It happens so fast in college basketball, especially below the Red Line. One season you're up, the next you're down. Players graduate, coaches depart, the game changes. Maybe you've got Brad Stevens on your bench, so it just takes an adjustment period, but Stevens is just one man, and there is only one Butler right now. So chances are lately your team has gone from nothing, to something, to nothing. It's the cycle of college basketball.
Two seasons ago, during the 2009-10 season under Mike Deane Wagner was at nothing. The Seahawks were 5-26 and 335th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings. Then everything changed when Dan Hurley agreed to take over. The former high school coach only lost 21 games in his entire nine-year career at St. Benedict's in Newark, NJ. He lost 17 in his first season at Wagner.
But last season was used to build, the upswing was noticeable, and while a young team broke down towards the end of the season and a five-game losing streak ended any chance of getting to .500, there was something more important, hope.
On Saturday at Jadwin Gymnasium in Princeton, NJ those hopes got to play a game. The Seahawks took a new roster, with brand new recruits, transfers and talented players throughout and whipped the Tigers 73-57. Hurley's infectious energy made its way into his players and their tenacious ball pressure forced 28 Princeton turnovers. It was almost exactly as Hurley drew it up 17 months ago.
And so Wagner is on the upswing, but it may be that Princeton is on its way down. It wasn't so long again that the Tigers were immune to such cycles. They had their own Stevens, Pete Carril. The legend coached the Tigers to 16 Ivy League championships and made Princeton a contender every season. He also created a network of coaches and players that could one day take his place. Princeton enjoyed years of dominating the Ivies thanks to Carril's coaching tree, but in 2007-08 the Tigers finally hit the bottom going 7-23 in Sydney Johnson's first season.
But Johnson built things back up quickly. Last season the Tigers went 25-7 and winning a dramatic Ivy League playoff over Harvard, 63-62, to advance to the NCAA Tournament. They were back on top again. But Johnson left and Mitch Henderson took his place and the uncertainty came creeping back in again.
Can Henderson maintain the Princeton legacy? Can he keep the Tigers at that high? Challengers continue to arrive in the Ivy League. Harvard and Yale look poised to take over the throne this season. Questions abound about how competitive the Tigers can be this season.
Those questions certainly weren't put to bed on Saturday evening. The Tigers struggled against ball pressure and even when 6'0" guard Kenneth Ortiz was guarding 6'7" Ian Hummer they still couldn't find a way to get a quality shot. It was obvious that Princeton, which is actually a pretty veteran team, still has a lot to learn.
But it looks like the Tigers just caught Wagner at the wrong time, because the Seahawks are on the rise and Princeton doesn't know where it's going just yet.
WAGNER 73, at PRINCETON 57 11/12/2011
WAGNER 1-0 (0-0) -- T. Murray 4-7 5-6 15; C. Martin 2-7 0-0 5; J. Thompson 7-9 0-2 14; K. Ortiz 3-9 1-4 7; L. Rivers 4-9 2-3 12; N. Folahan 3-5 0-0 6; J. Williams 3-4 1-2 7; O. Parker 1-5 3-6 5; M. Burton 1-5 0-0 2; H. Naurais 0-1 0-0 0; R. Schrotenboer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-61 12-23 73. PRINCETON 0-1 (0-0) -- I. Hummer 8-17 2-4 19; D. Davis 5-7 0-0 12; T. Bray 1-2 0-0 3; M. Darrow 1-2 5-8 7; J. Sherburne 0-2 0-0 0; P. Saunders 2-4 0-0 5; W. Barrett 2-3 0-0 6; B. Connolly 0-4 1-2 1; B. Hazel 0-1 2-4 2; D. Koon 1-1 0-0 2; J. Comfort 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-43 10-18 57.
Three-point goals: WAG 5-11 (C. Martin 1-3; T. Murray 2-2; L. Rivers 2-4; M. Burton 0-2), PRIN 7-13 (P. Saunders 1-2; D. Davis 2-3; J. Sherburne 0-1; W. Barrett 2-2; I. Hummer 1-3; B. Connolly 0-1; T. Bray 1-1); Rebounds: WAG 35 (J. Thompson 9), PRIN 33 (I. Hummer 9); Assists: WAG 12 (T. Murray 4), PRIN 13 (W. Barrett 2); Total Fouls -- WAG 19, PRIN 22; Fouled Out: WAG-O. Parker; PRIN-W. Barrett.