Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Daily Princetonian Previews Tigers at Cornell

And so the title defense begins. In a non-conference schedule that has had its highs and lows, the men’s basketball team has bounced back from a 1-5 start to win eight of its last 10 games as it enters Ivy League play this weekend. The Tigers (9-7) open their slate on the road, taking on Cornell (5-9) on Friday followed by Columbia (11-5) on Saturday.

The Tigers had a fruitful break, saving their best for the biggest game, an epic 75-73 win in three overtimes that handed Florida State its first loss in its last 52 home games against teams from outside the “big six” conferences. Princeton did not let up after the thrilling win, finishing its Florida road trip with a 76-61 win over Florida A&M and concluding its non-conference schedule with a 79-68 victory against The College of New Jersey on Sunday.

Princeton will need to extend its winning streak in order to keep up with Harvard in the quest for a second straight Ancient Eight title. The road trip this weekend represents an early opportunity for the Tigers to get ahead in the standings before the team breaks for finals; Princeton has swept its opening weekend of conference play in each of the last four seasons.

The Big Red has had a rocky start to the season, ending a five-game losing streak last weekend with a 78-60 win against Division III Albright. Cornell’s inconsistency parallels its schedule, as the Big Red has gone 0-8 on the road. Cornell’s record at home, however, is a much more formidable 5-1, with the only loss being a 65-63 contest against American in November. The Tigers, who have utilized the three-pointer effectively this season, will have to match up against the Big Red’s Ivy League-leading defense from outside the arc.

Princeton will also need to take care of the ball, as Cornell leads the league in steals and turnover margin. The Tigers’ big men, led by junior forwards Ian Hummer and Mack Darrow, will have to contend with Big Red forwards Eitan Chemerinski, who leads the league in field goal percentage, and Shonn Miller. On the outside, the Tigers will need to counter guard Drew Ferry, who leads the league in three-point percentage and three-pointers made.

The Lions have turned an early 0-4 start, which began with a 13-point road loss to defending national champion Connecticut, into an 11-5 record, with their only other loss coming at Marist on Dec. 28. Columbia’s notable wins include a 69-61 victory at Loyola Marymount and a 63-53 win at home against Long Island University, which reached the NCAA Tournament last year.

The Lions are second in the league in points allowed, trailing only Harvard. Columbia center Mark Cisco is a force down low, and along with forward John Daniels, Cisco’s matchup against Hummer and junior center Brendan Connolly will be key. Expect freshman forward Denton Koon, who grabbed Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors earlier this month, to make a contribution. Senior guard Doug Davis and sophomore guard T.J. Bray will have to contend with guard Brian Barbour, who has been a leader after Columbia lost star guard Noruwa Agho early in the season.

Princeton has its work cut out for it this season in the Ivy League. Along with the improved Lions, the Tigers also have to face off against a strong Yale team that is 10-4, featuring star center Greg Mangano. However, the clear class of the league appears to be the Crimson, who are ranked No. 25 in the coaches’ poll and received 16 votes in the Associated Press poll even after a disappointing loss to Fordham.

Harvard, which overcame a second-half deficit to beat Dartmouth 63-47 on Saturday, is led by 2011 Ivy League Player of the Year Keith Wright and guard Brandyn Curry. Crimson coach Tommy Amaker has a deep team poised to make some noise both in the Ivy League and nationally.

Princeton, which has recently started to click as a team after some early season struggles, will need to continue its consistent play before it hosts the Crimson on Feb. 11 in Harvard’s first shot to avenge the Tigers’ famous buzzer-beating playoff victory.

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