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What's third?

This question has come up several times over the last 10 days, and I don't have a great answer.

If Gabe Lewullis' 1996 NCAA Tournament layup versus defending champion UCLA is the biggest basket in the shot clock/three point shot/modern era of Princeton basketball (even though if Lewullis misses the game is almost certainly going to overtime) and Douglas Davis' jumper at the buzzer versus Harvard to win the 2011 Ivy League playoff is a close second, what's third?

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Lavietes Pavilion: Where anything could happen, will happen and probably already has happened.

Over the past decade, Princeton's annual trips to Harvard have resulted in some of the wackiest basketball games you could design. Buzzer beaters. Titanic shifts in momentum. Improbable comebacks where each and every lead is painfully insecure until time runs out.

The stands on both sides of Lavietes Pavilion - thanks very much in part to the work of Bob Ruxin '76 and PANE - are almost always a crowded, spirited combination of Crimson and Tiger supporters. It doesn't matter how successful or how struggling either program is - This little gym is heavy on atmosphere and high on drama.

Saturday's game between Harvard and Princeton, regardless of how the former does versus Penn at home or how the latter performs against Dartmouth in Hanover on Friday night, will occur with the Ivy League's NCAA tournament participant yet to be decided.

I've been planning a chronological game-by-game review of the Tigers' last 10 trips to Allston since the fall and after the jump you'll find detailed write-ups on each (seven of which have not been published previously on the site) plus exclusive video of a pair of Princeton game-winners.

If you enjoy this 11,000+ word behemoth, you're bound to appreciate similar retrospectives on Princeton's last 11 season openers, a decade of dismay against Rutgers and the team's past four meetings with Duke.

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Georgetown/Villanova pictures.

Photos from yesterday's game courtesy Stephen Goldsmith.

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Georgetown/Seton Hall pictures.

Photos from today's game courtesy Stephen Goldsmith.

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Georgetown/Rutgers pictures.

Photos from today's game courtesy Stephen Goldsmith.

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Georgetown/Temple pictures.

Photos from today's game courtesy of Stephen Goldsmith.

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The last four games against Duke.

Because the historical pieces Eleven years of season openers and Rutgers in the 2000s were both so well-received, here's a lengthy look at Princeton's last four games against Duke.

All but the 2007 meeting took place in Durham at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Tigers have an 1-17 all-time record against the Blue Devils, 0-9 on the road and 0-6 at neutral sites.

Two stats to gag on before Sunday's tipoff: Princeton is a horrid 17.2% from three point range in their last three games at Cameron (10-58) and a hideous 3-35 from behind the arc in their last two visits (8.6%).

Enjoy these archived recaps while Stephen Goldsmith and I drive south to North Carolina.

November 14, 2000 - Duke 87 Princeton 50 - Preseason NIT

This was John Thompson III's first game as head coach. The Tigers hung with second-ranked Duke for half a half, trailing 25-20, but the Blue Devils closed on a 21-3 run as Princeton committed 14 turnovers. Shane Battier hit nine of 12 three point shots and the rout was on. Mike Bechtold's 12 points paced Princeton. Here's what I wrote at the time:

Our seats were three rows behind the Tiger bench, surrounded by Duke students. Our seats had the word "guests" etched into the wood, and the row behind us had the word "buffer" etched into each bleacher seat, with stadium security asking students not to sit in these seats.

Princeton was warming up while we found our seats. Nate Walton was in uniform and moving fairly well for a guy last seen on crutches. It was only after Princeton had been taking layups for a few minutes that I noticed Chris Krug was missing. At halftime, when I called my dad looking for news on Krug, I learned Chris had missed the trip down with a virus.

Princeton started Walton at Center. C.J. Chapman and Ed Persia at Guard and Eugene Baah & Mike Bechtold at Forward. Persia picked up two fouls in the first two minutes and was replaced by Kyle Wente. The first thirteen minutes of the game were impressive. Princeton was well composed, found good shots and worked well against the press. Walton missed two backdoor layups, but the Tigers were moving without the ball, cutting hard and doing little things right. Princeton was down 25-20 with 7:37 in the first half. Thompson made some good decisions, including a length of the court "home run" pass to Kyle Wente off of an inbound pass that lead to an easy layup. El-Nokali, in street clothes, was acting as another assistant coach, advising C.J. during timeouts.

