Posted on: March 17, 2011 6:27 pm
Edited on: March 18, 2011 10:53 am

Knight lifts Kentucky to close win

Posted by Jeff Borzello

Louisville and Kentucky losing on the same day in the round of 64? That couldn’t happen, right?

Brandon Knight wasn’t having it.

The freshman guard hit a tough layup with 2.0 seconds left to lift the Wildcats to a 59-57 win over Ivy champion Princeton.

Knight finished with just two points, but he came up big when it mattered.

On Wednesday, head coach John Calipari stated, "You can't count on freshmen." It seems Knight proved him wrong.

I'm sure Calipari will accept the trade-off.

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Posted on: March 15, 2011 12:40 pm

Those 13 seeds are mighty tempting

Posted by Matt Norlander

Have we ever seen a set of 13s look so good? While I've argued that, come the Elite Eight, we're going see seeding hold largely to form, there exists a lot of opportunity for upsets in the first round. And no crop is riper for excitement for than the 4-vs.13 games.

The reason this exists is due to some serious mis-seeding. The biggest issue for these 13s: they have to play arguably the best crop of fours in tournament history. If you look at the fours, Kentucky and Texas hardly seem like they belong; a three for each is more appropriate. And though Louisville and Wisconsin fit the description, they get opponents who rank among the best 13s of all-time, or are facing a player who's the best on the floor. This confluence of bracket blundering sets up games with a lot of intrigue and unpredictability.

Let's look at the 13s, and just how good they are. I think the odds set up fairly well that at least one of these teams break through to the weekend.

Oakland. I mentioned the Oakland-Texas game as one of my five favorites Sunday night. The Grizzlies have Keith Benson, a future pro who isn't just a plant-him-in-the-paint big man. He can step out and shoot it. Frankly, he poses miserable matchup problems for most teams. (Texas may not figure to be one of them, however.) Benson ranks in the upper echelon in 12 tempo-free categories. There aren't 20 other players who can claim the same. Reggie Hamilton, at 5-11, is a nice outside-outside option to Benson whenever the big man roams free. Hamilton is a more-reliable shooter than Benson and also ranks in the top 35 in assist rate.

Embrace the Big Bears because they shoot it terrifically. Their effective field goal percentage is third-best in the land at 56.1 percent. They hit their twos at a 55.8-percent rate -- second best, nationally. The only teams in the field who avoid getting their shots swatted is North Carolina and Wisconsin; the Grizzlies get soup sent back on 8.6 percent of their possessions.

There argument against the Grizzlies: They don't turn teams over and they foul way, way too much. Against Texas, this is problematic, to put it kindly.

Belmont. The sexy upset pick. No matter what team the drew, the Bruins would have their cult following eager and ready to pen them into the second round. Rick Byrd's team draw Wisconsin, which is unfortunate. Belmont turns people over more efficiently than every team except one (Duquesne). You know how turns the ball over the least? Yes, Wisconsin.

But back to the Bruins. The Atlantic Sun has never had such a dominant team represent the conference in the NCAAs. The Bruins were smacking conference foes by 30-plus on a nightly basis, acting, basically, as though it was a power-conference team in low-major purgatory. The Bruins are top-10 in effective field goal percentage and top 15 in offensive rebounding. The Bruins' efficiency split between offense and defense, per 100 possessions, is 22 points! That's rather ridiculous for a low-major team. Byrd's team is so efficient because he's incredibly strict in how much playing time he distributes. No one sees more than 25 minutes per game; 11 players total average between 12 and 24.6 minutes. To do that and go 30-4 is some serious coaching ability.

The argument against the Bruins: It's more about Wisconsin than anything else. This is a tough matchup. But, that said, Wisconsin doesn't play to blow people out, meaning this one's pretty much destined to stay close/up in the air for the first 35 minutes.

