Men's basketball have work cut out for them in Ivy League title chase| Feb 19, 2015
The Tigers certainly have their work cut out for them if they want to claw their way to the top of the Ivy League. With only seven games left in the regular season, the Tigers will hit the road this weekend to play the Dartmouth Big Green and the Harvard Crimson.
These two games begin a defining stretch for Princeton’s season — the team will play its next four games on the road, as it stands 2.5 games out of first place in the conference. The Tigers (11-12 overall, 4-3 Ivy League) will open this weekend in Hanover, N.H., as they take on a Dartmouth team that has been rather underwhelming this season.
No one expected the Big Green (2-6, 9-13) to dominate the league, but it currently stands tied for last in the league — not particularly encouraging as the season winds down. Moreover, it does not appear that any one player on their roster has really stepped up and established himself. The leading scorer, Alex Mitola, averages a mere 13 points per game and shoots below 40 percent a game. As a whole, the team’s offensive performance has not been stellar, ranking sixthin the league in terms of free throw percentage and seventhin points scored per game.
Moreover, the Tigers have already had success against Dartmouth earlier in the season. Key to Princeton’s victory in that game were the aggressiveness in getting to the hoop and the ability to hit from behind the arc. The Tigers can be sure to perform well in the same areas, as Princeton currently leads all Ivy League teams in three-pointers made and ranks second in three point percentage. The team has also continued to remain solid in the free throw department, ranking second percentage-wise and in the top half of the league in total free throws made.
It will also greatly boost Princeton’s chances if it can disrupt Mitola as it did in the last meeting. Princeton held the Dartmouth guard to a mere 5 points on 1-8 shooting. Princeton will of course have to make sure to contain the reserve players; at times during the season, the team has been able to shut down its opponent’s star player, only to get scorched by lesser known members of the opposing squad.
Such was the case when Princeton battled No. 1 ranked Harvard at Jadwin Gymnasium a few weeks ago. While Princeton kept Harvard’s star Wesley Saunders in check, the Tigers were ultimately scorched by the combination of reserves Corbin Miller and Jonah Travis, who combined to score 33 points on the game (their season averages are 9.1 and 5.7 points, respectively).
The Crimson (17-5, 7-1), currently tied with Yale for the No. 1 spot in the league, is on an absolute tear as of late. It has won its last six games in a row, having only lost to the aforementioned Big Green. The team has built its success on a stalwart defense, ranking first in both points allowed (57.2) and opponent field goal percentage (38.9 percent). This is certainly one team that is able to stifle the Tigers’ strong shooting.
As always, the main question for the Tigers is how to handle the Crimson’s talented guard combination. Complementing Saunders is junior point guard Siyani Chambers, who makes up for his mediocre production in points with his strong playmaking ability. Anchoring the defense is big man Steve Moundou-Missi, whose ability to rebound and block shots makes up for his often inconsistent performance on offense.
Princeton, for its part, will most likely look to its core trio of sophomores Spencer Weisz and Stephen Cook, at the wing positions, and junior forward/center Hans Brase to step up in these next few games. Cook has been particularly impressive as of late, averaging 15 points per game in the last three outings.
Outside of the three regulars, freshman Amir Bell will certainly be looked to at times to attack the basket and create for others. Bell has had a strong first season, averaging 9.3 points and 2.6 assists per game. Off the bench, senior guard Ben Hazel and sophomore wing Henry Caruso have had spectacular moments across the season. Caruso in particular has really been a firecracker, at times barely visible during a game, and other times exploding with over 20 points.
The Tigers will face every other team in the league just once more before the regular season concludes. As they play their next four games on the road, every result counts as they look for that automatic NCAA tournament bid.