Ivy League Tournament men’s semifinal preview: No. 3 Penn vs. No. 2 Princeton

Ivy League Tournament – at Jadwin Gymnasium (Princeton)

Saturday, March 11: Semifinal at Jadwin Gym
No. 2 Princeton (19-8, 10-4 Ivy) vs No. 3 Penn (17-12, 9-5 Ivy) at 11:00 a.m. (available on ESPNU and ESPN+)

Game #1, 1/16/23: Princeton over Penn (home), 72-60
Game #2, 3/4/23: Princeton (home) over Penn, 77-69 (OT)

Head Coach:

Mitch Henderson (12th year at Princeton; overall 204-116, Ivy 107-47; three regular season championships; one Ivy League Tournament championships; one-time Ivy Coach of the Year)

Starting Lineup:
Tosan Evbuomwan (senior forward; 33.2 mpg, 16.3 ppg, 52.4% FG, 61.8% FT, 6.1 rpg, 5.7 apg); Ivy League First Team; Academic All-Ivy
Matt Allocco (junior guard; 33.6 mpg, 12.6 ppg, 50.0% FG, 77.1% FT, 4.2 rpg, 1.6 apg); Ivy League Second Team
Ryan Langborg (senior guard; 32.4 mpg, 11.4 ppg, 40.5% FG, 85.0% FT, 3.1 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Caden Pierce (first-year forward; 32.5 mpg, 9.6 ppg, 39.5% FG, 61.0% FT, 8.1 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Keeshawn Kellman (senior forward; 15.3 mpg, 6.4 ppg, 55.0% FG, 74.2% FT, 4.1 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Key Reserves:
Blake Peters (sophomore guard; 13.9 mpg, 5.9 ppg, 40.0% FG, 70.0% FT, 1.7 rpg, 0.3 apg)
 Xaivian Lee (first-year guard; 14.4 mpg, 4.2 ppg, 33.9% FG, 93.3% FT, 1.9 rpg, 0.9 apg)

Offense (conference stats, courtesy of the Ivy League and KenPom)
Points Per Game: 75.8 (#4 in Ivy)
Effective FG%: 50.9% (#6)
2FG%: 52.2% (#5)
3FG%: 32.8% (#7)
3Pt Rate: 42.7% (#2)
FT% 72.2% (#3)
FT Rate: 38.4% (#4)
Assist Rate: 46.9% (#6)
Turnover Rate: 17.1% (#4)
Steal Rate: 8.9% (#5)
Block Rate: 9.8% (#7)
Offensive Rebounding Rate: 28.0% (#3)
Average Possession Length: 18.2 (#8)
Offensive Efficiency: 106.3 (#4)

Points Per Game: 72.0 (#3, tied)
Effective FG%: 48.2% (#2)
2FG%: 47.0% (#1)
3FG%: 33.8% (#4)
3Pt Rate: 33.8% (#2)
FT% 67.1% (#1)
FT Rate: 32.9% (#4)
Assist Rate: 39.3% (#1)
Turnover Rate: 14.3% (#8)
Steal Rate: 6.7% (#8)
Block Rate: 8.4% (#6)
Defensive Rebounding Rate: 75.4% (#3)
Defensive Efficiency: 101.0 (#3)

Head Coach:
Steve Donahue (8th year at Penn, 22nd year between Cornell, Boston College and Penn; 309-301 overall, 109-87 at Penn, 55-49 Ivy; one-time regular season; one-time Ivy Tournament champions; one-time Ivy Coach of the Year)

Starting Lineup:
Jordan Dingle (junior guard; 33.0 mpg, 23.2 ppg, 45.0% FG, 85.4% FT, 3.7 rpg, 1.5 apg); Ivy League Player of the Year; Ivy League First Team
Max Martz (junior forward/guard; 32.6 mpg, 11.6 ppg, 46.6% FG, 80.8% FT, 4.9 rpg, 1.2 apg); Ivy League Honorable Mention
Clark Slajchert (junior guard; 28.2 mpg, 11.3 ppg, 40.4% FG, 83.7% FT, 3.3 rpg, 1.8 apg)
Nick Spinoso (sophomore forward; 23.1 mpg, 11.1 ppg, 58.3% FG, 50.0% FT, 5.7 rpg, 2.3 apg)
Lucas Monroe (senior guard; 22.7 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 44.6% FG, 83.3% FT, 1.3 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Key Reserves:
George Smith (sophomore guard; 21.1 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 56.4% FG, 61.1% FT, 4.0 rpg, 1.2 apg
Max Lorca-Lloyed (senior forward; 13.2 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 47.4% FG, 58.8% FT, 3.6 rpg, 0.9 apg) 

Offense (conference stats)
Points Per Game: 76.1 (#3)
Effective FG%: 53.6% (#3)
2FG%: 53.6% (#3)
3FG%: 35.7% (#3)
3Pt Rate: 35.0% (#7)
FT% 74.6% (#2)
FT Rate: 34.8% (#3)
Assist Rate: 48.5% (#5)
Turnover Rate: 18.9% (#7)
Steal Rate: 9.5% (#6)
Block Rate: 7.7 (#3)
Offensive Rebounding Rate: 30.1% (#1)
Average Possession Length: 17.7 (#7)
Offensive Efficiency: 108.2 (#3)

