Although the men's basketball team has already clinched the Ivy League title and another trip to the NCAA tournament, tonight's regular-season finale against Penn at the Palestra is not without meaning.
Tonight's game not only offers the Tigers the opportunity to beat Penn, it also gives the team another chance to add to its legitimate claim as one the best teams in school and Ivy League history.
For one thing, the No. 8 Tigers (25-1 overall, 13-0 Ivy League) are attempting to become just the 10th team in league history to go 14-0 in a season. It would be the second year in a row that the Tigers have accomplished the feat.
If the Tigers can beat the Quakers (17-11,10-3) by at least 10 points tonight, they will join the 1994-95 Penn team that was led by future NBA players Matt Maloney and Jerome Allen as the only two teams in league history win all 14 games by double figures.
Two school records are also on the line this evening. A win would give the Tigers sole possession of the school record for wins in a season. The team has currently tied the 1966-67 team's record of 25 wins.
A victory tonight would also be the team's 19th straight and would tie the school record set by the 1924-25 team and equalled last year.
Team records aside, a Princeton-Penn matchup is always interesting no matter what the circumstances. Either Princeton or Penn has won the league title each of the last 10 years, 27 of the last 29 and 32 of the last 35 years.
"It's Penn-Princeton again," head coach Bill Carmody said. "It's a great rivalry. We have a lot of respect for those guys. You try to win whether you have the league wrapped up or not."
Even though the Quakers have no postseason hopes this year, the game should be as intense as always. Penn is lead by senior guard Garett Kreitz, who was held scoreless the last time the two team's met in the Tigers' 71-52 win Feb. 17, sophomore forward Matt Langel, who is sixth in the nation in three-point shooting at 53 percent and sophomore guard Michael Jordan, the third leading scorer in the league at 15.3 points per game.
The intensity will be heightened by the fact that the Palestra is one of the toughest buildings to play in in all of college basketball. The fans are almost directly on the court and the noise level can reach deafening proportions. The game should provide a playoff-type atmosphere without the playoff implications.
"I'm glad we're playing Penn down in the Palestra," Carmody said. "It'll be a good challenge for us."
"It's going to be a hostile environment," senior guard Mitch Henderson said. "It'll be nice for us to play in an environment that's a little rough. We weren't focused enough this last weekend."
If for no other reason, tonight's game is also noteworthy because, as Henderson said, "the simple fact that beating Penn in the Palestra is always very satisfying."
Princeton also undoubtedly would like to use tonight's game to send a message to the tournament selection committee. The selection committee will have a hard time overlooking the Tigers if the team wins tonight.
A Division I-best 26-1 record, including a perfect 14-0 in the league would put the Tigers in a solid position to receive a high seed in the tournament. A loss, however, would leave the Tigers in a more fragile position in terms of its tournament seed.