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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Princeton 61 Marshall 45

The Princeton Tigers hosted the Marshall Thundering Herd yesterday and pitched close to a perfect game, beating their visitors from West Virginia by 16 and holding them well below their season's scoring average of roughly 70 points per game. Marshall, with a 3-7 record, had stayed close (save a 19-point loss to #17 Memphis) to most of its opponents in the games it lost.

Not yesterday.

Despite trying to take advantage of their better athleticism by bodying up on defense, pressing and trapping, very little worked for the visitors. The host Tigers had a seven-point lead at the half and then proceeded to finish off a more veteran-laden team in a way that the Tigers had struggled to do with less athletic opponents (Lafayette, Lehigh) earlier this season.

Leading the way for the Tigers was junior forward Kyle Koncz, who scored 20 points on 4-8 shooting from behind the arc (and whose shooting stroke looked great). Also playing very steady games from the guard position were frosh guards Lincoln Gunn and Marcus Schroeder, both of whom played the entire game. The notes in the program indicated that going into the game, Schroeder was among the top 10 in Division I in minutes played per game at 38. He's a very strong, confident young point guard, and he ran the Tigers' offense well yesterday. The Tigers were only outrebounded 24-21 but fought for every loose ball, and they had 15 assists to only 8 turnovers while Marshall had 5 assists and 14 turnovers, hence the earlier comment about the "perfect game." Princeton shot 37.5% from behind the arc and got excellent play off the bench from senior guard Edwin Buffmire, who had 8 points.

Here is the box score. Here is a write-up of the game.


1. I talked to a few long-time observers of Princeton basketball while I was entering Jadwin Gym. The first, a long-time fan well-versed in the Princeton program, said the thought that the team was very good. He also said that the freshmen guards were particularly impressive, given that former Tiger coach and Hall of Famer Pete Carril used to say that players in the Tigers' program didn't really show much value until 7 games into their sophomore seasons. The other observer said that the team will be very good next year, said the freshmen guards are very good and wondered, though, about how the team would fare against more physical teams (he included Marshall among that group). Like many observers, he had his doubts about the inside play of the Tigers, who aren't very tall. I have known this latter observer for years, and I respect his opinion greatly.

2. I wrote last year about "zing and oomph", about how at times last season that the Tigers didn't look fluid, that players didn't know what to do with the ball and by delaying their disposition of it once they got it, let the other team's defense catch up to them and stymie them. Yesterday afternoon, they looked fluid and sharp. There were only a few lapses, where they ran down the shot clock and took an off-balance shot or a player tried to go one on two, but 98% of the time the Tigers had a great sense of each other and moved the ball well. There was crisp passing, and there was good shooting.

3. The defense was outstanding -- lots of help, lots of hands, lots of plain-and-simple going after it. The same was true of rebounding. Princeton players crashed the boards on both ends and banged on the visitors very hard (the visitors were very physical, especially in the second half). It was an impressive display.

4. Schroeder is an exciting player, very strong. I recall a comment years ago that then-Penn coach Fran Dunphy made about the Steve Goodrich/Brian Earl/Gabe Lewullis teams and the point guard on those teams, current Northwestern assistant coach Mitch Henderson. Coach Dunphy said that he had nightmares about Mitch Henderson breaking his press, and it could well be that Schroeder will give Penn coach Glenn Miller nightmares about his ballhandling. Schroeder isn't as athletic as Henderson was (heck, no one in the past 25 years of Princeton hoops was/is as athletic as Henderson), but he is very good. The only concern is that he plays 38 minutes a game. Then again, there aren't that many games in the schedule and there are lots of timeouts in each game. Still, back-to-back games during the Ivy schedule will be a test.

5. Edwin Buffmire is a catalyst off the bench. He plays with great energy and helped pick the Tigers up when inserted into the game. He's an excellent sixth man, and as Coach Scott was quoted in "The Blue Ribbon Yearbook", he'd start if the Tigers could start "five guys who are 6'3"." He is fun to watch.

6. Soph C/F Michael Stritmatter, frosh center Zach Finley (with a nifty left-handed hook from the low blocks), and junior forward Noah Savage all got minutes.

7. The Tigers are now 7-3, and while doubters might argue that "they haven't played anyone", the players will tell you that "you play who you play" and most fans will tell you that winning begets winning. If you look at the schedules of the best teams Coach Scott had at Air Force, you'll note that they played the likes of Texas-Pan American, Texas-Corpus Christi and IUPU-Fort Wayne in their non-conference schedule as opposed to Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA and Kentucky. The result: Air Force was the story about four years ago, getting a bid to the NCAA tournament. Okay, so it's not the same league and the teams are different, but those looking for a light at the end of the Joe Scott coaching tunnel saw it at the end of last season and might be seeing it again now.

8. If Princeton wonders why the attendance wasn't that good (2,100+), Princeton should only look at the walk-up ticket prices -- $12 per ticket. Given that Princeton charges $7 for walk-up tickets to football (and, okay, Princeton Stadium is a lot bigger than Jadwin Gym and presumably harder to fill), $12 is a lot, especially when you have about 5,000 empty seats. Note to Princeton AD Gary Walters: drop the walk-in ticket prices to about $7, advertise it, and perhaps you'd get a better gate. Then again, maybe the ticket prices don't matter (i.e., in economic terms, there is no "elasticity"), so perhaps it's just hard to get a big gate for a team like Marshall during the late afternoon at the height of Christmas-shopping season. But $12 -- ouch!

9. The Princeton Band. The good news that was despite the fact that the students were on break, the band showed up. They played okay, but their humor is lacking. Neither the adults nor the kids who noticed them thought that they were funny. Yes, they did make some noise, but that was about it.

10. Princeton promoted an afternoon-night doubleheader, featuring the women's team in the evening end of the twin bill. The Tigers were supposed to win that game too, but lost on a last-second shot by St. Francis (NY). That's a bad loss for the women's team, who, after sharing the Ivy title last year, seem to be struggling.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was/is Venable not as athletic as Henderson?

6:25 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

I actually don't think so. Venable was very athletic, but Mitch was a better ballhandler and a better defender. Neither could shoot the ball that well. I liked them both a lot, and it's hard to choose, but the team that Mitch was on his senior year was very special. Venable was first-team all-Ivy his junior year (an honor that Mitch never got). Okay, close call.

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed I'd put Venable a hair behind Henderson on atheticism--call Henderson the most athletic guard in the last quarter century. I'd mention two other players in the same breath as Mitch, though they were very different sorts of players.

o Current Brown head coach Craig Robinson. Craig had those long arms, blocked many shots before that was an official stat, and actually jumped center rather than Rich Simkus. Robinson could also be counted to break opponent zones by drawing four defenders to the paint and still getting off a mid-range jump shot in traffic. Of course, Robinson played before the three point line.

o Current San Diego Padre Chris Young. Exceptionally well conditioned. Brought the ball up the court a fair amount of the time, and a heck of a long range shooter--probably better than Mitch. Obliterated the single game and season block records, and would have had the career record if not for the Ivy's blasted two-sport rule.

Would be interested to hear you compare and contrast these three exceptional athletes.

12:40 PM  

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