The game: the tables are turned – Penn hoops travel to Jadwin tonight for premier rivalry of Ivy League basketball
'The Game' is tonight at 7:30. Penn and Princeton. Always the biggest game of the season. The rival schools have been the end-all of Ivy League men's basketball for decades. For the last 13 years, either the Tigers or the Quakers have nabbed the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Cornell has been the only other team to win the title in the last 34 years.
This year, though, the dominance was supposed to end. Brown, returning all of its starters from last year's third place team, was picked by ESPN.com to win the league. The Columbia squad, coached by Armond Hill '85, swept Penn and Princeton at home in 2001. And Harvard was a sleeper pick.
Surprisingly, the Bears, Lions and Crimson haven't challenged the hegemony of the P's. But another team has.
Yale has shocked the Ivies with a 7-1 start in the conference, including a sweep of Penn (16-6 overall, 3-3 Ivy League) and Princeton (10-8, 5-1) over the weekend. Saturday night, the Elis shut down the Tiger offense on their way to a 60-50 win and first place in the league. Princeton fell to second at 5-1. Penn is tied for fourth at 3-3.
So, tonight's game is different. It is the first time in 14 years that neither of the two teams are on top of the Ivies. If Penn loses this game, the Quakers are all but out of contention. Also, a loss for Princeton would put the Tigers yet another game behind Yale. And with the way Yale stifled the Princeton offense on Saturday night, it does not look as though the Elis will be losing many more games this season. Thus, although it is slightly early to say this, this game is almost a must-win situation for the Tigers.
How can Princeton keep from falling further behind the Elis? For one thing, Princeton cannot continue to shoot 19 percent (4-21) from behind the arc like it did on Saturday.
Besides being off their game, the reason the Tigers shot so poorly was solid defense from Yale. The Eli guards swarmed the perimeter, forcing bad shots from the Princeton offense, thus keeping the shooting percentage down. Also, the Elis understood the flow of the Princeton offense, keeping the Tigers' complicated passing scheme from effectively getting an easy back-door pass or an open player for a 15-foot jumper. And, without injured sophomore forward Andre Logan around to create opportunities by driving the ball to the basket, Princeton was forced to throw up poor shots time and again, finally shooting 37 percent from the field (22.7 percent in the second half).
Penn, with its athleticism, will try the same tricks against the Tigers that Yale did.
On defense, Princeton will have to control what might be the best shooting team in the Ancient Eight.
Yale leads the league in three point percentage (39.3 percent), is second in overall shooting (46.4 percent) and in free throw percentage (73.1).
Unlike Princeton, which goes deep in the roster during the game and starts a new formation during each outing, Penn has used the same five-player combination over the course of the season that has scored about 75 percent of the team's points.
Penn is led by guards Andrew Toole, Tim Begley and Jeff Schifner. The three are a deadly combination, easily capable of shooting the lights out on Princeton if the Tigers are slow around the perimeter. Their combined shooting from behind the arc is 43 percent.
Underneath, the Quaker attack is led by Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong, who at six foot, eight inches and 6'9" respectively, will be able to snare down the boards if Princeton senior guard Mike Bechtold and sophomore center Konrad Wysocki do not focus on boxing out.
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