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For some reason, there seems to be a consensus around campus that this year's edition of the Quakers cannot be stopped. Unfortunately, a small group of dissenters have a different opinion. They call themselves the Princeton Tigers. In fact, there seems to be widespread support for that group from Old Nassau. The people who vote in the ESPN/USA Today and Associate Press polls ranked Princeton 33rd and 37th, respectively, while the 'invincible' Quakers did not receive a single vote. So the voters have not yet conceded the title to Penn. But they have not put that much faith in the Tigers either. That's because this race is going to go down to the final day of the season, a March 2 meeting between the two squads at Jadwin Gym. The Ivy League preseason media poll -- by folks who know what Ivy League basketball is supposed to taste like -- was a lot closer, as Princeton received nine first-place votes to Penn's seven. Both schools were also picked in their fair share of magazines and newspapers. "Unfortunately with our league, people need to know that many of the selections are made with less known about the Ivies than a conference like the Atlantic 10, for example," Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. So the media may not be the best place to look for informed opinions. Unfortunately, Penn students might not be the best sources either. Yes, the Quakers will have center Geoff Owens returning from injury, in addition to three of last year's top ten Ivy League scorers back in Michael Jordan, Paul Romanczuk and Matt Langel. Graduation also cost Princeton Ivy League Player of the Year Steve Goodrich, Second Team All-Ivy Mitch Henderson and Honorable Mention recipient James Mastaglio. There is no doubt Penn will be a better team this year and Princeton will be weaker. But this race is far from over. "I think we have a legitimate chance to be champs in the Ivies," Dunphy said. "But [a runaway] certainly wouldn't be my opinion." Princeton will have seniors Gabe Lewullis and Brian Earl, who were first team and second team All-Ivy selections, respectively. They also benefit from the experience of last year's 27-2 season that included multiple wins over ranked opponents, an undefeated Ivy League schedule, a close loss to North Carolina and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. "This year should be a little more wide-open," Princeton coach Bill Carmody told Princeton sports information. "We've lost some of the top guys we've had, and we have a lot more questions entering the preseason than we've had the last two years." Goodrich's departure has led to numerous questions about whether the Tigers will be able to replace him at center. He will most likely be replaced by a freshman named Chris -- either Chris Krug or Chris Young. But the questions about replacing Goodrich were being asked a year ago after the graduation of 1996-97 Ivy League Player of the Year Sydney Johnson. The Tigers dealt with his loss quite well, going undefeated in the Ivies. Why the continued success? It's gotta' be the system. Although Earl and Lewullis are the only returning Tigers who made significant contributions last season, the value of other players' practice experience cannot be discounted. These relatively unknown players may not have played in the big games, but they definitely understand Princeton's system. That system is the real reason Princeton can never be counted out. While Penn probably has the more talented team this season, the Tigers' system keeps them playing above their heads. After all, the UCLA Bruins clearly had better players in 1996 when Princeton beat the defending national champions in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Neither Penn nor Princeton should have much trouble against the other six Ivy League teams, and they are both capable of going 12-0 against the rest of the conference. Which team presents a greater challenge according to the opposition? "They both do," Sullivan said. "We haven't had success against either team as long as I've been here." It is pretty clear that no one will finish ahead of Penn and Princeton in the Ivies. It is also evident that Penn will have better, more experienced players, and Princeton will miss its graduates. But there is no reason to give the title to Penn this early in the season. While devoted Quakers fans are dying for a title, the reasoning that "we're due" only really works in theory. After all, Communism works in theory and look how that turned out. Another positive for hopeful Penn fans stems from the fact that only three of Princeton's current players actually learned the Tigers' system from Pete Carril himself. Despite Carmody's 51-6 record over two seasons, he has not yet proven his ability to teach the system to new players. None of the six players who started for Carmody the past two years actually learned the system from him. It is very possible that kinks in the armor will begin to emerge as three of this year's starters will have learned the system from Carmody. But even if Carmody proves competent and successful, Penn still has a very good shot at heading to the NCAA tournament It just might be a little premature to start making travel plans.

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