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Sunday, January 07, 2007

That Roar You Hear. . .

is the "return" of the Princeton Tigers men's hoops team as some of us remember it.

Except, this version is different.

Princeton partisans and observers over the years will recall a few notable aspects of the Princeton men's basketball teams that won Ivy titles. They shot the ball well, they defended well (leading the nation in "scoring" defense) but they weren't all that physical and didn't rebound the ball all that well (you could look up the fact that many a title team was outrebounded by its opponents -- and, yes, sorry for the use of passive voice there).

The Princeton Tigers dismantled, derailed, folded, spindled and mutilated the Rice Owls yesterday, 51-28 in Jadwin Gym. Yes, the headlines will read "Princeton Cooks Rice," Princeton Burns Rice" or "Bitter Almond for Rice", as the Tigers played amazing defense yesterday and held the nation's leading scorer, Morris Almond, to 9 points. Heck, the entire Rice team didn't manage to score the 31 points plus a game that Almond was averaging going into yesterday's contest. (Ask any coach, and they'll tell you they love to go against a team with a "go to" guy; stop that guy and the opponent will struggle with what to do because the other guys aren't prepared to step up). At any rate. . .

Here's the story. And here's the box score.

And here are a few things to note:

1. The Tigers' defense was awesome yesterday. The Tigers helped each other well, confronted the Rice players and did a terrific job on defense. Past Tiger champions played great defense. This is the best defense I've seen the Tigers play in at least four years, if not longer. It was amazing to watch.

2. These Tigers crash the boards with an almost reckless abandon. Prior Tiger teams sometimes were one and done on offense, but not this team. Time after time, the Tiger frontcourt players crashed the boards and battled hard for rebounds on both ends, particularly the offensive end. It's fun to watch, and there is achievement to accompany the activity.

3. The frosh guards are very good. Marcus Schroeder plays the point like a seasoned veteran, and he and backcourt mate Lincoln Gunn have very good hoops IQs. They found plenty of loose balls yesterday, balls that in prior years might have headed out of bounds and into the other team's possession or straight to the other team. Both played heads-up hoops yesterday.

4. Looks at yesterday's box score. Rice had 3 assists to 18 turnovers; Princeton 15 assists to 17 turnovers, and the turnovers are the only thing that I can't explain about this great effort, except to say that the Tigers played very hard yesterday and occasionally tried to force things (their Achilles' heel: sometimes a frontcourt player would go one on two or three inside the paint and not have the move to finish the play). To quote John Wooden, the team that wins will make more mistakes. I'm not sure I totally understand Coach Wooden's logic, but the Tigers were all over their visitors from Houston yesterday. The turnovers were a by-product of that aggression, but look for the Tigers to reduce them against Ivy opponents.

5. Junior forward Noah Savage and senior guard Edwin Buffmire provided quality minutes off the bench yesterday. Savage was very aggressive on offense, and Buffmire is a catalyst who makes plays.

6. This is a confident team that has a good sense of each other. It's hard to imagine anyone else in the Ivies beating them this year save perhaps Columbia in NYC or Penn. There's no doubt that Penn has a great nucleus in Ibby Jaaber, Steve Danley and Mark Zoller, and PG Brian Grandieri has played well. Penn's supporting cast still needs to assert itself, and there's also the question as to how Penn coach Glenn Miller will fare as a favorite after years of coaching an underdog (my view: this shouldn't be a problem for Coach Miller at all). That said, Miller hasn't proven that he's a great defensive coach, at least not yet (or how else would you explain the season at Brown when he fielded three first-team all-Ivy players and still did not win the Ivy title?). Penn clearly has the offense to light it up with anyone, and the troika of Jaaber, Danley and Zoller is formidable and plays good defense (especially Jaaber, who is one of the best players to play in the Ivies in the past several decades). Overall, the title remains Penn's to lose, but I think that the competition from Princeton will be much more formidable than even the Princeton faithful would have hoped at the season's outset.

7. Fun game in a hot Jadwin Gym for the Tiger faithful yesterday, as it hit 70 degrees in Tigertown yesterday.

8. Recall what several (including me) wrote about Joe Scott's tenure at Princeton. The same way it was at Air Force, it has taken a few years for the Tigers' re-conversion to the orthodox Princeton system that Pete Carril made famous (and a few people, including me, commented to that effect). I don't think that the conversion is complete yet, but I do believe that Joe Scott has to be very happy with the progress his team has made since last season. Coach Scott is a clearly a man who has a vision and coaches to it. He had great success at Air Force, and if he can complete this conversion, the Princeton fans should be very happy in the years to come.


Anonymous Jake Wilson said...

While it was great to see a Joe Scott team crashing the offensive boards, yesterday probably will prove to be an aberration. Even after yesterday's performance, Princeton still ranks dead last in offensive rebounding in the Ivy League, grabbing a paltry 23.7 percent of rebounds at its own end.

3:50 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...


Thanks for your comment. The numbers don't lie, so I won't argue with you on that front. But what the numbers don't reveal is the intensity with which this team plays and the togetherness that they've shown. They look much more in sync than they have in years. That and a tough defense might not be enough to defeat a Penn team with a veteran nucleus this year, but it should bode well next year and the year after.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brian Grandieri does not play point guard.