Duke turned up their defense, and Princeton made some poor passes which led to easy Duke baskets. Duke outscored Princeton 21-3 to finish the half and it was 46-23 at the break. Terence Rozier-Byrd played center with Walton moving to forward to finish the first half. Princeton shot 9-16 (56.3%) in the first half but turned the ball over 14 times. Duke shot 57%.

To start the second half, Duke hit five straight [!] three pointers. Walton came out to rest his ankle and Thompson went with five guards for a stretch, with Wente and Persia in at the same time. Logan, Wysocki and Hegseth all saw time in the second half. The final score may indicate "blowout" but Princeton kept fighting and played forty hard minutes. For a team playing the cards they have left in the deck, they do some nice things and I think this team can only get better.

Additional observations:

-Ed Persia has a good deal of Mitch Henderson in him. Threw his body all over the court hustling. Played tough and emotional but not out- of-control.

-Either everyone has gotten shorter or Mike Bechtold has grown an inch or two in the last year. Bechtold had a few nice blocked shots and I thought he played the best defense of any Tiger tonight.

-Name a better college player than Shane Battier. Wow.

-Duke has so many assistant coaches in suits they look like a legal defense team when they walk into the gym.

-Heard JTIII on Duke radio while leaving the parking lot. Thompson talked about how Princeton was a better team than they showed tonight and how they have to get better. I know I look forward to the Monmouth game and how the team can develop in the next eleven days.

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Rutgers in the 2000s: A Decade of Dismay.

When Mason Rocca battered his way to 28 points inside and grabbed a team-best 13 rebounds, leading Princeton to a 66-60 overtime victory against Rutgers in December of 1999, the Tigers had a 71-34 all-time advantage over the Scarlet Knights through 105 meetings.

Since that afternoon however, Princeton has lost 10 out of 11 and the last five straight to Rutgers, many in agonizing fashion.

It is understatement to say the 2000s were not a good decade for the Tigers in this inter-state matchup that dates back to 1917, a trend Princeton hopes to reverse in the 2010-11 season opener on November 12th at Jadwin Gym.

Join me now as we look back at the two teams' past 11 meetings. It won't be pretty, but it should put next week's game in a greater context.

Many of these pieces originally appeared on the listserv that predated this web site.

December 14, 2000 - Rutgers 46 Princeton 44 - Jadwin Gym

This was John Thompson III's second home game as Princeton's head coach, coming five days after the Tigers surprised a Xavier squad that would be ranked in the Top 25 later that season. It was also the first game I covered as a member of the media. Here's what I wrote at the time:

Another late arriving crowd for this year's installment of Rutgers/Princeton. Student section certainly larger than the Xavier game. Students were given orange t-shirts with a giant letter "P" on them celebrating 100 years of Princeton basketball. Looked good to see a solid orange block of fans standing for much of the game.

Ed Persia has taken some bleach to his head since the Xavier game. He now has a small blonde tuft on his head. Eugene Baah has untied his cornrows and they are now short dreadlocks. But enough with the haircut report. On to the game...

Rutgers came out playing man-to-man defense. Princeton responded with a full-court-press. Princeton went up 8-2 on a strong drive Eugene Baah and three pointers by Mike Bechtold and C.J. Chapman. Rutgers was able to get far too many second and third chances with offensive rebounds in the first ten minutes of the game. Not all of these offensive rebounds were the result of men out of position. Some of these rebounds were the result of unlucky bounces or batted balls. Princeton's rebounding was much better in the second part of the first half and Rutgers' rebounding advantage was just five [16-11] at the half.

Princeton held on to the ball well in the first half, only turning it over three times. Good way to tell your team in executing: You can cite all the the turnovers they made in under thirty seconds without thinking twice. Princeton led at the half 25-18. No player on Princeton had more than five points at halftime. Ed Persia's quick hands led to two Tiger steals, and that deserves to be noted. Rutgers went zone against Princeton for a stretch in the first half, but it did not prove very effective.

Halftime. The Trenton High School marching band/drum corps were pretty great, but wouldn't leave the court, even when asked/told to do so by the public address announcer. This held up both team's warmups and Coach Thompson had to make "shoo!" motions to the drummers as the slowly plodded off the court once they were finished. Reminded me of far too many bands I used to book who would try and play longer than the club had slotted them for...

The first three minutes of the second half were, in my opinion, the most important sequence of this game. Princeton held Rutgers scoreless for the first 3:50 of the second half, but was only able to extend their lead to 27-18 on a Persia jumper off a well-sold pump-fake. Rutgers extended their defense and started to drive to the basket. The Scarlet Knights also did a good job taking away the Princeton perimeter game.

