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Preview and Staff Picks: Men's basketball at Ivy Madness

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The Tigers will face off against Penn in the semifinal round on Saturday.
Courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/Twitter.

For most of the season, the Princeton men’s basketball team (19–8 overall, 10–4 Ivy League) has been at or near the top of the Ivy League standings, but recent performances may cause onlookers to question whether or not the team can pull off back-to-back wins to capture their second Ivy Madness title.

If we split the Ivy League season down the middle, we see that the crew under head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 went 5–2 in both halves, losing at Brown (14–13, 7–7), Yale (20–7, 10–4), and Dartmouth (10–18, 6–8), before dropping the home leg against the Yale Bulldogs. But it was with this home loss, in which the Tigers blew a 19-point lead they held with under 10 minutes remaining in the game, that cracks began to show in the Princeton team. Following that game, the Tigers nearly blew another 19-point lead at low-ranked Harvard (14–14, 5–9), a gaffe from which they narrowly escaped.

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However, in the final game of the season, the Tigers demonstrated that they too could come back from a monumental deficit, flipping a 17-point halftime gap against Penn (17–12, 9–5) into an overtime victory on their home floor and clinching their second-straight Ivy League regular-season championship. Indeed, it may be a combination of hosting Ivy Madness on their home floor (where they have only lost three times this season) and a semifinal rematch against Penn (whom they have not lost to since 2018) that will allow the Tigers to transform the momentum from last weekend’s win into success come the title game Sunday afternoon.

Ivy Madness Preview

The Tigers enter Ivy Madness as the second seed, and will thus take on third-seeded Penn in the semifinal round. The other semifinal round will see top-seeded Yale take on fourth-seeded Cornell (17–10, 7–7). In the Ivy League, only the top four teams from the regular season qualify for the postseason tournament. Yale and Princeton were co-champions during the regular season, but Yale held the tie-breaker for the number one seed due to their season sweep over the Tigers. All four teams appeared in last season’s tournament, the only difference being that the 2022 edition saw Princeton holding the top seed and the Bulldogs in second.

Penn

If there’s one team Penn fans were hoping they wouldn’t have to face in the semifinal round, it’s Princeton. Not a single player on their roster has ever beaten the Tigers, and Princeton was the only team in the Ivy League that the Quakers didn’t beat at least once this season. Of course, there is still reason to believe that Penn has a good chance at success in the semifinal round; indeed, one need look no further than Quakers guard and 2023 Ivy League Player of the Year Jordan Dingle to see Penn’s best shot at advancing. Dingle is second in Division I scoring at 23.6 points per game, and had 28 points against Princeton in the final game of the regular season. As a team, Penn is also very effective from three-point range and the free throw line, two qualities that are important to teams who want to win in March, and they currently hold first place in the Ivy League in both categories. Perhaps Penn’s largest weakness, aside from their recent difficulties against Princeton, is their turnover margin; the Quakers rank last in the Ivy League in that category, coughing up the ball over two times more per game than their opponents, on average.

Yale

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If Princeton is Penn’s kryptonite, then Yale is certainly Princeton’s. The Bulldogs have triumphed over the Tigers in 10 of the last 11 matchups between the schools, including last year’s Ivy Madness final, which Yale won 66–64. Led by 2023 Ivy League Coach of the Year James Jones, the Bulldogs are a well-rounded team on both sides of the ball, leading the league in field goal percentage (48.2 percent) while also giving up the lowest field goal percentage to opponents of any team in the conference (39.7 percent). The Bulldogs can score from any position on the floor, too, with five of their players averaging over 10 points per game. One of these double-digit scorers, Bez Mbeng, was also Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, and has the ability to lock down any player in the league. Although Yale started off the year slow, losing the first game of the season against Columbia (7–22, 2–12) and three of their first four Ivy League games, the Bulldogs are entering the tournament red-hot, having won nine of the other ten games they played in the Ivy League.

