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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Princeton-Georgetown, Princeton-UCLA -- Haven't We Heard Enough?

A loyal reader wrote to me about the 20th anniversary of the Princeton-Georgetown first-round NCAA playoff game. He reminded me of the importance of that game, which wasn't that it is perhaps the game that the Tigers' Hall of Fame Coach Pete Carril is best remembered for (which is fitting that for a complicated man that game was a loss), but that the near miss came at a time where there was serious talk about eliminating automatic bids for conference champions. Princeton lost 50-49 and put a great scare into the #1 team in the country, and, as a result, sent a message to the lords of the NCAA that perhaps automatic bids were a good thing. As my friend pointed out, that game laid the foundation for Princeton's 1996 upset of defending champion UCLA in the first round (what Princeton fan can forget Steve Goodrich's nifty back-door pass to Gabe Lewullis for the go-ahead layup?). All of those are great memories, to be cherished.

But is it me, or are they re-lived too much? Is the future for Ivy basketball and the Princeton Tigers so bleak that all we have to look forward to is reminders of the past? Yes, the Ivies haven't won a first-round game since 1998, when Princeton beat UNLV and almost beat Michigan State in the second round. Yes, right now it's hard to see a future where an Ivy team can be so good that it will be nationally ranked or strong enough to win a first-round game. Yet, Tommy Amaker's made recruiting inroads at Harvard, Steve Donahue has built a strong program at Cornell, Princeton is on the mend and it's only a matter of time before the Penn-Princeton rivalry rekindles itself, both teams grow stronger, make each other better, and the rivalry (along with that of other Ivies) springs forth teams that will get more than a regional focus.


Or, wrong?

Don't get me wrong -- I had a great time watching the '89 game in a friend's apartment (my cable TV was out), this before text messaging and cell phone. I'll never forget saying to myself "oh my, I can't believe that they'll do this, I can't believe it" only to see Kit Mueller's last-second jumper fail and be left to wonder whether the refs missed a foul call on Alonzo Mourning. I'll also remember when I watched the Tigers upset UCLA, failing to convince my wife (who had gone to bed in preparation for an early morning meeting) that the Tigers actually won the game when I finally tried to get some sleep. After all, it was the UCLA they were playing, the defending national champs, so what made anyone think they'd win that game? Both are terrific memories, but when will we exhaust them?

As they say in Friday Night Lights, let's make some memories.

New ones.

Because many of us fans are way too young to rely exclusively on nostalgia as a means for rooting for current and future versions of our teams.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The folklorist in me says that great memories are meant to be re-remembered. Princetonian B-Ballers should know that at a tumultuous Irish Bar in West Philly, Penn fans crowded in to chant "Let's go Tigers" in semi-inebriated certitude during that Georgetown game.

I was back at Penn doing a visiting prof that year and I realized then that the Ivy rivalries are transcended at NCAA time in a cool way.

So yes Princeton in the 90s and Penn over Nebraska 1996 and the 1979 Final Four memories etc are great..

But for now: "Let's Go Big Red!"

Nick Spitzer in New Orleans

1:19 AM  
Anonymous CBell said...

Hey, nostalgia is the coin of the realm for us Ivy types. And when it comes to Madness, there's still hope for the Davids. I daresay, though, Princeton's and Penn's successes sowed the seeds for more recent frustrations. Now teams realize that even the Ivy stiffs can pull off an upset, so coaches and players prepare a little better. The other factor is that WE don't play with the same crispness as we used to, with Pete and Fran coaching.

Still, the pendulum always swings back, and when you least expect it, another memory will be made - even a 16 over a 1. The keys to victory will be the same - backdoors, 3's, and foul trouble for Goliath, whoever he may be. This time, though, the ref won't swallow his whistle.

11:11 AM  
Anonymous DrJolS said...

Has everybody forgotten Bill Bradley's team that went to the final four in '65?

11:17 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget the refs helped G-Town that game. Fucking BCS conference refs.

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11:17 AM  
Anonymous bill fischel said...

Gary Walters, a Princeton player (on Bradley's team) and Pete Carril protege, coached at Dartmouth for a few years in the 1970s. He gave a coach's clinic for fans one evening and explained the Princeton offense. (He did not call it that, but we all knew.) The offense was no offense. He explained in humorous detail how he had been taught as a player to read other teams' offensive plays, telling at one point a player he was guarding that he was on the wrong side of the floor. His message was that any preplanned offense can be figured out by the defense. Carril's offensive system was to teach his players to be opportunistic. The "back door cut" was never a play. It was only an opportunity. People almost always miss this fact. I just watched (March 2010) a clip of the UCLA 1996 game, where they showed the last play, where Gabe Lewullis goes back door and wins the game. What the clip does not show is the real set up that occurred just before. Lewullis, guarded by the much better athlete O'Bannon, is on the right base line and cuts to the basket. O'Bannon easily covers him. Leweullis trots back to his original position. After he gets there, O'Bannon looks out at the guy with the ball as if to ask, what's the next play? As he looks away for a nanosecond, Lewullis cuts to the basket again, and lays it in. O'Bannon (and everyone else) was thinking that Princeton ran plays instead of just taking opportunities.
Walters, by the way, took a Dartmouth team that had managed to win only about five games the year before he came and won 16 games in his first year, despite having lost one of his best players, Jim Beattie, to the baseball draft. Carril's opportunistic influence still lives on in the Ivy League--which is why its teams sometimes upset nonleague opponents. Go Cornell!
Bill F.

11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's your win. CORNELL BIG RED BABY.

1:31 AM  

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