Men's Basketball: Ivy favorites set to begin league play
The Ivy League men’s basketball season begins this weekend, with four teams kicking off the proverbial 14-game tournament on Saturday. That quartet includes the two Ancient Eight title favorites, Princeton and Harvard, which both take on opponents that have struggled this year.
Harvard (8-5) vs. Dartmouth (3-10)
When and Where: Saturday, 4 p.m., Leede Arena
The Skinny: Roster turnover has forced Harvard to rely heavily on underclassmen, but that has not yet been a problem for the Crimson, which owns the league’s best overall record. Freshman point guard Siyani Chambers has been a revelation, leading the league with six assists per game while scoring in double figures. Like previous editions, this year’s Harvard team shoots extremely well; only four teams in the nation hit three-pointers at a better rate than the Crimson’s 42.4 percent.
Dartmouth has won a total of three Ivy League games in the last three seasons, and so far, 2012-13 is shaping up as another long year for the Big Green, which had lost seven straight games before routing Army on Tuesday. Defensively, Dartmouth has been decent this season, but it puts opponents on the free throw line far too often — a flaw Harvard is well-suited to take advantage of — and its offense, which ranks last in the league in points per possession and shooting percentage, will be hard-pressed to keep up with the defending champion.
Coaches’ Takes: Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker, in the Ivy League media teleconference: “Our defense has been up and down this year; we haven’t been as consistent on that end of the floor as we need to be … With a very young team, it’s a process for us to continue to get better.”
Dartmouth head coach Paul Cormier: “This year has been up and down; mostly down, unfortunately … We have not been shooting the ball well at all, and I do think we’re a better shooting team than we’ve shown so far. Perhaps we’re pressing a little bit as the losses pile up.”
Penn (2-12) vs. Princeton (6-7)
When and Where: Saturday, 6 p.m., Jadwin Gymnasium (NBC Sports Network)
The Skinny: Last time the Quakers visited Jadwin, they were 40 minutes away from sharing the Ivy League championship and forcing a one-game playoff with Harvard. This year, a return to title contention is a longshot, as Penn has lost seven straight games dating back to November. The Quakers have been the Ivy League’s worst rebounding team both offensively and defensively — and they’ll be without top rebounder and scorer Fran Dougherty, who has missed the last four games with mononucleosis, against the Tigers’ tall lineup.
Princeton, on the other hand, is hitting its stride entering conference play. Despite a positive scoring margin, the Tigers have a mediocre record, thanks to a 1-6 record in games decided by seven points or less; they’ll need to win some close contests to live up to their preseason billing as Ivy League favorites. Unlike last season, when Princeton opened its conference slate with five road games and quickly fell out of the title picture, its early schedule sets up nicely this year — the Tigers open with five straight at home and don’t play Harvard until midway through the season.
Coaches’ Takes: Penn head coach Jerome Allen, from the Ivy League media teleconference: “It’s a balanced league … I don’t think any one team stands out above, and based on the layout of how the league schedule is structured, it’s going to be difficult for teams to win consistently on Friday and Saturday nights.”
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson ’98: “Entering league play, I think we’ve found a lineup that suits us. We took some hits early, but after the Fordham [loss], we found our way a little bit … We’re playing more like a veteran group.”
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