IHO breaks down the two games comprising Saturday evening’s Ivy conference play-opening slate:
Penn at Princeton, 7 p.m.
Last season: Princeton beat Penn twice by a combined three points, and the Ps’ last meeting at Jadwin Gym on March 12 put a scare into the Tigers, who were outscored 40-23 over the final 14:52 in a 72-71 victory over the Red and Blue. Princeton committed 16 turnovers, its highest amount in Ivy play last season, and then-freshman Penn guard Tyler Hamilton came out of nowhere to provide 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals in 37 minutes, easily the best performance of his Penn career.
But Princeton hung on courtesy of the three-point line. Penn shot just 6-for-18 (33.3 percent) from long range while the Tigers shot 9-for-17 (52.9 percent) beyond the arc, offsetting the Quakers’ greater efficiency from two-point range.
How Penn can win: Defense. The Quakers were the most successful Ivy defense against Princeton last season, holding the potent Tigers to two of their three lowest conference scoring totals. This season, Penn’s defense is substantially improved, the best defense Steve Donahue has coached dating back to 2001 according to KenPom. Penn’s really good at forcing turnovers and rendering teams inefficient from the floor. Freshman phenom A.J. Brodeur has registered multiple blocks in eight of his first 11 collegiate games and should be tested by a Tigers team that likes to test the lane. Senior guard Matt Howard posted five steals in two games against Princeton last season, and Penn’s athletic defenders should be able to match up adequately with Princeton’s small-ball lineup.
And at the other end of the floor, Penn needs to gain an edge in offensive rebounding since it’s shot just 30.4 percent from long range at Jadwin Gym since 2013. Neither team excels on the offensive glass, so carving out an advantage here would be crucial.
How Princeton can win: The same way it did Penn in at Jadwin last year – by winning the three-point game. Princeton currently ranks third in the nation in percentage of total points scored from beyond the three-point line, and the Tigers’ patient small-ball approach will dictate that continues against a Penn squad predicated on ball-hawking and defending the paint. Penn ranks 21st nationally in percentage of total points scored from beyond the three-point line, so perimeter defense will be important for the Tigers as well. It helps coach Mitch Henderson to have Myles Stephens on his roster.
But Princeton’s interior defense faltered last year against graduated Penn center Darien Nelson-Henry and company, so it figures to struggle again with Ivy Rookie of the Year favorite A.J. Brodeur, who matches up favorably with Princeton’s frontcourt players.
Most importantly, the Tigers need to reverse two trends. Princeton blew an eight-point lead with 8:53 left at Monmouth, a three-point lead versus Saint Joseph’s, a 16-0 lead at VCU and faded late at Lehigh and BYU. Penn, meanwhile, finished strong late in each of the contests comprising its three-game winning streak, which brings us full circle back to Penn’s gangbusters comeback fallen just short at Jadwin in the 2015-16 regular season finale. Devin Cannady and Steven Cook, Princeton’s most efficient two-point-range producers, will have to win this game late.
Harvard at Dartmouth, 7 p.m.
Last season: Harvard got stymied at Leede Arena, 63-50, somehow managing to shoot 6-for-20 (30 percent) from the free throw line and getting outrebounded, 42-29. Evan Boudreaux led the Big Green with 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Crimson-killer (and now graduated) Malik Gill pitched in 11 points and four steals in just 19 minutes. Dartmouth faced a 38-27 deficit with 13:23 to play but outscored Harvard 34-10 over the final 11:40, with Gill and Taylor Johnson gouging the Crimson in crunchtime.
How Harvard can win: Dartmouth’s interior defense has been vulnerable this season, and the Crimson would be wise not to overly rely on the deep ball. They’ve shot 18-for-32 (56.3 percent) in the past two games, but some regression is likely. The Crimson’s best scorers – Bryce Aiken, Seth Towns and Siyani Chambers – have all struggled from two-point range this season, and Aiken and Chambers’ inefficiency stands in stark contrast to other Ivy backcourt standouts like Alex Copeland, Devin Cannady, Mike Smith and Robert Hatter. At some point, the Crimson need to take a little pressure off their characteristically outstanding defense by attacking the basket more effectively.
How Dartmouth can win: The Big Green started 0-9 but have won three of their past four games with a rejuvenated defense and more balanced offensive production. Guilien Smith exploded for 29 points in 34 minutes at Bryant and Miles Wright notched 25 points at LIU Brooklyn, a game in which Boudreaux made only three field goals. (He also only made four field goals in Dartmouth’s narrow loss to Cal State Bakerfield Tuesday.) The Big Green scored 20 points from the foul line versus Harvard at Leede Arena last year, and getting to the free throw line has been one of their greatest offensive strength this season, so Wright, Smith and Boudreaux can’t settle for long-range shots in the halfcourt game spite of a Harvard defense that is well-equipped to wear them down. Pushing tempo will serve Dartmouth well.
On the other side of the floor, the Crimson’s propensity for committing turnovers – their greatest weakness – presents Dartmouth an opportunity to get out and run at times and get Harvard in foul trouble. (Zena Edosomwan fouled out at Leede Arena last season, and four other Crimson finished with at least three fouls.)