Cornell

There is no coach in the Ivy League (besides Mitch Henderson) that knows Princeton basketball as well as Cornell head coach Brian Earl ’99, who was Henderson’s teammate at Princeton and won Ivy League Player of the Year with the Tigers. Yet this familiarity was not enough to get a win over Princeton in either of the team’s regular season matchups this year, nor in last year’s Ivy Madness semifinal. While the Big Red managed to dodge Princeton in this year’s semifinals, they will face a tremendously difficult opponent in Yale in their 2023 semifinal. The strength of Cornell’s offense is undeniable; they lead the Ivy league in scoring (82.5 points per game), and find themselves second in field-goal percentage and three-point percentage (47.5 and 35.6 percent, respectively). However, if they want to have success against Yale and beyond in the postseason, they will have to tighten things up significantly on the defensive side of the ball; currently, they give up the most points to opponents of any team in the league (75.9 per game), while allowing the highest field-goal percentage of any Ivy squad (47.1 percent).

Staff Picks: Ivy Madness Semifinal, Yale vs. Cornell

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Cornell 87, Yale 81: Diego Uribe, Assistant Sports Editor

The Bulldogs are undoubtedly on upset watch against Cornell. Yale will want to control the tempo of the game as much as possible, as nobody in the Ivy League wants to get into a shoot-out with the high-flying Big Red offense. I expect Cornell will get hot with the season on the line, and the Bulldogs simply will not be able to keep up. Cornell wins a high-scoring contest and heads to the Ivy League championship game.

Yale 83, Cornell 78: Yousif Mohamed, Sports Contributor

This game won’t be as easy for Yale as some may make it out to seem. We saw last Saturday at Columbia that Cornell is a team that can use its offensive firepower to get out in front by 20-plus points and play defense well enough to keep teams at bay. However, in Cornell’s most-recent bout with Yale on Feb. 25, the Bulldogs shut Cornell down, holding the Big Red to 58 points. The Cornell defense held a powerful Yale team to 76, but Yale has dominated their pace in their contests this season; the Big Red would need to put up at least 90 points to come out with a win against the Bulldogs. They won’t.

Staff Picks: Ivy Madness Semifinal, Princeton vs. Penn

Princeton 70, Penn 59: Diego Uribe, Assistant Sports Editor

The Quakers will go only as far as Jordan Dingle will take them. The Tigers have proven that they can do enough to slow him down, as he shot 2-for-16 from the field in the second half and overtime in their most recent matchup. Princeton will do just enough to prevent Dingle from winning the game by himself, allowing their superior depth and talent to carry them to the Ivy League championship game.

Princeton 76, Penn 72: Yousif Mohamed, Sports Contributor

In their recent come-from-behind win against Penn, the Tigers have proven that they have what it takes to defeat a Quakers team that came in with a seven-game winning streak in Ivy play. Penn demonstrated that they too are capable of success on Princeton’s court, scoring a strong 42 points in the first half of that game. To beat Penn again, Princeton is going to have to put on the same defensive clinic we saw in the second half on March 4 — which includes keeping Jordan Dingle under control.

Staff Picks: Ivy Madness Final

Princeton 67, Cornell 61: Diego Uribe, Assistant Sports Editor

The Cornell offense has been by far the best in the Ivy this year, but the Tigers match up well against their strengths. The Big Red rank second in the League in made three-pointers per game, but the Tigers pace the conference in opponent three-point percentage, meaning that they defend against the deep-ball better than anyone else in the Ivy League. If the Tigers can successfully defend against the three-pointer like they have all year and keep the game relatively low-scoring, they should be able to hold off the Big Red and earn the Ivy League title, punching their ticket to March Madness in the process.

Princeton 89, Yale 87: Yousif Mohamed, Sports Contributor

While the Tigers lost to Yale both times in their season series, the momentum Princeton will have coming into the championship game will allow them to soar past the Bulldogs. Princeton’s offensive firepower put them ahead by 19 at one point in their final meeting, losing as a result of a defensive breakdown late in the game. If the Tigers can maintain their defensive presence and control this final bout’s pace, they will be well on their way to an Ivy Madness title and an NCAA Tournament spot.

Wilson Conn is a head editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ 

Diego Uribe is an assistant editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ 

Yousif Mohamed is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ 

Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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