Rutgers came back and tied the game at 34-34 with 8:21 left and the game was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way. Andre Logan scored to put Princeton up two off an assist by Nate Walton. Todd Billet tied the game with two free throws. Logan scored on another layup off a pass from Walton. Rashod Kent scored to tie the game at 38 with 4:45 left. Ahmed El-Nokali scored on a layup off a third Walton assist to put Princeton up 40-38. Rutgers hit one of two free throws.Walton missed a three pointer and Rutgers took the lead, 41-40 on a tough basket by Mike Sherrod. Princeton took the lead back on two Logan free throws. Greer fed Kent for a dunk to put Rutgers up 43-42. El-Nokali's runner in the lane was blocked with 1:33 left. Rutgers ball.

Nate Walton fouled Kent, "hack-a-Shaq" style, when Kent got the ball down low. Kent missed the front end of his one-and-one and the Tigers had the ball with 1:20 left. Chapman threw the ball away looking for Nate Walton down low with 0:59 left. Jeff Greer scored after a tough jump-stop in the paint to put Rutgers up three, 45-42. Timeout Princeton. With 0:11 left, Andre Logan missed a three pointer, but Walton got the rebound and scored. El-Nokali fouled Jeff Greer with 0:04 on the clock. Greer missed his first free throw but made the second. Timeout Princeton.

Walton inbounded the ball under the Tigers' basket and fed a streaking Ed Persia who dribbled upcourt, spun towards the basket and fired an off-balance but open three pointer that hit the backboard too strong and Rutgers had a close two point victory, 46-44.

Rutgers continued the recent trend in this series, as the road team has now won four straight.

Logan was a spark off the bench for the second straight game, with some great blocks, good cuts to the basket and nice positioning to keep the ball in play off of Tiger misses. The jump shots will come in time.

El-Nokali hit several driving layups in the game but his final shot, which was blocked with less than two minutes left and Princeton down one, was ill-advised. El-Nokali got cut on his left wrist late in the second half and had to come out to be taped up. I imagine Ahmed got some blood on his jersey, as he had to switch both his jersey *and* his shorts, returning to the game not as #15 but as #31.

C.J. Chapman had another good defensive game, but he and Mike Bechtold disappeared offensively for stretches. One positive to take out of this game is that Princeton nearly won the game despite sub-par offensive games from Chapman and Bechtold.

Nate Walton passed the ball as well as usual and stayed out of foul trouble matched up against larger players all evening. Can't say enough about Nate's effort and heart this year. Nate Walton's father, who I hear was a basketball player of some import, was at the game, signing autographs.

Not much else to say. Sort of what you would expect from Rutgers/Princeton, especially with the players each team have this season. Reminded me of tight games these teams played in the 1980s. Close without many mistakes. Like Princeton's response to their effort against Lafayette, a win over Xavier, I expect Princeton to come out and play very well against TCU.

Princeton would lose by 31 at Texas Christian. Whoops.

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Eleven years of season openers.

Above, the Jadwin Jungle waits for the opening tip of the 2005-06 season.

This post was originally penned on November 7, 2009 as "A Decade of Season Openers." I've added last season's game against Central Michigan and revamped these essays for the upcoming season.

Many of these pieces come from the listserv that predated this web site.

Read on for the stories of the past 11 Tiger tipoffs in sequential order...

November 12, 1999 - Syracuse 60 Princeton 43 - NABC Classic

Sophomore center Chris Young led three Princeton players in double figures, but the Tigers fell in an early 17 point hole at Syracuse and never closed within single digits. Here's what I wrote at the time:

Went to the usual sports bar to watch the game and was there 30 minutes before the dish guy told me the game was "blacked out" on their system [even though I called to confirm earlier in the day]. Jumped in the car and drove frantic across Chicago to another sports bar who had been phoned by the first sports bar to make sure they had the game. Listened to the five of the first seven minutes on WHWH over the car phone [thanks, dad!]. It was 5-2 Syracuse when I got in the car. What started as "first game of the season jitters" steamrolled into a 34-11 Syracuse halftime lead. For the record, I made it into the second sports bar at 23-6. Oy.

When I closed my eyes at the half, my nightmares were filled with an endless series of filled passing lanes and defenders with arms spread wide. Syracuse had played very good defense, Princeton had made some forced choices and missed any type of shot they had. It was not looking good. Then, as the second half started, you could see a bit of fire in this year's model of the Princeton Tigers.

