Which team do you think is more worried about Friday night’s Princeton-Harvard game in Cambridge?
In one corner we have Princeton, by any metric the inferior basketball team, forced out of the cozy confines of Jadwin Gymnasium to the frigid hinterlands of New England to face the best team in the conference and one of the nation”s elite defenses. In the other corner, Goliath Harvard, already the proud owners of a twenty-win season and riding a 27-game win streak at Lavietes. On paper, Princeton is just an orange speed bump on the way to the Crimson’s first ever outright Ivy League title and a bid to the NCAA tournament.
But, as the American novelist James Baldwin once said, “the most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.” Granted, in context I think Baldwin was talking about the crippling effect of poverty on society at large, but ignore that for now and consider the relative positions of Princeton and Harvard going in to Friday’s game. A Princeton loss doesn’t hurt the team that much – they’ve already shown the postseason tournaments they can beat a Top-25 team in Harvard and their chance of actually winning the Ivy League is still miniscule even if they beat the Crimson. A Harvard loss, on the other hand, suddenly makes Saturday’s Penn game a high-stress, must-win scenario for Harvard and derails what’s been a relatively smooth coronation process through the Ivy League. Couple that with Princeton’s recent win streak and the crazy gleam the Tigers seem to get in their eyes whenever they play Harvard, and you could make the argument that, right now, Princeton is the most dangerous team in the Ivy League. Not the best – the most dangerous.
Still, as attractive as that narrative might be, the odds are still heavily stacked in favor of the Crimson. Princeton has only found its recent success at home, and who knows how momentum will travel. Not to mention, Harvard’s been untouchable at home (27 game win streak! I know I said it before but come on!). And in spite of the larger ramifications, this game has the feeling of a grudge match – Harvard still hasn’t avenged last season’s playoff loss to Princeton in New Haven, and as much as a league title would be salve to that wound, it wouldn’t feel the same if the Crimson didn’t knock off Princeton on best online casino its way there.
So, without further ado, let’s look at what Princeton has to do to score another huge upset in the Ivy League – and how Harvard can stop the Tigers.
Keys to the Game:
Princeton: Princeton’s perimeter defense continues to be the calling card for this Tigers squad. It isn’t so much that Princeton’s opponents are shooting poorly from downtown – teams facing the Tigers are hitting threes at a very average 34.5 percent – but Princeton is exceptional at taking away easy shots and forcing teams to pass out of three-point looks. Offenses playing Princeton only shoot 21.1 percent of
their shots from beyond the arc, one of the lowest rates in the country. In their first meeting, Princeton’s length bothered
Harvard’s outside shooters, who were only 5-18 from three-point land on the game.
But the key to translating perimeter defense to winning basketball is good defensive rebounding when opponents take well-defended jumpers. Princeton’s been burned a few times this year by second-chance points and offensive rebounding. Fortunately for Princeton, offensive rebounding is one of the few weaknesses in the Harvard game so far this season – the Crimson rank just 196th in the country in offensive rebounding. The Tigers need to keep Laurent Rivard from getting open looks (because he’ll shoot even with a defender in his face) and make sure Keith Wright isn’t there to get the miss. Look for Brendan Connolly to start and see serious minutes as an inside presence for Princeton.
Harvard: Last time these two teams met, Harvard’s chance at a perfect Ivy League season was demolished by a flurry of backdoor cuts and easy points in the paint. It’s hard to imagine this Crimson squad will make that mistake again. Harvard can live with Princeton settling for outside shots – the Tigers love to shoot from downtown but are only average shooters. More often than not, a high percentage of three pointers from Princeton is a sign that the Tigers aren’t running their offense efficiently. Harvard will try to force Princeton into bad habits.
On offense, Brandyn Curry had a mediocre game against Princeton earlier this season despite a decent stat line. Harvard will have success if its ball handlers drive to the hoop and attack the middle of the Tiger defense. Wright actually had a great game in the paint, shooting 7-12 for 16 points to go with 12 rebounds. If Harvard can get the ball down low and get Connolly and the other bigs into early foul trouble, it will be very difficult for Princeton to stop the Harvard attack.
My homer heart says the plucky Tigers will put the upshot Crimson back in its place. Then Penn will beat Harvard, and Princeton will beat Penn to win the Ivy League! But my head knows that this Harvard squad won’t let Princeton beat them twice in a season, and certainly not on their home court. Harvard wins a hard-fought but ultimately easy game on Friday.