Guru's College Report: Princeton Becoming Ivy's Dynasty Darlings
By Mel Greenberg
PRINCETON, N.J. – The sparking apple cider is on ice and the scissors are sharpened and in shape if needed Saturday night to cut down a pair of nets from the hoops on the court of Princeton’s Jadwin Gym.
The Tigers are hours away from a third straight outright Ivy women’s basketball trophy, which would be claimed with a victory over Dartmouth in the 6 p.m. start on a night in which the seniors will be saluted and the annual themed Princeton Plays Pink supporting breast cancer awareness will also occur.
A win by Courtney Banghart’s team will also begin the occupancy of the first of 64 vacant berths for this season’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament, which begins next month.
The Ivy League is the only one of 31 conferences that does not have a postseason tournament for the NCAA automatic bid and when a team dominants the competition the way Princeton has the last several seasons it usually becomes the first to get through the ballroom door leading to the Big Dance.
Many observers across the country who chronicle the sport have believed this particular Tigers edition is good enough to earn an at-large bid – unheard of in Ivy history – if in fact there would be a slip.
Princeton has been running among the high also-rans in the weekly Associated Press women’s poll and is ranked fourth in the Collgeinsider.com mid-major top 25 behind Delaware, Wisconsin-Green Bay and NCAA rookie member Florida Gulf Coast.
An aside: The Tigers’ RPI on the most recent official NCAA data is 28 with a strength-of-schedule ranked 80th compared to Fla. Gulf Coast’s 66 on an SOS of 287.
But it is the Ivy League, where many a strong team RPI ranking has been sunk once the round of 14 games begins no matter how well the school performed in November and December, relying on NCAA committee members for some rescue work is a bit risky.
Besides, since Banghart is a former star at Dartmouth she knows quite well that the way to an Ivy trophy for the eight league members is the safest and best way to avoid disappointment and shock when the NCAA selection field is announced on Monday night following the completion of conference play the previous day.
And while Banghart’s vision is focused on a bigger universe than the usual one-and-done Ivy history in the NCAAs, that has one exception, she has had the Tigers paying attention to detail since opening league play last month at Penn in Philadelphia.
They’ve even overcome a three-week rust-causing hiatus in January mandated during final exams.
But Princeton has been humming again.
In fact, in light of the 74-44 wipeout of Harvard here Friday night and some unexpected help from cellar-dweller Columbia against visiting Yale, Banghart’s plans to have some sort of celebration for the fan base Saturday night before the prime business is officially completed have been altered for the better.
The idea was that the odds were great in favor of Princeton (20-4, 10-0 Ivy) completing the weekend Saturday night with a piece of the title in hand but the outright claim wouldn’t occur until next weekend’s jaunt to Yale and Brown away from home.
But things have occurred ahead of schedule meaning that if Banghart and her staff were smart they may consider dressing down for Dartmouth in the event her Tigers may be rambunctious enough to douse the crew with anything that passes for a bucket of Gatorade in Jadwin Gym.
In Friday’s win, Princeton delivered one of the more lopsided routs in the history of the series with the Crimson (13-11, 6-4), providing music to the ears of the crowd in the wake of a non-appearance of the Tigers’ band.
“It just feels good to win by 30 at home – it’s pretty cool,” Banghart said. “And no Ivy class has ever graduated with two undefeated records and our seniors and juniors would do it if we finish undefeated, so that’s pretty special.
“We’re 22 hours away from cutting the nets so let’s hope.”
But a few minutes later the word came of Yale’s 56-52 loss at Columbia (3-21, 1-9) putting both Harvard and the Bulldogs (15-10, 10-4) in a situation where either can only tie and force a playoff if Princeton were to lose Saturday night here, next weekend at Yale and Brown, and then here in the season finale against Penn.
The two most likely though will be battling to finish second behind Princeton and earn and automatic bid to the 64-team Women’s National Invitaton Tournament (WNIT).
In Columbia’s win, snapping an 11-game losing streak, Tyler Simpson scored 20 points, while Courtney Bradford had a career-high18 rebounds.
A Princeton outright three-peat would join the Harvard run of 1996-98, which included one 14-0 season and the famous 1998 16th-seed upset of 1-seed and host Stanford for the only Ivy win in NCAA history.
Brown also three-peated in 1992-94, though 93-94 was the first year Ivy winners got NCAA automatic bids and the Bears tied for the 1994 crown with Dartmouth and then beat the Big Green in a playoff.
Princeton, which won its 13th straight Friday night since a December loss at Stanford, which has been in the Top Five, is now 37-1 the last three Ivy seasons.
In the game here, the Tigers forced 17 of Harvard’s 24 turnovers in the first half on the way to a 32-15 lead at the break after the Crimson had made a bit of a rally following Princeton’s 9-0 opening burst.
Junior Niveen Rasheed, one of three Tigers to hit the 1,000 career total this season, had 16 points, eight rebounds, six steals and a block and will probably be drawing attention from WNBA coaches next season when she is a senior.
Lauren Edwards had a game-high 17 points for the winners, while Devona Allgood had 11 points.
No one scored in double figures for Harvard, whose Kathy Delaney-Smith will be on the sidelines for the 800th time as a head coach Saturday night when the Crimson visits Penn.
