No. 12 Princeton vs. No. 5 Notre Dame: What to watch for

Last year, Yale got to play a team in Baylor just like it in the NCAA Round of 64, one reliant on veteran bigs and offensive rebounding.

This year, the Princeton Tigers (23-6, 14-0 Ivy) get a NCAA opponent that mirrors themselves too.

Like Princeton, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-9, 12-6 ACC) rely on the three-pointer, avoid turnovers, prefer to play at a snail’s pace and don’t get to the foul line very often.

Notre Dame ranks first in the nation in not one but two categories, according to KenPom: turnover percentage and free-throw percentage. In other words, the Irish are extremely opportunistic and don’t give games away.

But although the Irish may be good at the foul line, they don’t get there a whole lot, instead opting to outshoot their opponent rather than engage in a war of attrition. They rank 42nd in the nation in percentage of shots taken from three-point range, while Princeton ranks 31st, ensuring that we’ll see a lot of ball movement and outside shooting if both teams have their way.

The Irish are 6-2 against teams that, like they do, rank 300th or lower in average possession length, which applies since Princeton plays at even a slower pace than Mike Brey’s ACC squad. Notre Dame shot a respectable 36.4 percent from deep in those games, and it went 7-2 in games in which it attempted fewer than 20 three-pointers.

Still, in a game with long possessions, Princeton’s man-to-man defense is going to have to rotate in a white-on-rice fashion on the perimeter if it is to win its first NCAA Tournament game since 1998.

Notre Dame is led by Wooden Award and Karl Malone Award finalist junior forward Bonzie Colson, who has averaged 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game and senior forward V.J. Beachem and his 15.0 points and 4.1 rebounds.

Oh, and there a couple of central New Jersey natives that Princeton must try to push past. Bridgewater, N.J. native junior guard Matt Farrell has contributed 14.2 points and 5.5 assists per game and senior guard and Medford, N.J. native Steve Vasturia has posted 13.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per contest.

The bottom line – this is a very tough matchup for Princeton, likely tougher than Yale’s showdown with Baylor a season ago. Notre Dame’s been to the Elite 8 two years running, and Princeton’s got quite a looking glass to stare down.

Princeton has faced Notre Dame three times, going 1-2 but winning its most recent matchup – an upset of the Irish in 1977 at Jadwin Gym.


3 thoughts on “No. 12 Princeton vs. No. 5 Notre Dame: What to watch for”

  1. Playing a better version of yourself is the best chance for an upset. Colson is just 6-5, which will give our soft but agile bigs a chance to limit his damage (any powerful 7-footer would crush us like bugs). They’ll have to win this with team defense and Myles Stephens’ individual offense.

    Maybe establish Stephens early on to open up the 3pt line for Cannady, Cook and Weisz. Don’t just start the game bombing away from 3; that’s exactly what ND will expect and leaves us vulnerable to getting run out of the building if we miss. Slow it down, post up Stephens in the paint.

    • Thanks for the well-considered comment, gokinsmen.

      I agree that bombing from three to begin would be unwise, unless they’re in-rhythm, open shots, which they were not early in either Ivy tourney game. Establishing Stephens and Weisz inside out in the early going should prove important.

      I do think Notre Dame is a more favorable opponent than West Virginia, the other potential first-round matchup in the same region and the Tigers’ likely opponent should they upend ND, because of the greater similarity. But I also think ND is a better No. 5 seed this year than Baylor was last year, and that the Fighting Irish are just really, really stellar at the style they play. I expect it to be a game that lives up to its Round of 64/Thursday-opening slot.

  2. Here’s another article about the big Princeton take-down of Notre Dame in 1977:

    I was 12-year old kid, blown away by the showtime flair of Digger Phelps and the Irish. If I remember correctly, Notre Dame came out in one set of warm-up gear 40 minutes or so before the game, retreated to their locker room, then reemerged wearing different colors and patterns. That just blew my young mind.

    Note the article’s reference to there being 8,000 fans at the game. Back then, Princeton had larger, metal stands in the end zones that stretched all the way back to Jadwin’s walls. The seats weren’t great but it made for a more exciting, enclosed atmosphere.

    Looking forward to Thursday. Go Tigers!

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