Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday Notebook: Tiger Trouble

It's hard to be faced with the fact that Princeton scored its first field goal of the second half at the 10:01 mark and still say with a straight face that it was the Tigers defense that let them down.

It is, however, the sad truth.

The 47 points on 35 first-half possessions was a complete anomaly, as was the 17 on 30 possessions after the break. Overall, the 64 points on 65 possessions should have been good enough to win.

At least it would have been last year.

The Tigers have been on the floor for just three games this season, so hyperbole will be kept to a minimum here, but Princeton's defense has seemingly taken an undesired step backwards. The Tigers have seen two above average offenses (Rutgers and James Madison) and one stellar attack (Duke). So while one might expect the raw numbers to look pretty awful - and they do - the adjusted numbers are still bad as well (a 103 defensive rating - 11 points per 100 possessions higher than last year).

Turnovers have been a big problem for Princeton. After forcing a giveaway almost once in every four possessions last year (24%), this season the Tigers have fallen slightly below 1-in-6 (16%). Opponents are cashing in on those extra possessions, as Princeton's eFG% allowed has ticked up about five percentage points even after throwing the Duke game entirely out the window.

These issues have been exacerbated by the Tigers quicker pace this season. After slogging out the first 40 minutes against Rutgers at a comfortable 60 possession speed, Princeton ran up and down the floor with Duke for 77 possessions and then put up 65 at James Madison. That's a 67.3 possessions per 40 minute pace, which is seven faster than last year and nine faster than two years ago. It should come as little surprise that the Tigers might struggle to close out games, as the contests are just plain longer than they've been in the past.

Put another way, why is Princeton the Ivy League favorite this year? The Tigers came within three of knocking off eventual Sweet 16 team Cornell on two separate occasions and beat Harvard by three twice. How many times did Princeton run up and down the court in those contests? A meager 56 and 57 against the Crimson and 52 and 53 against the Big Red. If the Tigers want to play at a pace in the mid-60s this year, they might as well hand two wins to Harvard.


The interior issues for Cornell are bigger than were previously expected. Aaron Osgood's strong start is a distant memory now, and all that's left is a frontcourt that ranks about 275th in total rebounding and a team that isn't even converting at a 40 percent clip from inside the arc.

Those problems bit the Big Red once again in Bethlehem against Lehigh last night. A 10-for-25 performance from three and a 9-for-10 showing from the stripe were both for naught as Cornell couldn't overcome its 9-for-29 two-point shooting.

The only forwards that shot well (Josh Figini, 3-for-5, and Adam Wire, 2-for-3) went 3-for-3 from long range and just 2-for-5 from two.

Combine the frontcourt issues with an eight turnover night from Chris Wroblewski, and that's how you lose to an average Patriot League team.


Huge slate of games tonight with five Ivy League teams in action tonight (3 home, 1 road, 1 neutral). Penn (vs. Lafayette) and Columbia (vs. Colgate) are big favorites, while Princeton is a slight favorite in the third and final Ivy-Patriot showdown of the night versus Bucknell at James Madison's home arena. Dartmouth is a slight home underdog to Quinnipiac, while Yale is a huge underdog on the road at No. 19 Illinois.

The only two teams not to have played this week, Harvard and Brown, will be in action tomorrow. The Crimson will play at Bryant, while the Bears will take on St. Francis (NY) at home.

Harvard has played its first three games without preseason First Team All-Ivy candidate, forward Kyle Casey, and though the protective boot for his foot has been shed, the game notes indicate he will not return for the game against Bryant. While the Crimson shouldn't have much trouble with the Bulldogs without him, it would love to have him back for this Sunday's home game against Colorado, though that would still be a few days ahead of the previously stated ambitious return date of December 1.

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