On Nov. 20, Princeton went to Lehigh and muddled its way through a mediocre performance, eventually getting nipped at the wire by a seemingly more motivated Lehigh team, 76-67. There were plenty of excuses to be had: the Tigers had just flown back from Utah and a season-opening loss to BYU, they had a poor shooting night, they were trying to figure some things out. Continue reading
Historians like to talk about the moments that changed the world, the ripple effect of small pieces of time and seemingly small twists of fate that eventually led to something much larger.
Sports are a microcosm of life, at least sometimes. So consider this: with 2:33 left in Saturday’s first Ivy League Tournament (ever) semifinal, a red-hot Ryan Betley lined up for an open three-pointer. At the time, he was 7-9 from the field, 2-3 from behind the arc, and the shot looked good from the time it left his hand.
Already leading 57-53 and with The Palestra crowd ready to explode, it might have been the fatal blow to the game and Princeton’s NCAA Tournament hopes, despite a 17-game win streak and a perfect 14-0 conference regular season record. It have turned the heat up on an already ready to boil debate about the merits of the Ivy Tournament and the now kinetic rather than potential inequities that lie within it.
Wide-eyed and full of smiles, the Brown women’s basketball team arrived at The Palestra with their phones in hand to take in everything about their experience at the inaugural Ivy League Tournament Friday.
The Ivy League tried to make their tournament a bit unique by setting up The Palestra for open practices (like the NCAA Tournament does) the day before the controversial proceedings begin tomorrow. As you’d expect, most of the attention has gone to the men’s side of the draw, mostly the 237th all-time meeting between Penn and Princeton Saturday afternoon, which should have a near full house for one of the most storied college basketball rivalries in America.
What can be wrong with that? Well, depends on your perspective. In any other year, undefeated (in Ivy play) Princeton would be sitting around waiting for Sunday night to see where (likely as a No. 12 or No. 13 seed) they would try to continue the Ivy’s run of NCAA Tournament upsets next week. Now, they face a sometimes dangerous Penn team on its home floor, and if they get past that, possibly an in-form Harvard team that the Tigers barely defeated twice this season.
I’m sorry to break this to you kids, but life isn’t fair, hard work doesn’t always mean success, and the best team doesn’t always win.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that Siena was not the best team Sunday night at the Times Union Center, it most certainly was, scoring 64 points in the second half to erase a 17-point deficit and beat top-seeded Monmouth, 89-85 at the Times Union Center.
Nico Clareth, who was so injured he couldn’t play 24 hours earlier and only managed three hobbling minutes in the first half, scored 27 points in the final 17 minutes of the game, hitting 7-9 from three and at one point making five straight in a three-minute span. Even when he was closely guarded, he hit a turnaround in the final minute to seal the victory, and his performance – rightfully so – will join the annals of MAAC lore long after he graduates.
All Bashir Mason could do was smile. What else was there to do?
Keith Braxton faked, got stuck, and self-admittedly threw the ball at the basket, and it subsquently made one revolution around the rim and dropped, giving Saint Francis University a 71-70 victory in the NEC semifinals Saturday afternoon. As the ball finally finished its circuituous journey to the bottom of the net, it simultaneously stunned the home crowd at the Spiro Center and set off wild celebrations among the Red Flash and their faithful, as it marks the first time since 1991 they will be in the NEC final, well before anyone in uniform Saturday was born.
“Welcome to March Madness,” Mason said. “What else can you say?”
You might be surprised to find out that no one truly knows who the Murphy actually is behind Murphy’s Law, and there are plenty of tenured Ivy League professors who would be happy to debunk it for you with evidenced-based research.
Now the karma police? That might be another story.
Regardless of what supernatural forces you think guide the universe, the optics of the race for the final spot of the inaugural Ivy League Tournament devolving into chaos are quite striking. Two decades after every other conference in America figured it would take the money and attention that a conference final on national television brings, the Ivy League finally comes kicking and screaming to the table next week at The Palestra in Philadelphia.
If you’re reading this, it’s extremely likely you are a member of the choir and have been singing with us for a few years (and we thank you), but it feels like this is a good time to appreciate what Monmouth has accomplished this season. The Hawks finished the 2016-17 regular season at 26-5, winning the last 16 of them, and capturing their second straight MAAC title, this one by four games over their nearest competitor, Saint Peter’s.
They finished six games ahead of third place Iona, who just happened to be their opponents Sunday in the season finale. The Hawks led for most of the second half and held on for a 79-73 win at the Hynes Center, the second straight year they’ve won there. While Manhattan recently won back-to-back MAAC Tournament titles, it was Iona who had won three of the last four conference regular season titles before Monmouth (can you name the other? Niagara).
The America East has a reputation for being soft at the bottom, and those are not alternative facts or fake news, the bottom three teams that will compete in next week’s conference tournament are 331, 313, and 334 in KenPom, respectively.
The facts also say, however, it was worse last season when the final four seeds in the America East Tournament were 325, 323, 336, and 334. No. 334 and dead last at 3-13 was UMBC, which wasn’t a shock to anyone following the league, the last time they had been above 310 was 2007-08 (a glorious season which saw them 13-3 and in the NCAA Tournament).
This year didn’t portend to be a whole lot better under first-year coach Ryan Odom (who came from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne), but here we were on Saturday afternoon with the Retrievers playing in an actual big game, at 9-6 in America East (and 18-10 overall), proving – at least temporarily – that it was possible to climb out of the depths of the league and make things much more interesting at the top.
Yale seemed to finally have it figured out Friday night, climbing out of an early deficit to grab a three-point halftime lead that probably could have been bigger if not for some poor shot selection and turnovers toward the end. Most importantly, it held host Harvard to 0.84 points per possession, showing some of the defense that led them to the Ivy League title last season.
Alas, the second half was still to come, and streaking Harvard sent them back into the skid they came from, shooting 18-27 from the field (74.1 eFG%) and scoring 1.28 ppp en route to a fairly easy 77-64 win in front of a sellout crowd at Lavietes Pavilion.
There was no college basketball 2,300 years ago (as far as you know), but there were talented coaches, eh, commanders like Pyrrhus of Epicus, who figured taking down this new upstart power in Italy called Rome would be difficult, but certainly not impossible.
In the end, he did push the Romans back with victory in a couple of battles, but they were bloody, costly fights that left his army somewhat demoralized both physically and mentally. Pyrrhus then cemented his legacy with one of the most repeated quotes of all-time: “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”