The men's basketball team is in the midst of a dream season. Princeton is currently in the top 10 and has yet to be threatened in the Ivy League.
But tonight, the Tigers host arch-rival Penn, which can, by beating Princeton, destroy the dream, strip the Tigers of their national ranking and grab a piece of the Ivy League lead.
And if there's one Quaker player the Tigers fear, it's sophomore point guard Michael Jordan, the league's leading scorer.
"He's fast, he's strong, he can make his shot, he can go either way," Princeton assistant coach John Thompson '88 said.
Better with age
Last year, Jordan was named Ivy Rookie of the Year after averaging 12.1 points per game. This year, he's playing even better, averaging 16.3 ppg, and dishing out more than four assists per game.
"He's a hard guy to guard," Princeton assistant coach Howard Levy '85 said. "He doesn't have as many tendencies as some of the other guys in the league."
Jordan was a terrific penetrator when he arrived at Penn last season, capable of taking his defender to the basket at will. But he was also successful at turning the ball over, and less successful at getting his teammates open shots.
But this season, Jordan has become a playmaker, driving and then kicking the ball out to his teammates on the perimeter, allowing the Quakers to get open three-pointers.
On the outside
"I think (perimeter shooting) is going to be the key, because they have very good shooters and they get shots," Thompson said. "We just want to limit the open shots, because if they're left open for too long, they're going to make them."
And Penn has done just that, torching opponents from behind the arc en route to becoming the second-best team in the country in three-point percentage at 43.3 percent.
Sophomore forward Matt Langel is currently fourth in the country in individual three-point shooting, hitting a blistering 56.3 percent. Jordan is hitting 44 percent while Kreitz is at 37 percent. Both Langel and guard Garett Kreitz have had 30-point games in the past two weeks.
But Jordan is the key to Penn's perimeter game. If Princeton can keep Jordan from penetrating, the Quakers won't be able to get wide-open looks at the basket.
Senior guard Mitch Henderson will probably start off guarding Jordan in a showdown of two of the Ivy League's best guards. Hender-son suffered a broken nose against Yale on Saturday, but will play wearing a facemask. Junior guard Brian Earl or senior forward James Mastaglio may also be called upon to help out on Jordan.
Penn enters today's game having won seven in a row, and 10 of its last 11 games. The Quakers played a tough non-conference schedule early in the season, including games against three ranked opponents: Kansas, Rhode Island and George Washington. The only ranked team the Tigers have played is No. 1 North Carolina, which handed Princeton its only loss of the season.
Despite the recent media blitz surrounding the rise of the Tigers in the polls, this game remains one of the focal points of Princeton's season. If Penn defeats the Tigers, the two would be tied for the Ivy lead.
Assuming both teams then win the remainder of the games, Princeton would have to beat the Quakers at the Palestra, where the Tigers have won only once in the past five seasons.
"I think that over the years, it's come down to Penn and Princeton," Thompson said. "Going into this year, we knew that regardless of what attention we've gotten, if you want to win the league, you're going to have to beat Penn."