Brogan Berry had eight points for Harvard.
Princeton outscored the Crimson 42-18 in the paint and overwhelmed them on points off turnovers 35-11, including 14-0 in fast break points.
The Tigers’ four-game lead is just behind the five-game lead finishes of Penn (2000-01), and twice by Harvard (2001-02) (2002-03) and matches the four-game final margins in league races achieved three times by Harvard (1995-96) (1996-97) (2006-07) all since Ivy winners began earning NCAA automatic qualifiers in 1993-94. The 1989-90 Dartmouth champs also finished with a four-game lead.
The Friday-Saturday back-to-back Ivy slate similar to the traditional men’s competition began with the addition of Columbia as a member in 1986-87.
Even if Princeton is officially in the NCAA field by Saturday night, the Tigers will look at a strong finish to earn a special place in Ivy history and prepare to face NCAA competition more like what they saw prior to the league schedule playing nationally-ranked Delaware, DePaul and Stanford, which resulted in losses.
They also suffered one upset – a loss at Navy, the defending Patriot League champions.
“Each game we don’t treat as another game but as a practice so we don’t get into any (bad) habits – doing something you may get away with in the Ivy League but once the tournament comes around these habits end up hurting you,” Rasheed said.
“So we need to stay focused and treat each game like it’s a big game and get better each game.”
If Princeton wraps up the trophy Saturday night the Guru, who will actually be at Penn for the Quakers’ senior night at the Palestra, will offer in the next post what makes this unit perhaps the greatest Ivy contingent of all time when it comes to comparing some great Ivy squads of the past.
Penn Blasts Dartmouth
For the second straight game Penn kept pre-halftime momentum going after the break, this time using a 20-2 run to beat Dartmouth, 63-49, Friday night at The Palestra.
The last time out a week ago Saturday, the Quakers (11-13, 4-6 Iv), who have equaled last season’s overall win total, did likewise with a 21-2 suppression at Columbis.
Penn’s Alyssa Baron had 20 points and nine rebounds against Dartmouth (4-20, 2-8), while freshman Kara Bonenberger had six blocks, one short of the school record, and senior Jess Knapp, playing on an ACL, had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Milica Tovic had 17 points for Dartmouth, while Sasha Dosenko had 11 points and Tia Dawson had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
It was the Quakers’ third straight win over the Big Green and now they will try Saturday night to wipe away some recent frustrations in narrow losses to Harvard, which will be arriving off Friday night’s lopsided loss at Princeton.
Penn on Saturday night will honor seniors Jess Knapp and Jourdan Banks.
Some bench players for the Quakers saw quality time in Meghan McCullough, who had seven points, while Renee Busch scored eight.
Bonenberger had six points as a starter as did Jackie Kates.
Duke and Maryland Prevail in ACC Race
No. 6 Maryland continued to add to North Carolina’s misery, beating the Tar Heels 84-64 at home in College Park in an Atlantic Coast Conference game while in another key league contest No. 7 Duke at home in Durham, N.C., brought down No. 5 Miami, 74-64 to keep the Blue Devils (23-4, 14-1 ACC) one game ahead of the Hurricanes (24-4, 13-2).
The Duke win gave the Blue Devils the top seed for next week’s conference tournament while Miami will be the second seed for the second straight year.
Maryland (11-4, 24-4) got 20 points and 14 points from Alyssa Thomas while Chay Shegog scored 24 for the Tar Heels (19-9, 9-6), who host Duke Sunday.
“This is how you want to finish,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “ You want to be peaking come March, and this is where this team is at.”
In the Duke game, freshman Elizabeth Williams scored 19 points for the Blue Devils while Chelsea Gray and Haley Peters each scored 12 points.
Shenise Johnson had 18 points for Miami and Riquna Williams scored 17.
In another ACC game, Virginia rallied to beat Wake Forest 61-55.
Elsewhere, top-ranked Baylor remained unbeaten, beating Kansas 76-45 to go 29-0.
Locally, Temple will try to finish with the second best record outright with just one conference loss for the second straight year when the Owls visit La Salle at 1 p.m. in an Atlantic 10 game that will also decided if Temple is the outright Big 5 runners up or whether the Owls, Explorers and St. Joseph’s share second.
Villanova, which won the Big Five outright last month with a 4-0 sweep, will visit No. 20 St. John’s looking to create a late stir in the Big East.
Elsewhere in the Big East, No. 3 Notre Dame will host South Florida, No. 4 Connecticut will be at Marquette, No. 15 Georgetown will be at Syracuse, No. 16 Louisville will host No. 21 DePaul, and No. 24 Rutgers will visit Providence.
No. 15 Georgetown is at Syracuse while in a battle between the only two winless teams in Big East play, Seton Hall will visit Pittsburgh.
In the Atlantic 10, No. 19 St. Bonaventure will try to finish unbeaten in the conference – the Bonnies have the top seed for next week’s tournament – when the Bonnies visit Rhode Island.
Dayton, trying to tie Temple for second – the two were co-favorites in the preseason coaches’ poll – will visit Duquesne.
The Guru will return after the next sunrise unless the news forces things earlier.