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Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Princeton Tigers Are 0-4 In Ivy Play . . .

their worst start ever since the league began 50+ years ago.

After having seen them play well against Marshall and Rice in the non-league schedule, I am somewhat speechless about what's going on. There are three factors that contribute to this lack of comments.

First, there's the Princeton's eleventh commandment -- thou shall not speak ill of a member of the Princeton (basketball) family. Yes, we'll knock the Crimson and the Old Blues, but not fellow Tigers. Obviously, things aren't going well.

Second, there are those out there who follow the team more closely than I who can articulate better what's going on with the program. You know where to find them, and I suggest that you check in there. If you prefer, please post here. I very much welcome your comments.

Third, I am rather speechless on this turn of events. What explains it? This losing streak (and the awful loss to Seton Hall last Monday night) have to have a better explanation than the foot injury to Kyle Koncz. Are the other Ivies that much better, or has Princeton dropped down to their level (with Penn remaining far ahead despite a loss last night at Yale, where the Elis have given the Quakers fits during James Jones' coaching tenure)? Have the Ivies as a whole caught up to the Tigers and figured out their schemes? Do the Tigers have the talent that they did 7 years ago, when they rose to as high as #8 in the nation? Are the players good enough to be title-worthy? Is Joe Scott the right fit at Princeton?

These questions, of course, are not easy ones and brush up against my first point, with the result that there will be those Tiger diehards who will wonder aloud at what's happened to the program without looking critically at it and who will continue to look for positives (the advent of a walk-on 6'4" center, the team's record in calendar year 2006, the play of the freshman guards, etc. without critically looking at the whole product). On the other hand, there will be those fans who will be very quick to throw A.D. Gary Walters and head coach Scott under the bus, because, at the end of the day, they're responsible for what's going on (and an 0-4 record to start league play isn't acceptable to anyone in the Princeton hoops family). But they are not inappropriate questions, not at this stage in Coach Scott's tenure.

The Carril family line of coaching (and, most outstanding coaches, for that matter) are blunt and honest and always endeavor to have players be honest with themselves about their level of effort and concentration. The theory, of course, is that honesty about one's self leads to accountability and responsibility, and that leads to improvement and that, of course, can lead to great seasons. Which means, of course, that the Princeton athletic leadership and the Princeton men's hoops coaching staff have to be honest with themselves about what's going on with the program. Is it headed in the right direction and only a matter of time before the right nucleus emerges? And, if so, how much more time is required? If not, what needs to be changed?

Now, this commentary could be premature, the Tigers could win out, go 10-0 in the remainder of the Ivy season, have the other teams lose a few games and tie for the title. That outcome, though, doesn't seem likely, not at this juncture.

The Tigers need to get the feeling back. What's the feeling? The feeling that it will be they and Penn as the two tops teams in the Ivies year-in and year-out. The feeling that the game at the Palestra and the game at Jadwin will have some meaning, and they haven't for a while. The feeling that they'll be able to beat almost every Ivy opponent on a given night by at least 10 points, sometimes winning by as many as 25. Those of us who have been following the program for three and four decades remember walking in to Jadwin and witnessing a 30+ point margin of victory over Yale or a 25-point demolishing of Ivy champ Cornell in the season finale in 1988, double-digit victories here and there. Now we walk into the gym not knowing what to expect.

That feeling hasn't been present in Tigertown since the departure of John Thompson III, and, even during Thompson's tenure, it wasn't as strong as it was during Bill Carmody's tenure. The Tiger men's hoops program has to get that swagger back, that sense of preeminence. How they do so will be a test for the leadership.

It starts this coming weekend, with home games against Dartmouth and Harvard.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Princeton was ranked #8 in 1998. That was 9 years ago, not 7.

More importantly, this will be the 5th consecutive year that Princeton finishes outside the RPI top 100, which means they've gone through a complete recruiting cycle +1 without coming anywhere close to the average peak we've expected from both of the traditional Ivy powers.

Penn, by comparison, finished at RPI #58 only two years ago, and has finished outside the RPI top 100 only once during the same 5 year period that Princeton has failed to reach it (Penn is currently just outside the Top 100, so how they finish the season will determine whether they meet that standard again).

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Princetonians may hiss for what I'm about to say, but one gets the feeling Joe Scott is more about running the Princeton "system" (that he admittedly learned from the master) than winning games with the hard work of recruiting great players and melding them into a team.

In this he seems to mirror what we non-Tigerphiles detect about PU's essentially Platonic quality. This can be a useful attribute (though increasingly outmoded)if you are doing humanities for humanities sake. It's not so great for the kind of organic team-as-community or family engagement that college basketball requires.

One senses in Scott's demeanor a bit of Gens. Custer or Cornwallis--a blankness of expression reflecting his inability or unwillingness to adequately address the conditions in which he must battle.

Yours in creative pragmatism,

Nick S. (full disclosure: Penn fan)

11:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Make that 1-6 in Ivy play

12:05 AM  

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