No. 1 Penn defeats No. 2 Princeton, 57-48, earns third NCAA Tournament berth in four years

No. 1 Penn bested No. 2 Princeton, 57-48, at the Palestra Sunday, handing the Quakers the Ivy League Tournament title and their third NCAA Tournament appearance in the past four seasons.

Penn (21-7, 13-1) used a 14-4 second quarter advantage to create separation between itself and the Tigers (16-12, 9-5), who shot just 18-for-64 (28.1 percent) from the floor.

The Red and Blue were led by Michelle Nwokedi, who posted 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Anna Ross, who notched 17 points. Pacing the Tigers were Bella Alarie, who contributed 11 points and 11 boards, and Leslie Robinson, who registered nine points in 27 minutes of play.

Penn swept its three meetings with Princeton this season and has won its last five matchups with the Tigers.

Penn will hold a NCAA Tournament Selection Monday watch party at the Palestra. Doors to the Palestra will open at 6:15 p.m., and admission will be free to all for the show beginning at 7 p.m.

No. 12 Princeton to play No. 5 Notre Dame in NCAA Tournament Thursday

Less than four hours after Princeton defeated Yale to clinch in the Ivy League Tournament final to clinch its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011, the Tigers (23-6, 14-0 Ivy) learned they will play Notre Dame (25-9, 12-6 ACC) in the NCAA first round Thursday in Buffalo, in the West region.

The matchup will tip off at 12:15 p.m. on CBS, with Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel and Allie LaForce on the call, per Matt Norlander of CBS Sports.

The Tigers’ last NCAA Tournament victory came in 1998, when they defeated UNLV in the Big Dance as a No. 5 seed.

Princeton’s last NCAA Tournament appearance six years ago was a 59-57 first-round loss to Kentucky as a No. 13 seed.

Like Princeton, Notre Dame prefers to play a slower pace and shoot a lot of three-pointers, and the Fighting Irish rank first in the nation in free throw percentage and 16th in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Notre Dame lost to North Carolina in the Elite 8 last season at the Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia, and the Fighting Irish also made the Elite 8 the previous season.

Notre Dame is led by junior forward Bonzie Colson, who has averaged 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, junior guard and Bridgewater, N.J. native Matt Farrell, who has contributed 14.2 points and 5.5 assists per game, senior forward V.J. Beachem and his 15.0 points and 4.1 rebounds, and senior guard and Medford, N.J. Steve Vasturia and his 13.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

The Fighting Irish are 9-8 against top 60 KenPom competition and are ranked No. 25 in KenPom. Princeton is ranked No. 59 by KenPom.

Learning to love the “new” Princeton Tigers

I didn’t like this Princeton basketball team at first. In fact, I found it infuriating. At the start of the season, these Tigers seemed to affirm my fears that the classic “Princeton System” was dead at Old Nassau.

Growing up less than two miles from Jadwin Gym, I was raised on the pure form of Princeton Basketball. My parents took me to see the Tigers win the NIT at the Garden when I was 10 and I was hooked for life. My Dad taught me to watch the players without the ball and to observe the players’ feet, not their hands. A good pass is not just one that reaches the open man, because the player needs to land the ball in a teammate’s hands in perfect position to shoot.

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Mitch Henderson finds the perfect pitch for Princeton

In his sixth season as Princeton’s head coach, Mitch Henderson led the Tigers to the Ivy League’s first undefeated regular season since 2007-08. (Ivy League Digital Network)

For Mitch Henderson, the climb to the top of the Ivy League mountain has been anything but easy.

Critics point out his teams’ surprising inability to close the sale in some past seasons and his struggles with Harvard and Yale as indications of something missing in his program. Supporters point out he is young, smart and has brought a vision for the long haul.  He has developed a new culture and identity for Tiger basketball that bears his unmistakable imprint.

The Tigers’ 14-0 march through the 2016-17 Ivy schedule, making Henderson the odds-on favorite for Coach of the Year honors, tips the scales in favor of the supporters’ case.

Let’s take a closer look at what Henderson has done, particularly over the last three seasons as he put the building blocks of the current juggernaut in place.

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Ivy weekend roundup – Mar. 6, 2017

What a long, strange trip it’s been …

This has been a crazy season for Ivy League basketball, all 16 weeks of it. From Harvard’s starting the season 14 hours away in Shanghai to Penn’s regular season-ending triumph over the Crimson Saturday night, this season has been full of surprises and unusual trends.

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Princeton pulls away from Columbia, 64-45

NEW YORK — For about 20 minutes Friday night, Princeton and Columbia played hideous, inefficient basketball. The two teams combined to shoot 34.6 percent in the first half (18-for-52). It was the only way the Lions could pull off the upset win they needed to revive their flagging Ivy tournament hopes.

Needless to say, rock fights against Princeton don’t stay that way for very long. The Tigers (18-6, 11-0 Ivy) hit eight three-pointers in the second half after only making two in the first and ran the Lions (10-14, 4-7) out of their own gym, 64-45.

“Devin [Cannady] made some shots. I thought we found him in the corners,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “We did a good job screening against the zone. I just think the second half of a game, you get a little bit more comfortable with the gym.”

Princeton plays at a glacially slow place and averaged 18.7 seconds per possession heading into Friday, 44th longest out of the 351 Division I teams. Minimizing the total number of possessions in a game is the Tigers’ modus operandi and it did the Lions in once their offense got into a rhythm.

“If the game is that slow, it lends into the way they want to play,” Columbia coach Jim Engles said. “They came out, made a couple of threes and got some separation from us and then it was hard for us to get anything going offensively.”

Princeton shot 48 percent in the second half while holding Columbia to a 32.1 field goal percentage.

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Craving Madness, if not the Ivy kind

It’s back. That deliciously dizzy feeling that madness is coming. As a rabid Princeton basketball fan of a certain age, I got used to this feeling years ago when the Tigers charged into the NCAA Tournament with regularity. Twice in the late ‘70s, four times in the ‘80s, six times in the ‘90s, and twice in the early 2000s, the orange and black danced “bigly,” as a certain Penn graduate might say.

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