Previewing Penn-Princeton and Harvard-Dartmouth

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.)

 

2 thoughts on “Previewing Penn-Princeton and Harvard-Dartmouth

  1. Great post, Mike.

    It will be a tough task for the two road teams this evening.

    For Penn, it comes down to discipline and efficiency. As the coach stated in his most recent Penn Basketball Weekly, the team will need to hit threes and drive the lane for two pointers. For the treys, they will need a high number and percentage. They will also need to hold onto the ball and avoid turnovers.

    Penn is doing a great job on defense, especially in two point FG%. With Brodeur in the middle, this aspect of the game should be a plus for Penn – provided the refs do not make themselves a factor. Getting offensive rebounds may be difficult for Penn, since Princeton’s defensive rebounding percentage is 76.4% (Top 40 nationally) and the Quakers offensive rebounding percentage is 27.9% (bottom 100 nationally).

    With Howard’s ability to drive the lane, Brodeur’s array of inside moves and outside shooting, a mature Matt MacDonald, and a confident Darnell Foreman taking it to the hoop, Penn should be able to do well with two pointers.

    The three pointers are a bigger concern. Penn is averaging 8.7 three pointers a game on 34.7% shooting. With Princeton’s KenPom #80 ranking, it is important to look at Penn’s three point production against its better opponents (six teams ranked at #150 and lower). For this group, the Quakers are 49-154 (31.8%). For two of those contests (Miami and UCF), Penn shot 39% and in the other four (Nova, Temple, George Mason, Fairfield), they shot between 25-29%. For a victory tonight, Penn will probably need to be more like the Miami and UCF games, at or above 10 treys with a percentage of at least the upper 30s. That may be too tall an order for a team with a two-guard-by-committee approach, a disciplined opponent, a difficult away venue and a first rivalry meeting for a number of the Penn outside shooters.

    As you noted, Dartmouth has been playing much better in its last 4 games. While the first two were against lower rated LIU-Brooklyn (#256) and Bryant (#296), the last two were against stronger competition, New Hampshire (#174) and Cal State Bakersfield (#120). In those last two games, one a last second win and the other a last minute failed comeback, the Big Green were able to use its improved defense to frustrate its better opponents.

    UNH came into the game with a +5.1 rebounding advantage and Dartmouth ended up + 6.0. The Wildcats also were averaging just under 9 threes a game with just over 25 attempts a game. In the Dartmouth game, they ended up going 5-16 from beyond the arc. CSB was averaging just over 7 three pointers a game on 37% shooting, but went 4-13 on 31% shooting against Dartmouth. Also, CSB shot 44.4% from the free throw line (8-18), 20% below its season average, allowing the Big Green to almost erase a 19 point deficit in the second half.

    Playing at Dartmouth, the Big Green certainly has the ability to limit Harvard’s three point shooting and turn this into a game offensively focused on two point shooting and free throws. At that point, Harvard holds a slight advantage in rebounding, two point FG% and FT%.

    In the last two contests, Evan Boudreaux has gotten into foul trouble and missed the last 6+ minutes of the first half. Fortunately for the Big Green, they have been able to hold or decrease its deficits in those times. However, it is not likely that they will be able to keep that going over time. Also, in these last several games, Boudreaux has been a leading rebounder and high scorer, but not necessarily the team leader in points. This is an actual positive trend that should continue for the Big Green.

    For the Big Green, its chances would seems to improve if Bourdreaux can stay on the court for a longer period of the first half, the team can get greater offensive production out of Miles Wright and Guilien Smith, hold its own on the boards, limit Harvard to one shot, play solid three point defense and force the Crimson into backing up its significantly improved free throw shooting

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