On my own personal sportz-related crimes-against-English scale, on which the offenses range from "just trite" to "utterly senseless and inane," the one I heard most about Penn coming into Friday's game against Cornell fell pretty far towards the life imprisonment end: they "controlled their own destiny" in the Ivy League title race.
First, to be fair to the offenders (who will not be named), I'll offer an explanation. Penn lost to Harvard on Friday of last weekend*, missing their chance to get a win over the league leaders at home. Given the apparent talent gap between Harvard and the rest of the league, this seemed likely to be the end of the Quakers' hopes to win the Ivy championship and play in the NCAA tournament. However, on Saturday Harvard (somewhat unexpectedly) lost to Princeton, and suddenly Penn was only one loss behind Harvard in the standings. You can see where this is going: if Penn won out (which would include beating Harvard in Cambridge, and again in a playoff), even if Harvard didn't otherwise lose, Penn could win the Ivy. So this is what it means to "control your own destiny." Which is dumb on a number of levels. Let's just look at the surface, without reference to basketball: if it's your destiny, how can you control it?
But OK, we can forgive some imprecise language, right? No need to get all pedantic. Penn controls the outcome of the Ivy title race -- right?
Well, no, of course not. Don't believe me? Skip back a couple of paragraphs, and note that the reason Penn allegedly "controlled their own destiny" in the first place is that ... Harvard lost to Princeton. Is Harvard likely to lose again? No. But they weren't likely to lose to Princeton, either. Any number of things could happen between now and the end of the Ivy season. Injuries. Cold shooting. Fired-up opponents. Does Penn control any of these things? Not in any meaningful use of the word "control."
Don't get me wrong: I'm happy that the experts think Penn's odds of winning the Ivy went from "small" to "slightly less small" on Saturday. But control? Please.
Maybe I'm just picking nits. But I'm imagining that I'm a coach trying to coax the right level of energy and focus from my team - I'm not sure I want the players thinking "the whole season's on the line!" until it actually is. Especially an Ivy team, where there's no conference tournament to be a safety valve for a panic-induced loss.
However, I should admit that Zack Rosen would probably laugh if he read this. As Penn came to the end of the back and forth game with Cornell on Friday (yes, a "game of runs" -- 5-10 years for that one on my personal sentencing table), the Quakers' senior captain either scored or assisted on 23 of his team's points in a row in order to give Penn the final lead in the game.
Okay, Zack, maybe I'll rethink my definition of "control."
* See excellent recaps here and here for all you need to know about that. And don't miss this fun story from Matt Norlander about his first trip to the Palestra that day, as a nice antidote to my complaining about lame sportswriters.
at PENNSYLVANIA 73, CORNELL 66 02/17/2012
CORNELL 10-13 (5-4) -- J. Gray 5-10 5-8 15; S. Miller 3-5 0-0 7; D. Ferry 5-10 3-3 17; C. Wroblewski 4-11 3-4 14; E. Chemerinski 2-3 3-3 7; D. Tarwater 2-5 0-0 4; G. Cancer 1-3 0-0 2; D. Cherry 0-0 0-0 0; D. LaMore 0-0 0-0 0; J. Figini 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-49 14-18 66. PENNSYLVANIA 14-11 (6-2) -- Z. Rosen 8-17 4-4 25; R. Belcore 1-4 1-2 3; M. Cartwright 7-10 3-4 22; T. Bernardini 3-8 2-2 9; S. Rennard 1-4 0-0 3; F. Dougherty 1-1 0-1 2; C. Crocker 0-0 2-4 2; C. Gunter 0-0 1-2 1; H. Brooks 1-2 0-0 2; M. Howlett 2-2 0-0 4; M. Kukoc 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-48 13-19 73.
Three-point goals: CORN 8-18 (C. Wroblewski 3-5; J. Gray 0-3; D. Tarwater 0-1; G. Cancer 0-1; D. Ferry 4-7; S. Miller 1-1), PENN 12-22 (T. Bernardini 1-3; R. Belcore 0-2; Z. Rosen 5-10; M. Cartwright 5-6; S. Rennard 1-1); Rebounds: CORN 27 (D. Ferry 6), PENN 22 (R. Belcore 6); Assists: CORN 13 (J. Gray 4), PENN 16 (Z. Rosen 6); Total Fouls -- CORN 17, PENN 13; Fouled Out: CORN-None; PENN-None.