HomeNewswirePRINCETON: Tigers draw Notre Dame for NCAA opener

PRINCETON: Tigers draw Notre Dame for NCAA opener

By Rich Fisher, Special Writer
No matter what March Madness prediction show you watch, every pundit reminds us all of one important detail., The 12th seed in the NCAA Tournament is the most dangerous upset pick out there. It’s like the rabbit’s foot/horseshoe/leprechaun of underdog seeds., On the website, oddsshark.com, they write “For college basketball bettors, it is not whether you are going to pick an upset involving a No. 12 seed every year, but how many are you picking.”, Even if you’re not a bettor getting points — if you’re just picking the winner straight up on your NCAA “For Entertainment Purposes Only” pool – No. 12 looks good. In the past five years, 12th-seeds are 10-10 vs 5th seeds in the first round. At least one 12 seed has won a first-round game in 27 of the past 31 tournaments, dating back to 1986., Last March, two 12s won in the first round, including Yale., Yes, Ivy League Yale., Which brings us to the good news for Princeton fans., The team that’s legendary for frightening the big guys in NCAA play, has finally gotten the seed that nearly guarantees a giant be slayed., When the West Region bracket was unveiled on Sunday, there was Princeton (23-6), fresh off its historic Ivy League Tournament title, being seeded No. 12 and taking on No. 5 Notre Dame (25-9) in Buffalo at 12:15 p.m. Thursday., While that may be a good omen, Tigers coach Mitch Henderson doesn’t feel the Tigers need a good luck seed to make a run in the tournament. He thinks they can do it thanks to talent and their system(s)., “It can be done in a second,” Henderson said. “What they have is what I think is useful in tournament play – we make adjustments. We don’t play one specific way that they can figure out. I think that is useful in tournament games when circumstances take you one way and you have got to figure it out.”, Princeton takes a 19-game winning streak into the contest while the Irish are coming off a grueling, 75-69 loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament championship game. ND is definitely tournament tough, as it’s the lone team in the nation to reach the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons., The Irish average 78 points per game and have Bonzie Colson (17.5 ppg), VJ Beachem (15.0), Matt Farrell (14.2) and Steve Vasturia (13.3) all averaging double figures. Princeton also has four in double figures in Devin Cannady (13.7), Steven Cook (13.7), Myles Stephens (12.6) and Spencer Weisz (10.4). Although those aren’t as high as the Irish’s top four, the Tigers are averaging 71 per game., Don’t look for any recent trends between the two teams, as they have only played three times (ND winning two), with the last meeting coming in 1977., “We don’t know a whole lot about them,” Henderson said. “Steve Vasturia is a senior; he is a local kid (from Medford) that we recruited. He is a terrific player. They have Matt Farrell. In some ways, it is a similar looking team (to us). They are smart, they play together, they take care of the ball well. It will be a real challenge but we will get to work (Sunday night) and be ready to go.”, “They are an incredible team,” said Weisz, the Ivy League Player of the Year. “We will watch a lot of video on them over the next few days. We are just looking to stick to our principles, stick to what has got us here. We are excited for the game.”, A difference maker could be on defense as the Tigers are 10th in the nation, allowing 61.5 per game, while the Irish yield over 69 per contest. Then again, ND plays Duke, North Carolina and, well, you know the list, while Princeton plays Brown, Columbia, etc., Of course, that doesn’t always matter during this magical time of year. Even going to Buffalo is a treat, according to Weisz., “As long as we are dancing, it doesn’t matter to me,” the senior said. “It is a dream come true. You always dream about this as a kid. To have it cut short last year by a game and a few possessions, tears your heart out. It is so much sweeter this year, doing it in the fashion that we did.”, Ah, and what a fashion it was., On Saturday, it looked like Princeton would reach the history books for the wrong reason – being the first team to go undefeated in the Ivy League regular season and not make the tournament. But after rallying from 10 down to tie Penn in the waning seconds, the Tigers dominated overtime for a 72-64 victory at the Palestra in a game being ranked right up there with one of the best in the hallowed rivalry. Princeton never led in regulation and never trailed in OT., “I didn’t know how we were going to get on top of the game,” Henderson said. “We were behind in so many different ways. Not just in the score, but physically and mentally, they were putting a beating on us and I think we got it tied and then they went up four. They missed a three and Devin got a chance to make a couple of free throws. I thought that was a huge turning point, it gave us a chance, “We have always been able to capitalize on small chances. This group wins close games. It is a very tough bunch.”, It was another uneven start against Yale in Sunday’s title game, but the Tigers got it together more quickly and rolled to a 71-59 victory that started the celebration all the way back up Interstate 95., “We got punched in the mouth a few times early,” Weisz said. “We didn’t come out as strong as we would have liked to. Yale is a great team. We settled down in the second half and got some good shots offensively. Our defense is what carried us all year and we really stuck to that today.”, Outstanding defense has long been a Princeton staple – every bit as much of the formula as backdoor lay-ups and 3-point jumpers. And when a team is good defensively, that usually means it has tough, scrappy players., The Tigers are no exception., “There is a toughness, a can-do attitude,” Henderson said. “That starts with Steve Cook, Spencer Weisz, Pete Miller; and it goes through the seniors and it personifies itself in the play of our sophomores. Myles Stephens really put us on his back all weekend. He is a difficult matchup for people.”, And if Stephens isn’t doing it, someone else is., “Everyone is willing to do whatever it takes to win,” Weisz said. “If guys get hurt or roles change, everyone is always in it to win at all costs. Everyone is encouraging everyone all the time. We really want what’s best for one another.”, And looking back on March Madness history, being seeded 12th could be what’s best for the Tigers., Will Nedla contributed to this story.

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