OPINION: Stern: Princeton's historic run has 'Revenge of the Nerds' feel

Princeton Tigers
Photo credit Ezra Shaw / Staff / Getty Images

In the 1984 cult film "Revenge of the Nerds," Lewis Skolnick and Gilbert Lowe find several ways to plot against the seemingly superior Alpha Beta fraternity. From dominating their musical competition with a legendary techno beat for ages, to releasing nude photos of Betty Childs, the smarties always found a way to outthink the jocks. And in this year's edition of the NCAA Tournament, Princeton's quiet confidence in knocking off second-seeded Arizona before manhandling seventh-seeded Missouri had a strikingly similar vibe.

Earlier in the season, the possibility of Princeton playing in the annual March extravaganza wasn't even on the table. The Tigers started the campaign 0-2, dropping contests to Hofstra and Navy -- two schools that didn't even earn a tournament bid. Then, all of a sudden, head coach Mitch Henderson's squad dug deep and found their groove, winning eight consecutive games and 12 of their next 14 contests as a whole.

"That Hofstra game was an initial wake-up call for all of us," Tigers guard Ryan Langborg explained to CBS Sports Radio. "We really thought we were going to make the March Madness tournament last year, and unfortunately came up a little bit short in the Ivy League Tournament. So for all us returners, we were like, 'Wow, it's not going to be an easy road to get there. It's going to be just as hard, if not harder, this time around than last year.' So, it's about realizing how hard we got to work for it."

In the process of pulling off back-to-back upsets, Princeton became one of two New Jersey schools to etch their names in NCAA Tournament history as double-digit seeds that beat powerhouses. Fairleigh Dickinson, which was a No. 16 seed, shocked Purdue in the opening round before getting eliminated by Florida Atlantic in the second round. And they too endured rough patches during the regular season, with losses to Queens University and Sacred Heart -- they finished fifth in the Northeast Conference with a measly 15-16 record.

Fairleigh Dickinson's run was strikingly similar to Saint Peter' last year. Before they became the first 15-seed to ever reach the Elite Eight, they were beaten by dwellers Canisius and Rider in the winter. But unlike Saint Peter's and FDU, Princeton's renowned -- only its popularity relates more to academic prestige than athletic programs. In addition to having an Ivy League status that boasts top-tier rankings each year, Princeton woos students from across the nation.

In making their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1967, Princeton defeated two programs with strikingly different reputations. Arizona is largely known for its fun under the sun and party vibes, while Missouri has an SEC in the Midwest type of reputation, both in terms of location and social scene.

Both universities invest heavily in their athletic programs and have passionate fanbases that radiate down to the student bodies -- student bodies that treat gamedays like holidays. And their conference affiliations, as part of the Power Five, also serve as a point of pride that attaches a stigma to losing against an inferior program. While the Tigers competed in Sacramento, groups gathered to take part in festivities on Princeton's campus, and everybody was amused by the stereotypical differences between themselves and their competitors.

"They're having a watch party for us and they were going to have kind of like a nerd-type theme for it, where people are showing up in funny glasses and things," Langborg said. "I think it actually helps us, being a school that puts academics first, because you know that people are responsible for what they have going on in their lives. You have to be in order to excel here."

In the Tigers' 78-63 second-round win, Langborg had a game-high 22 points, coming just a single point shy of his season high. Tigers reserve Blake Peters also had a performance for the ages, sinking five three-pointers as part of his 17-point effort. In the first two NCAA Tournament matchups, the Tigers played confidently, with house money on both ends of the floor. They imposed their will on superior opponents, while putting the college hoops world on notice.

And just like when the Nerds used meticulous methods to conquer the jocks, Princeton received widespread production from several players. For example, Caden Pierce had 16 rebounds, seven of which were on the offensive end of the floor. In the process, the team made its university and head coach proud, as Henderson had never advanced this far in the dance as a player or coach.

"We wouldn't be here without the influence [coach Henderson's] had on us," Langborg mentioned. "The motivation. He's just such a great role model and friend to all of us on the team -- the inspiration he's given us at halftime and making us laugh in those moments that might be tough."

With a Sweet 16 matchup against Creighton this coming Friday, Princeton will need to dig deep and put forward its best effort. And while these nerds from central Jersey have already surpassed expectations, in their minds, the only way to earn an A-plus on the final project is to keep the momentum going.

Jack Stern is a columnist, anchor, and associate producer for CBS Sports Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @J_Stern97.

We strive to be a platform where varying opinions may be voiced and heard. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by the author(s) of this article and/or by those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not represent those of Audacy, Inc. We are not responsible for any damages or losses arising from this article and/or any comment(s).
Featured Image Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw / Staff / Getty Images