IHO breaks down the two games comprising Saturday afternoon’s Ivy conference play-opening slate:
Dartmouth at Harvard, 2:00 p.m.
Last season: The Big Green ended an 11-game losing streak with a surreal 26-2 second-half run en route to a 70-61 win, shocking the Crimson at Lavietes. Alex Mitola, who is no longer with the Big Green, led the way with 18 points, but Malik Gill sparked Dartmouth off the bench with nine points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals in just 25 minutes. Harvard’s Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers combined for 26 points on 7-for-20 shooting from the field, and the Crimson committed 18 turnovers.
How Dartmouth can win: Have Miles Wright, Mike Fleming and Guilien Smith zealously guard the three-point line (the Crimson rank 16th in the nation in three-point percentage) and have 6-7 Connor Boehm, 6-8 Evan Boudreaux and 6-11 Cole Harrison body up Harvard center Zena Edosomwan as much as possible at both ends of the floor, preventing entry passes to him and aggressively trapping him (fouling him doesn’t hurt, he’s 49.4 percent from the charity stripe this season). Neutralizing Edosomwan, no small feat, puts pressure on relative inability to penetrate from the backcourt off the dribble, especially if Patrick Steeves cannot play with his unspecified leg injury. On offense, Dartmouth must continue its solid offensive rebounding display and keep its high-percentage approach in the frontcourt with Boudreaux and Boehm. KenPom gives Dartmouth a 12 percent chance of winning this game, but the Big Green can pull this off if they defensively frustrate a turnover-prone Harvard squad early and often, as they did last year.
How Harvard can win: Limit those turnovers by feeding Edosomwan and letting him beat Dartmouth at point-blank range. Use ball movement to find the open man beyond the arc (Harvard ranks 14th in the country in assists per field goals made). On the other side of the court, sag in on defense and try to make Dartmouth beat you from deep. The Big Green don’t like taking threes, ranking last among Ivies in treys attempted (201) and made (68), and next to last in three-point percentage (33.8). Harvard, in contrast, ranks first in three-point percentage (40.6), so if this game becomes a contest for open shots between two methodical offenses, Harvard should win. Whether Tommy McCarthy can be characteristically effective from long range recovering from a hyperextended right knee, if he plays at all, remains to be seen.
Princeton at Penn, 4:30 p.m.
Last season: In Jerome Allen’s final game as Penn coach, the Quakers withered after an 8-0 start, yielding a 20-2 run to Princeton to start the second half and fall to the Tigers, 73-52. Hans Brase, out for this season with a torn ACL, led the Tigers with 18 points and nine boards, with Spencer Weisz, Henry Caruso and Clay Wilson also scoring in double figures for Princeton. Penn, on the other hand, had no players in double figures, led in scoring by then-rookies Antonio Woods and Darnell Foreman. Darien Nelson-Henry, who had averaged 17.7 points per game in his three previous matchups with Princeton, posted six points and three rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.
How Princeton can win: Be aggressive at both ends. The top two Ivy players in assist-to-turnover ratio are Spencer Weisz and Amir Bell, both Tigers, and Princeton ranks 24th in the nation in turnover percentage. Penn ranks 315th in the nation in defensive turnover percentage, so the Tigers can probably get away with forcing the issue by attacking the rim at all costs, particularly since Penn excels in defending the three-point line. Also, let Henry Caruso keep doing his thing. The junior forward is a legitimate Ivy Player of the Year candidate, shooting below 50 percent in just three of 13 games this season (Princeton lost two of those three games) while averaging 17.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per contest. On defense, respect the three. Penn may be easily last among Ivies in three-point shooting, but it’s their bread and butter under Donahue when layups aren’t there and the Quakers have been much better from three at the Palestra than on the road, shooting 34.6 percent at home versus 21.1 percent away.
How Penn can win: Hope you’re hot from three. So much of Penn’s offense is about trying to set Sam Jones up from deep, as he has attempted at least four treys in every game this season. But he’s just 13-for-52 from long range in the past six games, scoring double figures only against Division III Ursinus. Fortunately, even if Jones is cold, Matt Howard and Jackson Donahue have shown they can pick up the slack from deep. Princeton hasn’t been particularly great at defending the three-point line this season, so Penn has an opportunity there. Princeton also hasn’t been particularly great at containing Penn senior center Darien Nelson-Henry, who even during slumps has torched the Tigers inside during his Quakers career. Feed DNH early and often and try to win inside out. Neither team here gets a great deal of points from the free throw line, and in Penn’s case, it’s because the Quakers struggle with creating instant offense off the dribble. With Princeton ranking second in the nation in allowing offensive rebounds on defense by percentage, the Quakers need to make the most of possessions through constant ball movement on the perimeter and high-percentage plays with DNH.