Players cut harder.

Passes were smarter.

Defense was tighter.

By the middle of the second half, I was wondering how this game would have gone had Mason Rocca not had to sit out [with what I assume is a groin problem, even though I did not see him on the bench]. Sure, Etan Thomas missed the game for Syracuse as well, but I never thought any sort of "what ifs"would be close to crossing my mind at halftime. The Tigers dug a "Penn game hole" but could not climb all the way out of it.

This is what young teams do. They grow up. They make mistakes. Then they hit shots. They cut Syracuse leads to 49-36 with 6:15 left and don't get any closer, even with some good chances to do so. They throw the ball away and give up easy second chances at the other end. I think this team will grow up at a rate that pleases many. Sure, they will lose a good number of games, but by the time Ivy season rolls around, the schedule will have been worth it. I have been known to take a loss pretty hard in my day, but I feel better than I expected about a seventeen point opening night loss.

Watching Chris Young, who is now HUGE [esp. in his torso], be the stable force in the middle, kicking the ball out to players that will learn what to do with it in time, made me feel good about this coming season. Hell, Lafayette blew Princeton out to start last year, and if this season could mimic that one I'd be more than happy.

Some other thoughts:

Decent touch-passes on occasion from Young [drawing the double team] to Walton, including one pass that lead to a lay-up I'm pretty sure was goaltending. Nice play to create points working off of the attention Young draws. Young also hit two DEEP three-pointers. As predicted, it will take some outside shots and some hard cuts from the guards to keep Young from being double/triple teamed. By the time Princeton hit several three-pointers it was just too late.

Baah provided decent spark and a quick step to the basket, even if he still did look out-of-control from time to time. He caused several second chances and hit some nice shots however. Like the cornrows.

Chapman showed decent touch and great range. I hope his "practice shot" is back.

Tiger court spacing needs some work.

As does the speed in which they swing their passes around the arc.

Princeton will play Missouri @ 7:00 pm EST on Saturday night in Syracuse, NY.

I'll be back at this new sportsbar watching progress happen quickly.

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Princeton Tigers on Twitter?

While Princetonians haven't taken to Twitter with the same zeal of their conference rivals at Cornell and Harvard or the constantly-posting Hoyas of Georgetown, there are still a decent number of former, current and future Tigers using this popular real time micro-blogging service.

I've assembled a comprehensive list of orange and black Twitter users after the jump. If you know of anyone I'm missing, please let me know and I'll add them to the list ASAP. Many of these accounts are inactive or rarely used, but click away.

While you're networking socially you can always follow this site on the Twitter.

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Scott Greenman joins Georgetown staff.

I don't know why it still hasn't been publicly announced by the school (most of you should have been able to figure it out by now), but I've been waiting since early August to tell you that Scott Greenman is currently working on the Georgetown basketball staff as the team's Video Coordinator.

This position was recently held by Martin Bahar, who departed the Hoyas to become Princeton's Director of Basketball Operations in August of last year.

Sunday News:

Princeton sophomore-to-be Jimmy Sherburne had a big game on Friday for Robert W. Baird in the Milwaukee Summer Pro-Am. Playing alongside Marquette's Dwight Buycks and Wisconsin's Morris Cain, Sherburne is averaging 19.7 ppg through seven games. The Pro-Am's playoffs are today at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee.

It has been nearly six weeks since he left the Tigers' coaching staff. Want to know where Scott Greenman is going to be hired? The answer appears clear if you follow this link.

The Liberty High School Basketball blog interviews Denton Koon about his decision to commit to Princeton. KC Prep Hoops adds more on this story. We'll have exclusive interviews with Koon's coaches on this site later this week.

Speaking of Kansas City, that's where Georgetown will face Missouri on November 30th.

Will Venable hit his 10th home run of the season (video) for San Diego in a 2-1 loss to Arizona on Friday night.

Chris Young threw a bullpen session of 30 pitches yesterday without incident.

Canadian Business magazine interviews Craig Robinson.

Bishop John Barres reflects on his first year as the fourth leader of the Catholic Diocese of Allentown.

The NCAA has launched a new web site where you can analyze Academic Progress Rate data by head coach. Compare and contrast how all the D-I members of the "Carril Cradle" are doing.

With little fanfare, Dartmouth released their 2010-11 men's basketball schedule.

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