In a parallel Ivy League season, one where Princeton didn”t drop an early game to Cornell and Zack Rosen didn”t use the Tigers as a backdrop against which to cement his early candidacy for Ivy League POY, Saturday night”s Brown-Princeton matchup in Providence would have all the signs of a classic trap game. After all, Brown”s been deceptively good at home this season (5-6 in Providence, 1-6 on the road) and the Bears are coming off an impressive (for them) 1-1 week that saw Andrew McCarthy named Ivy League Player of the Week after rejecting a school record 7 shots against Dartmouth and holding his own against the staunch Crimson front line. And with heavyweight Yale looming, perhaps Princeton”s focus might waver against depleted Brown and give the Bears a window of upset opportunity.
But this year, the Brown-Princeton game is a matchup of one-win teams trying to claw their way out of the Ivy League cellar and up towards, if not a league title, than at least respectability. Princeton has yet to be eliminated from contention, but at this point it will take a Herculean effort, a lot of luck, and probably some catastrophic injuries to key players on other teams to have a realistic shot in the second half of the season. Mostly, though, it means that Princeton has to treat every game from here on out like an elimination game, and can”t afford the luxury of dreaming big and looking forward to marquee match-ups like their game against Yale. Brown, meanwhile, simply doesn”t have the depth to make a deep run in the league this season. But that means the Bears are probably relishing the opportunity to play spoiler against teams like Princeton and give themselves a signature win for the season.
Last year, Princeton and Brown split the season series, highlighted by the Bears” home upset against the Tigers, which dealt Princeton its first league loss and force the playoff with Harvard.
Will this game revisit that performance or will Princeton avenge that loss and begin the long, slow climb back towards Ivy League relevance?
Keys to the Game
Coming into the Ivy League season, the center position was a major concern for the Tigers — could Princeton hang with the other bigs of the league with their cadre of lanky swingmen? True 5 Brendan Connolly had seen diminishing minutes and lost his starting job, leaving Princeton with a three forward attack that seemed destined to get pushed around by stockier centers.
Those concerns, at least so far, have been largely unfounded. Of the three Ivy League contests Princeton”s played so far, they”ve done their finest work against arguably the best center they”ve faced, Columbia”s Mark Cisco. What”s more, Connolly is finally coming along, with a strong performance against Penn that stands out as one of the few Princeton bright spots on the trip to the Palestra. That might mean that point guard Sean McGonagill, not McCarthy, presents the stiffest challenge for the Tiger defense — if T.J. Bray can stay with him and prevent him from driving and getting open looks, then Princeton stands a good chance.
Opponents have given Princeton fits this year when they”ve been able to do one of two things: get the Tigers to turn the ball over or win the battle on the offensive boards. In other words, obvious as it may sound, Brown has to figure out a way to get more scoring chances than Princeton. Brown”s defense probably won”t be able to force many turnovers in traditional offensive sets — Bray & Co. have settled down in the half court since struggling early on in the season — but the Bears” quickness could be an issue for the larger Princeton guards bringing the ball up
the court. If Connolly gets into early foul trouble going up against McCarthy and Brown starts getting second and third chance points (like Penn did last weekend with 11 offensive rebounds) then the Bears might just pull off the upset.
It”s been a quiet couple weeks for IHO favorite Denton Koon, but expect Princeton to bring plenty of fresh legs off the bench to exploit Brown”s lack of depth (zero bench points vs. Harvard). The Tigers don”t get caught looking ahead to New Haven and manage to do what they couldn”t last season — beat Brown in Providence.