BUFFALO — In the midst of this era of radical change, when the Ivy League has finally held a conference tournament and Princeton has ditched its signature patterned offense, some things do remain the same. Princeton’s players arrived here for the NCAA Tournament and promptly had to take mid-term exams.
The Ivy League is still the Ivy League.
“We have two (conference) rooms in the hotel, and one room is for studying,” said coach Mitch Henderson, a Princeton graduate who once ran continuous back-door screens for Pete Carril. “Half the team was in there at 8 a.m. This is what we do.”
Spencer Weisz had to meet a proctor for a 4:30 p.m. exam after practice and a news conference Wednesday. “Certainly it’s tough,” Weisz said, “but at the end of the day, that’s what we signed up for. Coming to Princeton University, we know we have to balance academics as well as athletics.”
Weisz did add, however, about the hours between Wednesday afternoon and the 12:15 p.m. tip for the first game Thursday: “Most of the studying will be of Notre Dame and the scouting report.”
The odd part about that is that neither Princeton nor Notre Dame probably had to pull an all-nighter to discern the other’s schemes. There might not be two more similar teams squaring off in the first round. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said, “Right after the selection show, I said, ‘It’s like guarding ourselves.’ They don’t turn it over, we don’t turn it over. They don’t miss free throws, we don’t miss free throws. They can shoot it from the arc and they know how to play and who they are. A coach very familiar with them said to me, ‘They’re smart and they’re tough, like you.’ ”
There also is the familiarity involving Princeton guard Devin Cannady, who is from Mishawaka, Indiana, six miles from the Notre Dame campus. V.J. Beachem of the Irish is one of his closest friends. “I play summer basketball with these guys, I live right down the road,” said Cannady, who did an eight-week study program in Tanzania last summer.
One way in which they differ is their most recent route. Notre Dame lost in the final of the Atlantic Coast Tournament, the granddaddy of all conference postseason events. Princeton won the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, after university presidents decided to try to test the waters by having a four-team competition — becoming the last conference in the country to hold a tournament.
It could have been a nightmare for the Tigers, given that they had gone 14-0 in league play. They could have been the first to see it all go down the drain with one bad game at the Palestra, the home court of Penn, their first-round opponent. But Princeton won that game in overtime, beat Yale in the final and here it is, without Carril’s old “cut and pass and pass some more” approach.
“Locally and within the league, we fought the stigma of the Princeton offense. It’s gone for us,” Henderson said, reflecting on what caused him to break with tradition: “If we were going to beat the very best teams on our schedule, we needed to be a little less guardable, less predictable, more flowing.” He added that assistant coach Kerry Kittles, who went to two NBA Finals with the Nets, said, “This is the modern game.”
It’s the homework assignments that are still old school. Guard Myles Stephens said Wednesday morning, “I had a midterm today. I got it rescheduled to after the game.”
n Notre Dame vs. Princeton
Ch. 2, 12:15 p.m.
n Gonzaga vs. South Dakota State
TBS, 2 p.m.
n West Virginia vs. Bucknell
Ch. 2, 2:45 p.m.
n Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt
TBS, 4:30 p.m.
n Maryland vs. Xavier
TNT, 6:50 p.m.
n Saint Mary’s vs. VCU
TBS, 7:20 p.m.
n Florida State vs. Florida Gulf Coast
TNT, 9:20 p.m.
n Arizona vs. North Dakota
TBS, 9:50 p.m.
n Virginia vs. UNC Wilmington
truTV, 12:40 p.m.
n Florida vs. East Tenn. State
truTV, 3:10 p.m.
n Villanova vs. Mount St. Mary’s
Ch. 2, 7:10 p.m.
n Wisconsin vs. Virginia Tech
Ch. 2, 9:40 p.m.
n Butler vs. Winthrop
TNT, 1:30 p.m.
n Minnesota vs. Middle Tennessee
TNT, 4 p.m.
n Purdue vs. Vermont
truTV, 7:27 p.m.
n Iowa State vs. Nevada
truTV, 9:57 p.m.