There's been a lot of talk about favorites Cornell and Harvard in the early stages of Ivy League play and with good reason; the Big Red are two-time defending champs and Harvard has one of the best players in the country (Jeremy Lin) and a solid non-conference profile to boot. But who's in second place? None other than the Princeton Tigers, who will take their 2-0 league mark on the road this weekend in games at Harvard and Dartmouth. Sydney Johnson's team is led offensively by the tandem of Doulglas Davis and Dan Mavraides and their defense leads the conference in points allowed (53.9 ppg) and ranks third in both field goal percentage defense and three-point percentage defense. Coach Johnson was kind enough to spend a few minutes on the phone earlier this week to talk about his team and their play.
RJ: How would you assess the overall performance of your team thus far?
SJ: I think we've learned some very good lessons. Some were painful; we didn't always have the right energy at home and didn't play as well on the road.
RJ: Has there been one area in particular that your team has improved upon since last season?
SJ: Defensively we're improved and are also improving. We've been slightly better as a whole this season; there were way too many breakdowns defensively last season. We're a little more solid this year.
RJ: What's one area that Douglas Davis has improved upon between now and last season that most people wouldn't notice?
SJ: His overall [basketball] IQ and attention to detail have gotten better, which is hard to spot in just one game. Defensively he's starting to "play ahead" and see things before they develop. Offensively he's continuing to develop a sense of letting the game come to him.
RJ: And Dan Mavraides?
SJ: Two things: consistency and leadership. He's showing that last year wasn't just a fluke season; that he wasn't a one-year wonder. And he's taken it on himself to be a more vocal, emotional leader and the guys have a great deal of respect for him.
RJ: What has Ian Hummer added to your team that wasn't there a season ago?
SJ: Ian played against terrific competition in high school; he was tested and played well in a quality league (Washington (DC) Catholic Athletic Conference, widely regarded as one of the best conferences in the country). There's always a learning curve for freshmen and Ian's still learning how to bring it every day; he's bringing 7-8 days of energy followed by a down day.
RJ: Is there anything special that you and your staff has done to get the team ready for your first four Ivy games being on the road?
SJ: It's tough luck and we all have to deal with it, but for lack of a better term we've got to "man up". The guys also have to understand that this is a fourteen-game tournament and not just four games.
7p Princeton (11-5, 2-0) at Harvard (14-4, 3-1)
The Tigers are most certainly going to have their hands full in Cambridge tonight, with the task being to slow down the Ivy League's best offense in regards to field goal percentage (48.6%) and second-best scoring offense (74.7 ppg). Jeremy Lin leads the way offensively with 17.1 points and 4.3 assists per game but there are other options to keep an eye on such as Keith Wright (10.3 ppg) and Kyle Casey, who averages nine points per game off the bench. As for how to slow down Lin, an answer that few have been able to come up with this season, Coach Johnson noted that the Tigers will "have to make him work and make sure he's not weaving through out defense and dunking on us."
But for as potent as the Crimson can be offensively this is also a solid defensive team that leads the Ivy League in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage defense. Harvard will look to play at a higher pace than the Tigers would favor, averaging ten more possessions per game (66) than Princeton on the season. That's going to be the key for the Tigers, who lead the league in turnover margin and steals. If they can slow the game down and hold their own on the boards (5th in rebounding margin; Harvard is 2nd) they've got a shot to be in it at the end. But a quicker game can negate the effect of turnovers, and with Harvard ranking 6th in turnover margin that would be a surefire way to get beat on the road.
7p Yale (8-13, 2-2) at #25 Cornell (18.3, 4-0)
To say that taking on the freshly-ranked Big Red in Ithaca is a tough chore would be a serious understatement. With Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale and Jon Jacques on the perimeter and seven-footer Jeff Foote inside Steve Donahue's team seems to have all the answers for what can be thrown at them on a nightly basis. The Big Red have two of the top ten scorers in the Ivy League and four of the top seven three point shooters, just two fact that should alert the Bulldogs to how good this team is offensively.
But they're nearly as good defensively, with league opponents having the lowest offensive efficiency rating (70) in the Ivy League and it's by a wide margin (Princeton is second with a rating of 82). The keys for Yale? Rebounding (Cornell leads the league in rebounding margin) and defending the three. If Alex Zampier can run the show efficiently and Michael Sands can hold his own inside against Foote, James Jones' team can remain competitive. But to say the least this is an uphill battle for Yale.
7p Brown (7-14, 1-3) at Columbia (7-11, 1-3)
The issues for Joe Jones' Lions have been simple: while they shoot the three well (ranked 2nd in the league in percentage) Columbia still has the second-lowest offensive efficiency in the Ivy League and defensively their conference opponents have the highest offensive efifciency. In Norwua Agho the Lions have one of the better offensive players in the league, but when you're last in assist-to-turnover ratio you can run into problems offensively. But in order to knock off Jesse Agel's Bears Columbia will need to slow down the tandem of Matt Mullery and Peter Sullivan. Mullery makes 55.4% of his shots and ranks in the top ten in both scoring (14.9 ppg) and rebounding (6.0 rpg). Look for this one to go right down to the wire at Levien Gym.
Previews of the games involving area MAAC schools can be found here.