With the Ivy league season at its halfway point, the Princeton men’s basketball team (16-5 overall, 6-1 Ivy) faces a crucial weekend as they push forward in their bid for the league title and an NCAA tournament berth. Currently finding themselves with sole possession of second place in the league standings after a huge win over Columbia, the Tigers will face first-place Yale (17-5, 8-0) at Jadwin Gymnasium on Friday in what will be their most important game of the year so far. After facing the Bulldogs, who handed Princeton their only league loss earlier in the season, the Tigers host a struggling Brown squad (7-15, 2-6), which they beat soundly in their first meeting this year.
Yale has breezed through the first part of their league schedule, beating every team other than Princeton by 10 points or more. Led by star forward Justin Sears, the Ivy League’s fourth leading scorer, the Bulldogs have lived up to their preseason expectations so far and largely dominated their Ancient Eight competition. However, their sole close game during league play so far came at the hands of Princeton in New Haven, where the Tigers fell short 79-75 after coming back twice from large deficits. Despite a 26-point offensive explosion from junior forward Henry Caruso, Princeton was unable to score on their last three possessions and the Bulldogs escaped unscathed.
In Friday’s game, something will have to give during the clash between Princeton’s league-leading offense, scoring nearly 80 points per game in the Ivies, and Yale’s league-best defense, which is giving up under 64 points per contest. However, it is the other end of the floor that may prove more crucial to securing a Princeton victory. If the Tigers are to prevail this time around, they will need to tighten up on defense, especially at the three-point line, where Yale went 11-19 in the first meeting.
Saturday’s opponent, Brown, has enjoyed nowhere near the same level of success as the Bulldogs so far. In what has been a very split league this season, Brown finds themselves on the wrong side of that divide, tied for last place with Harvard, Cornell and Dartmouth. During their previous meeting in Providence, Princeton easily overcame the Bears 83-59. Despite an unusually bad shooting day from Princeton, going just 5-23 from three, the Tigers dominated the boards, forced 20 turnovers and held Brown to just 35 percent shooting from the field. This weekend’s contest on paper seems to favor the Tigers even more, as Brown has turned out an abysmal 1-9 on the road, including out-of-conference play, this season. Princeton will hope to turn in another complete performance against the Bears, as any loss for the remainder of the season could deal a huge blow to their tournament hopes given Yale’s dominance so far in the league.
With the Tigers enjoying one of their most successful seasons in years, the games this weekend will go a long way toward determining whether Princeton can win their first Ivy league title since the 2010-11 season. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Yale game can be viewed on ESPN3 and the Brown game on the Ivy League Digital Network.