And after the Quakers' calamitous collapse last February at the Palestra, I'm not even sure the laws of physics have much reign either. It seems as if this showdown creates a crucible in which balls bounce funny, players have special nights and a team can lose a game that it was leading 29-3. The uniqueness of this rivalry aside, however, all signs seem to point to the Quakers having the logical edge at this point in the season. Penn is coming off of a weekend where it made each of its Ivy League opponents look like high school teams. If the Quakers continue their winning ways this weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth, their position gets even more enviable. Meanwhile, Princeton's roster is decimated by injuries, and the Tigers lost a heartbreaker to Yale last Saturday night, 44-42. The smart money on Tuesday has to go with the Red and Blue, but the Palestra faithful shouldn't start celebrating just yet -- betting on a Penn-Princeton game is a pastime only a bookie could love. Princeton's Bill Carmody has been acting more like a triage nurse than a basketball coach of late. In the Tigers' defeat at the hands of the Elis on Saturday, Princeton sported a starting lineup that lacked two perennial starters. In reality, Princeton had just five healthy varsity players, with a sixth -- junior Nate Walton -- playing with a broken hand. It's gotten so bad that Carmody was forced to bring up four players from junior varsity. One of those players sprained his thumb as soon as he was called up to the big club. "I will say that I have never seen a team that I've been with as a player or coach have this many guys get hurt," Carmody said. "But what can you do? You can't use that as an excuse to stop working hard or trying." Considering how extensive his team's casualties have been, Carmody's attitude is laudable. It all began with Mason Rocca's ankle injury in late December. The senior forward reaggravated a problem that had been ailing him since high school and had surgery to remove bone chips on December 29. Rocca, who had been averaging 13 points per game in the seven contests he played in for the Tigers this season, got his cast off this past Monday, but Princeton officials report that doctors have not yet given him clearance to practice. He will be out for at least the next five games -- Tuesday's Penn contest included --and possibly the rest of the season. Rocca's departure is especially painful for the Tigers this time of year, since he was so integral to what Princeton fans like to call last February's "Miracle at the Palestra." He scored eight points during an 11-2 Princeton run that cut into Penn's seemingly insurmountable lead just after halftime. Rocca wound up with 13 on the night, and his offense will be sorely missed this year at Jadwin Gym. On February 1, the Tigers lost yet another 13-points-per-game performer when freshman standout Spencer Gloger went down in practice with a second-degree sprained ankle. He returned to light practice this week, but his status for the weekend and Tuesday is still uncertain. Gloger has been razor-sharp from the outside throughout his first season in Old Nassau. Before his injury, he was shooting a stellar 47.4 percent from three-point territory. Without the first-year star in the lineup, Princeton shot a revolting 12.5 percent from behind the arc against Yale. The Tigers were outrebounded by the Elis as well, 34-29. This is somewhat understandable considering that their frontcourt is depleted with Rocca sidelined, sophomore forward Eugene Baah out with a thigh contusion that is very slow to heal and Walton still playing with a broken shooting hand. With such a lengthy list of casualties, it's clear why Carmody, who used just four different starting lineups in his first 79 games after taking over for Pete Carril and is loathe to go to the bench, has had to play musical chairs throughout most of this season. With Rocca out indefinitely, and with the host of other health situations that are at the very least questionable, you can expect such tinkering to continue. You can also expect virtual unknowns like sophomore Ray Robins and Mike Bechtold to log extensive minutes like they did against Yale, with 36 apiece. "We have guys, like Ray Robins and Mike Bechtold, who didn't play much last year or before this, but we thought they were pretty good players when we recruited them," Carmody said. "We basically told them to go out and prove that we were right about them in the first place." History is also up against the Tigers as well. In each of the past seven seasons, the team that comes away with the Ivy League championship has gone undefeated against every other team in the league except for Penn and Princeton. And since either the Quakers or the Tigers have won the crown in each of those seasons, that means that recent history teaches that you can't lose to any of the other six, lowly Ancient Eight programs. All of that said, Princeton still has every chance in the world to come away with the "W" on Tuesday night. By the same token, however, given the fact that they fell to the Elis, Princeton may very well wind up dropping one or both of its contests this weekend. The perfect scenario for the Tigers, on the other hand, would go something like this: Gloger returns to the lineup for a few minutes this weekend in wins against the Crimson and Big Green and then explodes against the Quakers from the outside. Walton grabs a slew of rebounds and plays clutch defense against Penn, even scoring a few after perfecting his shot off his weak, non-injured left hand. Robins, who began the year with just one minute off the bench in a loss to Syracuse, has a career night similar to the 27-point extravaganza he had against Division III Catholic University, and the Tigers buck the odds and beat Penn. That's about the best that Princeton can hope for. It's not probable. But anything's possible when these two storied teams get together for their Tuesday-night gatherings.Comments powered by Disqus
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