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Women's hoops refuses to shy from top foes

While its academic strength is unmatched, when it comes to women's basketball, the Ivy League is lightly regarded around the rest of the country. The league champion seldom garners a seed outside the mid-teens in the NCAA Tournament, and even more rarely advances past the first round.

Part of this lack of respect stems from the fact that most of the schools in the league play weak out-of-conference schedules.

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While teams from other small conferences make a concerted effort to schedule teams from elite conferences, the majority of Ivy League squads are content with playing equal or lesser competition.

Princeton, however, is the exception to this rule. Thus far this season, the Tigers have played a formidable out-of-conference schedule.

In a recent simulation of the Rating Percentage Index for women's basketball, the Southeastern Conference, the Big East and the Big Ten were ranked as the top three conferences in the nation, respectively.

Princeton has played four of its 14 out-of-conference games against opponents from these conferences — Arkansas and Vanderbilt from the SEC, Providence from the Big East and Northwestern from the Big Ten. The other seven Ivy teams have played a total of five games against these conferences.

Of these nine games, the Ivy teams lost eight — Harvard managed a win against Ohio State in November. While losses against superior squads may hurt a team's overall record, they also compel its players to improve.

"I think [playing stronger teams] helps us," junior captain Jessica Munson said. "It's nice to win but you grow a lot more when you're playing better teams."

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Indeed, the purpose of these out-of-conference games is to prepare a team for the Ivy season. It is because of this that some players refer to the games before league play begins as the "preseason."

Before the beginning of the season, head coach Liz Feeley said, "We believe that in order to be our best we must play the best, so this year we have gone out and scheduled some high-caliber teams. Each year we challenge ourselves to continue to improve and grow during the pre-league season, so when the Ivy season arrives we are ready to play our best."

This strategy seems to have worked for Harvard and Penn, who both are currently undefeated in Ivy play. The Crimson and the Quakers have scheduled more difficult opponents than the majority of Ivy teams. In addition to knocking off Ohio State, Harvard played LaSalle and Rhode Island from the strong Atlantic 10 conference. Penn hung with Villanova — a Big East squad — before losing by nine and has played three schools from the Atlantic 10, losing to both LaSalle and St. Joseph's, and defeating Temple.

However, as Princeton has shown this season, playing powerful opponents does not necessarily lead to Ivy glory. The Tigers have won only three games this season, and are currently 0-3 in league play.

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Princeton has managed to run with some of their better opponents this year, but it has struggled all season to play complete games. If the Tigers don't learn to finish off lesser opponents, their 'preseason' schedule will be for naught, and their Ivy season will be a disappointment.

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