Morehead State. Kenneth Faried alone makes you hesitate in taking Louisville. If Benson makes Oakland a possible upset pick, then what does Faried do? After all, Morehead State probably has the best future pro of any 13. His rebounding skills are transcedent. Louisville is in the bottom fourth of Division I in defensive rebounding. That spectacle alone -- Faried tossing Cardinals aside en route to 15-plus rebounds -- will be a great side show. Eagles guard Demonte Harper is a high-volume shooter. Notice I didn't say high-volume shot-maker. But it's one hand feeding the other, and Harper can match up with the Cards' guards.

There is an element to this game that numbers can't pick up on, as well. Many of the MSU players are all too familiar with Louisville's. These are both Kentucky-based schools, and the guys see each other often in the summers. Faried, according to people who are familiar with the pick-up games and scrimmages, dominates, as you'd expect. There's something to be said for that, and I wonder if it carries over/translates in this type of high-press game.

The argument against the Eagles: None of the 13s struggled as much in conference play as Morehead State, who went 13-5 in the Atlantic Sun. Compounding the concern, the OVC is ranked below the Ivy (Princeton), Atlantic Sun (Belmont) and Summit (Oakland). And imagine how good Morehead State would be if it didn't turn the ball over once every four possessions.

Princeton. The 25-6 Tigers are, rightfully, seen as the 13 with the slimmest chance of moving on. Part of that is the athletic mismatch against Kentucky. Still, not bad to have the always-cute Ivy team tossed into the mix here. Dan Mavraides and Doug Davis form a good backcourt, one that will be a joy to watch face up against Kentucky. There's definite throw-them-off-their-game-early capability with the Tigers' guards. You know how that can happen, and you've seen it happen with Ivy teams, Princeton teams, before.

At 64.3 possessions per game, the Tigers are on the slow side, but not that slow; Kentucky doesn't force the ball that much more.

The argument against the Tigers: They don't have the size or ability to force Kentucky into anything. The Princeton Offense will certainly be fun to watch, but Kentucky's length and speed could negate that tactic by the end of the first half. Texas may be the best of the four seeds, but his would be the biggest of upsets. The Tigers haven't played anyone near Kentucky's ilk, in terms of athletes, this season. That's a face-to-face DNA problem you can't emulate until the game tips.

Photo: AP

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Posted on: March 12, 2011 10:59 pm
Edited on: March 12, 2011 11:00 pm

Davis' shot lifts Princeton into the Dance

Posted by Jeff Borzello

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Moments after hitting the game-winning shot, Princeton guard Douglas Davis regretted his next move.

Davis fell, getting immediately swarmed by teammates, students and fans.

“That was the worst decision I ever made, because everyone just jumped on me,” Davis said. “I wish I had kept my balance and just ran out. I didn’t think about getting buried.”

Davis will have to get over it pretty quickly, as his shot at the buzzer lifted Princeton over Harvard, 63-62, in the Ivy League playoff. The Tigers won the automatic bid from the conference, and will return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. Harvard’s 65-year NCAA drought will continue at least one more year.

Davis led Princeton with 15 points, while fellow senior Kareem Maddox had 10 points and 13 rebounds. For Harvard, big man Keith Wright had 16 points and six rebounds, and Brandyn Curry finished with 12 points, five rebounds and six assists.

Harvard led for most of the afternoon, expanding its margin to nine points at the beginning of the second half. Princeton continued to chip away at the deficit, until Davis knocked down back-to-back jumpers to give the Tigers a 51-50 lead with 5:26 remaining.

After a back-and-forth final five minutes, Curry finished a lay-up in the lane with 11 seconds remaining, pushing Harvard back on top. Princeton didn’t call a timeout on the ensuing possession, but Davis’ drive was blocked by Kyle Casey.

Princeton head coach Sydney Johnson called a timeout to draw up the game-winning play. Despite Davis shooting just 3-for-13 prior to the buzzer-beater, everyone was confident he would come through in the clutch.

“I’m not surprised Doug hit it,” Maddox said.

“Shooters shoot,” Davis added. “Some fall, some don’t. That’s never going to rattle my confidence. If I miss 99 shots, I’m still going to take that 100th shot, and I’m going to shoot it with confidence.”

