Olympus Just Yet. . .

Read this.

And this.

Believe it or not, the heavyweight champ has a jaw that aches when it gets hit. More than that, after cruising to a lead on points, the heavyweight champ can tire and fall prey to a feisty challenger that keeps on clawing back.

But I really haven't written about boxing before on this blog, have I? No, I'm talking about the more genteel sport, basketball, and, particularly, the Penn Quakers, who many, including me, thought would cruise to a 14-0 season in the Ivies. After all, the challenge for the Quakers this year didn't seem to be winning the Ivies -- they're the best of the lot -- but going undefeated, extending their double-digit average margin of victory (it was at 23.1 points after 7 Ivy contests), getting as high a seed as possible and perhaps winning the Ivies' first game in the tourney in about seven years (Bracketology recently had them as a 14 seed playing 3 seed West Virginia, which would be problematic given that (i) John Bellein is an excellent coach and (ii) who do the Quakers have to guard 6'11" three-point shooting forward Kevin Pittsnogle?).

Currently, the Penn team is like the smartest kid in the neighborhood whose parents worry about ever so slightly because they're fearful that he might get bored if he's not taking all Advanced Placement courses and might stray away from the perfect record and the Ivy admissions that go along with it. Alternatively, this Penn team is like the smartest kid at the small town HS you watch and wonder whether he'll be the next Bill Gates or Sam Alito (translated -- can they beat a Villanova, Seton Hall or even Bucknell?), because 2G Ibby Jaaber is one of the Ivies' best in years and because the Quakers have a high hoops IQ and play very well together. Either way, the ability to do outstanding things is there.

Tonight they ran into one of the newest kids in the neighborhood, the kid who is starting to get known a little bit, who hasn't spoken up that much in the classroom, but who knows what he knows very well and can hang intellectually with the smartest kids, at least for a while on some subjects. The Columbia Lions have a focused coach who is a good recruiter, and it was a one-time top Penn recruit (from the same South Jersey HS as Princeton captain Scott Greenman), Ben Nwachukwu, who tipped in the game winner with 2 seconds left, giving Columbia a 59-57 victory over visiting Penn. The Quakers had led 28-14 with 6:21 to play in the first half, and were outscored 45-29 the rest of the way.

Some interesting numbers: Penn shot 8-24 from behind the arc. Columbia outrebounded Penn 33-21. Penn had 14 assists and 14 turnovers, while Columbia had only 7 assists to 14 turnovers. Usually when you have a 1-2 assist-to-turnover ratio, you lose the basketball game.

Now Penn travels to Ithaca and Princeton to Columbia, where either both visiting teams will face stoked opponents who will rise to the occasion and give them tough games, or the Saturday Night Syndrome will take over, and both Columbia and Cornell will be worn out from their tough games tonight and have less left to battle Penn and Princeton on Saturday night. My guess is that Penn will come out charging, not permit a big lead to slip away, and beat Cornell by 17. The Columbia-Princeton game will be much closer.

The Penn Quakers are an excellent basketball team. Just when I wrote the obituary for the remaining Ivy teams and questioned the quality of play, Columbia rallied to upend the Quakers. On the one hand, it's hard to play Penn, because they have a great program. On the other hand, it's easy to get up for the Quakers, because for many schools in the league a win over Penn or Princeton makes their year.

All of the above, of course, is great testimony as to why the games are played in the first place.

Because even heavyweight champions don't go undefeated throughout their careers.


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