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Men's basketball hosts league leading Harvard, struggling Dartmouth

20140208_MensBasketball_SewheatHaile_5901The men’s basketball team will not win the Ivy League. But Princeton (14-7 overall, 2-5 Ivy League) still has plenty of reasons to fight. A big one is the continuation of the 24 year home win streak against Harvard, who will be visiting Jadwin Gymnasium Saturday night. The streak survived against the 25th ranked team two years ago and a 2-12 season in the league with a double overtime win in 2007. A similarly big upset will be required to extend it.

Before the Tigers square off against the Crimson (20-4 overall, 7-1 Ivy League), they will face Dartmouth on Friday night. The Big Green (9-13 overall, 2-6 Ivy League) has been awfully streaky this year. Outside its first two games of the season, the team has not won or lost fewer than two games in a row. Their only league wins came on back-to-back nights in Hanover when they defeated Penn and Princeton. The Princeton game went to overtime after the Tigers committed a season-high 17 turnovers and Dartmouth made 23 of 26 free throws. The Big Green has since taken a turn for the worse, dropping an embarrassing game at Cornell and supplying the Big Red with its first Division 1 win in almost a year. It ranks last in the league in scoring, managing just over 60 points per game, while allowing opponents 68.6. Dartmouth allows 47.6 percent shooting overall and 37 percent from beyond the arc, both the second worst marks in the league, while shooting a league worst 39.4 percent. Rebounding is not exactly a strength either, as they hold a 1.4 board deficit in conference play.

Princeton has not exactly been without its own struggles, either. The team many expected to challenge Harvard for the league title has lost close game after close game and finds itself out of contention. At first the problem appeared to be defense. Princeton allowed 93 points against Portland in December, the program’s worst since playing No. 1 Duke three years ago. Then came a streak of bad in the new year: 74, 77, 82, and 78 points allowed in four straight Division 1 match-ups, often accompanied by roughly 50 percent shooting. The offense, despite playing some of its most efficient games in years, simply could not keep up. Then, two weeks ago, the tables turned dramatically. All of a sudden, the Tigers were involved in games that barely topped 100 combined points in regulation, losses to Columbia and Yale. They have held opponents to just over 40 percent shooting the last four outings, but now find themselves unable to hit the three, their calling card earlier in the season. Games against Columbia, Brown and Yale yielded a combined 14 shots made from behind the arc, a mark the team has surpassed in three individual games this season. Princeton’s rebounding has been among the worst in the league, with a deficit of 2.7 boards per game. The team still sports a .584 assists to field goals made ratio, 40th highest in Division 1, underscoring its emphasis on teamwork.

Despite the importance placed on team play, senior guard T.J. Bray has stood out individually this year, more than filling the void left by Ian Hummer ’13, last year’s Ivy League player of the year. Bray’s 20.1 points per league game leads the conference, as do his 1.7 steals. A well rounded player, he dishes out 4.3 assists and pulls in 5.1 rebounds, the second and ninth best marks in the league. What is most impressive about Bray is not his totals, but his rates. He leads the entire nation in points per shot at 1.336, and is the top guard in two point field goal percentage at 69.1 percent. Perhaps most telling is Bray’s No. 1 position in offensive rating, an advanced metric that attempts to quantify the amount of points produced by a player per hundred possessions. His mark of 139.4 leads second place by nearly three points.

Princeton will undoubtedly need some late game magic from Bray if it is to beat Harvard. The Crimson is both the best offensive and defensive team in the league, scoring 72.1 points and allowing 58.5 each game. It also leads the league in assists and blocks per game, while coughing up the fewest turnovers. Its one weakness is rebounding, where it suffers a slight deficit to its opponents. Guard Wesley Saunders leads the Crimson with 13.4 points and the league with 4.7 assists per league game. Frenchman and guard Laurent Rivard takes more than 93 percent of his shots from downtown, sinking a fantastic 46.4 percent of them. Siyani Chambers was recently named one of 23 finalists for the Bob Cousy award, given to the nation’s top point guard. The reigning Ivy League rookie of the year, Chambers, is good, but his stats do not compare favorably to Bray’s, who was left off the list. Chambers has not averaged double figure scoring during conference play, while shooting a sub par 37.7 percent overall. His 3.4 assists per game do place him fourth best in the league, though.

 

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