(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Friday, March 06, 2009

Can Princeton Do the Improbable?

Last year, the Princeton Tigers, in their first year under Coach Sydney Johnson, finished 6-23. This year, most pundits predicted them to finish last in the Ivies. Going into the season, I thought that a good season for the Tigers would be either a 7-7 finish in the Ivies or a top four finish in the Ivies. I also thought that such a finish could be a stretch, because the Tigers only have two seniors on their roster.

Well, they play the games for a reason. Going into tonight's game at Columbia, the Tigers are 7-4 in the Ivies with 3 games left to play (all on the road). The Cornell Big Red, the prohibitive favorite at the season's outset, is 9-4. So, theoretically, the Tigers can win the Ivies outright if they win their last three (which would include a victory at Cornell on Saturday night) and Cornell gets swept this weekend (they'd have to lose tonight against Penn too). Then the Tigers would finish 10-4 to Cornell's 9-5 and be headed to the NCAA tournament. (Remember, there is recent sports' precedent for this type of hectic finish. The Philadelphia Eagles had very little chance of making the playoffs on the final day of the season, only to have a series of events unfold before they played the Cowboys at 4:00 p.m. Because of what unfolded -- key teams lost -- the Eagles' victory clinched a playoff berth).

Of course, Cornell could beat Penn tonight, Columbia could avenge its loss at Princeton earlier this year, and the season could be over. Princeton could either play well on the road -- the way it did early in the season, sweeping Harvard and Dartmouth -- or it could play terribly -- the way it got blown out at Yale and Brown. Or, they could play in the middle, achieve a split, and go into the Penn game with an 8-5 record in the Ivies and still playing for a first-division finish. Yes, it's also possible they could falter on the road, get swept, and then run into a Penn team playing for pride in its last home game of the season in a tough place for a visiting team to play, the Palestra (then again, Penn, for the first time since perhaps Franklin Roosevelt was President, got swept twice at home this season, as unlikely a fate as, well, the Dow's losing half its value in a year). That would mean a 7-7 finish in the Ivies, acceptable from the perspective of the season's outset, but disappointing given that it would signify a slide at the end of the season.

What's the meaning of all this? Why did I just go on about all of those possibilities? Because for the first time in a long time, Princeton is in the hunt for an Ivy title on the final weekend of the season. That's an exciting development for Tiger fans, many of whom sensed a new confidence from the beginning of the season. In Sydney Johnson, the Tigers have a good, young coach. They have size and some shooters, and they're still probably a year or two away from putting it all together (remember, this is only Coach Johnson's second year in Tigertown). So, forgive me, as a loyal and patient Tiger fan, for just being a little excited this morning.

It's been a long time in the making.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:55 PM  

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