Points Per Game: 72.2 (#3, tied)
Effective FG%: 48.0% (#1)
2FG%: 47.4% (#2)
3FG%: 32.5% (#1)
3Pt Rate: 43.6% (#7)
FT% 70.3% (#3)
FT Rate: 30.3% (#1)
Assist Rate: 50.9% (#5)
Turnover Rate: 15.8% (#7)
Steal Rate: 7.7% (#6)
Block Rate: 8.5% (#5)
Defensive Rebounding Rate: 72.5% (#6)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.3 (#6)

Princeton arrived at Lavietes Pavilion for last year’s tournament as the prohibitive favorites and were upset in the finals by Yale.  This year, they again captured the regular season title, but will be the two seed.  With the last three versions of Ivy Madness being won by the second team, the Tigers are looking to continue that streak and get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the undefeated conference season of 2016-2017.

For the second straight year, the Orange & Black are led by the multi-dimensional big man Tosan Evbuomwan.  The 6’8″ forward from Great Britain, the 2021-2022 Ivy League Player of the Year, had another unanimous first team All-Ivy season.  Not only is he a tremendous scorer and rebounder, but he is an elite passer, who led the conference in assists. At last year’s tournament, coach Mitch Henderson told fans to keep their eyes on Evbuomwan since he hadn’t seen as good a post passer in the last 25 years.

While the Tigers are still a three-ball focused offense, the shots haven’t been falling as well for them this year.  As a result, they’ve had to capitalize on their buckets near the basket, where they are fortieth in the nation in two-point shooting accuracy.  They’ve also had to be a very disciplined unit on the defensive side.

Princeton likes to keep their opponents inside the three-point line and battling them down low.  Junior Matt Allocco, the most talkative member of the Orange & Black, is the key to the Tigers success on the defensive side, often being tasked with shadowing the other team’s premier player.  

When they force teams down on the blocks, they are tops in the league at defensive two-point shooting accuracy and top 60 in the land.  If teams do manage to get off long-range shots, they are only converting less than 34% of those attempts.  In the limited chances at the free throw line, Princeton’s opposition are so worn down by the Tigers’ physicality that they hitting less than 68% in league play and 69% for the year.

In a very close vote, Penn was picked as the preseason favorites, over Yale and Princeton, due to the return of most of their offensive firepower from a team that finished in third place last year.

The team is top 100 in the country from two, three and the free throw line, as well as the top offensive rebounding team in the Ivy League.

Leading the way is Jordan Dingle, a first team All-Ivy performer and this year’s conference Player of the Year.  Dingle has consistently improved his game and is presently the nation’s second leading scorer.  He can score from any part of the court and can put up points in bunches.  On the rare occasion where the opposition is frustrating him, he can do major damage from the charity stripe.

In the pre-conference schedule, Clark Slajchert joined Dingle and created one of the most prolific backcourts in the nation.  The Ivy schedule has not been favorable to the slasher from California, who finished with nine single digit performances against Ivy competition.  On the positive side, he has three double digit games in his last four contests and is averaging 14 points per game over that time.

Junior small forward Max Martz and big man Nick Spinoso have really picked up the offense to compliment Dingle.  Martz usually spends his time battling bigger players but can find an extra gear to add big offensive numbers.  Spinoso announced his presence with 14 points in the 2022 semifinal defeat at Yale and has continued his strong offensive performance near the hoop.  As is typical for a Steve Donahue big man, Spinoso is also a solid passer.

While Penn’s defense isn’t necessarily their calling card, they are the top team in the league in limiting opponent’s shots from the three-point line and second in stopping teams inside the arc.  Lucas Monroe may not put up the gaudiest numbers in the league, but he is the team’s toughest defender and emotional sparkplug.

On the downside, Penn struggles on the defensive glass, are very turnover prone and have trouble forcing turnovers from their opponents.

In this long standing and historic rivalry, Princeton has had near total control over the last decade. Other than Penn’s championship 2018 campaign, the series has been all Tigers.

Penn held the lead at the half in both games between the teams this year.  Game one was a slugfest in the opening 20 minutes, while last week’s game was more of a track meet.

During the final 20 minutes of both contests, the Tigers were able to take control by getting timely shots, shutting down Penn’s offense from the field (Penn went 0-for-12 from three in game one) and the free throw line.

Compared to last year, when Penn arrived with Dingle, George Smith and Jelani Williams not at 100%, this year’s team is completely healthy entering Saturday’s game.  While the team is physically healthy, it is hard to tell how they are handling the 17-point second-half collapse in last week’s defeat to Princeton in the same arena they will be playing this weekend.

For the Tigers, the key is to avoid the large droughts that have plagued them in the last three games of the regular season against Yale, Harvard and Penn.  If they can avoid the offensive lapse and continue to keep Penn from thriving on the free throw line, they stand a good chance at moving to Sunday’s final.

On the Penn side, they will not only want to replicate last week’s first-half success, limiting Evbuomwan’s production and hitting virtually every shot they take, but avoid the second half pitfalls that plagued them in the two earlier games with the Tigers, as well as the away game at Dartmouth.  If they can make the necessary counter-adjustments to their opponent’s changes over the final twenty minutes and get to the free throw line late in the game, they can finally break the Princeton stranglehold and battle it out with Yale or Cornell for a chance to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018.