Tonight’s contest at Jadwin is ostensibly a revenge game, but it doesn’t feel like it. The Tigers simply are not the same team anymore. Dan Mavraides, Kareem Maddox, and Sidney Johnson have hit the bricks, Princeton is looking on from the outside of the title race, and the sad truth is that nothing, certainly not a mid-February matchup, will avenge the Crimson’s playoff loss a year ago. Still, tonight’s matchup is one of the best battles that the Ivy League has to offer.
First, the facts: Harvard has not won at Jadwin Gymnasium since 1989; it has not swept the Killer P’s on the road since the 1984-85 season; and it has never started 8-0 in league play. Even at 11-10, a good argument can be made that the Tigers are the second best team in the conference. Its wins over Buffalo, Florida St., and Rutgers are three of the best results on the Ivy League’s collective non-conference resume, and, despite sitting in fifth place, Princeton can easily climb the ranks with six of its final eight games at home.
Ian Hummer and Doug Davis form the core of what was the bane of Harvard’s existence in 2011 with TJ Bray replacing Maddox as the third Musketeer of the Tiger offense. While Hummer and Davis have continued to dazzle (third and seventh among Ivy League scorers), Bray is a clear downgrade from the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and, since Harvard and Princeton were so dead even a year ago, it’s hard to see how the Crimson doesn’t have a decided advantage in the eye test.
The numbers too support Harvard. Its defense continues to shine, holding Penn to 32.1 percent shooting last night to lower its defensive efficiency rating on the year below .9 points per possession. And while the Crimson’s offense can sometimes sputter, it has enough talent that one weapon usually arises, ala Corbin Miller’s 17 points off the bench on Friday. The Tigers are slightly above average on both ends of the court, but they rely disproportionally on their two stars, who account for almost half of the teams scoring. If even one of them has an off night, the effect can be crippling (see: Elon, Morehead, Siena, and Cornell; though Princeton survived an 0-for-11 effort from Hummer last night).
This game will be a borderline staring contest, as both teams play at paces among the slowest in the NCAA. Princeton’s comfort with this
style should prove beneficial, as the teams that have found the most success against Harvard have limited the number of possessions. The Tigers also have plenty of large bodies (more so than any other Ivy) to throw against Keith Wright and Kyle Casey in the post. This depth could afford Princeton the luxury of playing the post straight up and fouling rather than doubling down and leaving Laurent Rivard, Oliver McNally, and Miller open on the perimeter.
In the past, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has remarked on how hard it is to prepare for Princeton, as the Tigers play unlike most other opponents (though perhaps they’re slightly more conventional under Mitch Henderson). But I don’t believe they’ll surprise this veteran Crimson team, still smarting from last March. I think Harvard finds a way to slow down either Hummer or Davis and snaps the 22-year drought in Princeton.
Harvard 61, Princeton 51