11:21 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

I haven't followed Penn that closely, but the last I read was that Grandieri was the PG (I thought Jake Wilson would have corrected me if he wasn't playing that position.) Otherwise I wouldn't have written it. Who is playing PG for Penn? Is it Kevin Egee now that he's made it into the starting lineup, with Michael Kach as the back-up? When Tommy McMahon was the fifth starter, I thought Grandieri was the PG (even if he played more on the wing last year and was a good rebounder to boot).

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure Grandieri has ever once been identified as the PG in print. If he has, it wasn't by anyone who covers or watches Penn.

Jaaber has been playing the "1" this year.

1:25 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

I beg to differ.

Check out this link (from the 11/22/06 edition) and read Ed Barkowitz's report on the Penn Quakers, where he identifies Grandieri as a point guard. Maybe we're both wrong, but I always thought the Daily News was pretty accurate on their Big 5 hoops coverage. (And I do admit that I read more about Penn at the beginning of the season than thereafter).

I knew I saw it somewhere, but, to your point, in most places Grandieri is identified as a junior guard. And, of course, you're right, Jaaber has been playing the point.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stand corrected, although I'd say that's the exception that proves the rule, particularly when it comes to my point about people who cover or watch the team. Mike Kern is the regular beat writer and provides the most frequent coverage of Penn games for the Daily News (he has for a couple years now); Drexel may be the only time this year that Barkowitz had a byline on a Penn game story. Although even watching the Drexel-Penn game should have told him that Grandieri is no PG, despite his team-high 8 assists that night.

Could also have been an editor making that mistake, too, relying on the box score rather than actually watching the team. Unfortunately, if you rely strictly on watching assist totals to decide who the PG is, you end up with Steve Danley as last year's Penn point.

5:59 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for the clarification.

Given Danley's assist rate, he would have made a fine center in the Princeton offense. :)

What are your thoughts on Jaaber's playing the point? I'm not sure it's the best use of his talents (given how dazzling he's been on the wing), but then again it might not make a different in the Ivies this year (in that in my view Penn should win the title regardless of which guard position he plays).

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not the ideal role for him because he's not the slickest ballhandler, although given his efficiency as a scorer anything that gets the ball in his hands more is a Good Thing. And apart from Aron Cohen, who is only getting rare minutes right now, I'm not sure there's anyone else on the current roster who even fits the traditional PG profile. Grandieri really doesn't have the footspeed, and Egee and Kach are more natural two-guards right now, although each can certainly pull a few minutes at the "1" when Miller wants to use some 3-guard sets and shift Jaaber to a wing.

Anyway, Miller's motion offense is similar to Dunphy's in that the "PG" is really responsible for bringing the ball upcourt, but becomes more of a combo guard thereafter - once they cross the center line and go into the half court offense, the roles of all the perimeter players become more interchangeable.

I agree they should win the Ivies. Not so sure about a 14-0 season, because the league overall is better, but they're going to be very, very hard to stop on offense most nights. They are not as good defensively as they were last year, when Osmundson and Whitehurst were the lockdown guys on the perimeter, but Kach and Egee appear to be working hard at that end to make up the difference, and I'd expect them to improve as the season goes on.

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Cliff said...

The Tigers had a tough weekend dropping both NY games while the Quakers, their rivals from the South got out of the gate fast with a 2-0 record. Given the performance of the Tigers in New York, are you still bullish on this edition of the Tigers?

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was my does one explain the Tiger collapse... especially at Cornell?

Penn played a pretty hard pre-Ivy schedule with lackluster results...they got notably pasted by big time programs like Syracuse and North Carolina,and lost some they could've won against Fordham and UTEP. However those Ivy games against Columbia and Cornell made it seem they'll just roll in the league.

Nick in New Orleans

PS Go Saints!!!!

1:08 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks, Cliff and Nick, for your comments. I suppose I have been silent because I don't know what to say about the Tigers, but here are a few thoughts:

1. Penn was the odds-on favorite to win the league and will do so. Despite my previous bullishness about the Tigers, I had always thought Penn was going to win the league (even if Princeton played great defense against Rice).

2. I am not that bullish on the Tigers as far as the Ivies. They're probably end up in the first division, perhaps will go 9-5 in the league this year. That means they'll have to go 9-3 the rest of the way. And finishing say third or fourth doesn't settle well with the Tiger faithful.

3. Princeton fans remember 20-win seasons, teams that were fluid and crisp, teams that beat the Cornells and Columbias by 15 without much of a problem. Some very loyal fans will argue that the Ivies have improved, while the realists among us Tiger faithful will concede that it's more that the Tigers have slipped toward the pack than the pack is really any good. That's what's troubling to us.

4. I still have faith in Joe Scott and think he can do wonders at Princeton. But this is his third season and a doubt or two is starting to creep in among the faithful. That said, I still don't think that most alums expected them to do anything to overtake Penn until at least after this season.

5. For me, it's only about 4 weeks until pitchers and catchers report.

9:57 PM  
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5:06 PM  

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