Davis caught the inbounds pass in the corner and dribbled to his right. After allowing Oliver McNally to overpursue and fly past him, Davis leaned in for the winner.

The referees checked the monitor to make sure the basket counted, but replays showed Davis let it go with 0.2 seconds left.

“I was undisciplined,” McNally said of his defense on the last shot. “I jumped when I shouldn’t have.”

Both Harvard and Princeton went 12-2 during the regular season, splitting the season series. The tie necessitated just the eighth one-game playoff in Ivy history, in front of a sold out John J. Lee Amphitheater at Yale University.

The energy in the building was at a high level well before tip-off, with both schools selling out their ticket allotment in just four hours. The arena was split down the middle, with Harvard fans on one side and Princeton supporters on the other.

“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” Princeton guard Dan Mavraides said. “I couldn’t hear a thing the whole game. It’s something I will always remember.”

Even in defeat, Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker acknowledged the occasion.

“It was a special afternoon for our conference,” Amaker said.

The question within the league now turns to the at-large selections for the NCAA tournament – can Harvard still get a bid?

The Crimson have a gaudy RPI in the 30s and three solid wins over Princeton, Colorado and Boston College. Due to the soft bubble, Harvard has an outside chance at hearing its name on Selection Sunday.

Due to Davis’ clutch shot, Princeton doesn’t need to worry about its postseason plans.

“I know [the Ivy] deserves one,” Johnson said. “And that’s us.”

The Vitals:

Player to know: Kareem Maddox. The league’s defensive player of the year, Maddox is also Princeton’s top scorer and rebounder. He finished the season on a roll, scoring in double-figures in 10 straight games. Maddox, a 6-foot-8 forward, can finish with both hands around the rim and also dish it off when doubled. He is capable of big performances, as evidenced by his two 30-point efforts earlier this season.

  • Record: 25-6, 13-2, Ivy.
  • Team colors: Orange and Black.
  • We’re thinking: 13-seed
  • KenPom ranking: 89
  • RPI: 48
  • Best win: Harvard, twice (24-6)
  • Worst loss: Brown (11-17)
  • Notable stat: The Tigers are the nation’s sixth-best defensive rebounding team, allowing offensive rebounds on only 26.8 percent of possessions.
  • Most recent tournament history: 2004. In the tournament as a No. 14 seed, the Tigers lost to Texas in the first round.

Photo: AP

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Posted on: March 12, 2011 11:22 am

Ivy League playoff preview

Some say the Ivy League misses out on the fun and exciting of championship week because it lacks a conference tournament. Well, not this year. Harvard and Princeton finished the regular season knotted at the top of the league standings, with both going 12-2 in Ivy play. The two will battle in a one-game playoff at Yale to determine the automatic bid from the conference. It is the eighth playoff in league history – Princeton has been involved in all eight.

Harvard (23-5, 12-2) has been consistent all season, beating Colorado and Boston College in the non-conference season and then rolling through Ivy League play with only two losses. The Crimson suffered a road defeat at Princeton in early February, but avenged it with a 12-point win the season finale. Harvard’s two losses in conference play were by a combined five points.

The Crimson are a highly-efficient offensive team, ranking eighth in the country in effective field-goal percentage. They shoot it well from behind the arc, but are at their best when driving to the basket and drawing fouls or finishing. Harvard has six players averaging at least 9.5 points per game, led by the frontcourt duo of Keith Wright and Kyle Casey. Casey had 24 against Princeton last week. Brandyn Curry is a terrific playmaker and distributor, while Christian Webster and Laurent Rivard can shoot.

Princeton (24-6, 12-2) was the preseason favorite in the conference, and it looked like the Tigers might fulfill those expectations after starting 8-0 in Ivy League play. However, a 10-point road loss at seventh-place Brown on February 19 opened the door for Harvard. As mentioned, the Crimson stormed through that opening by beating Princeton last weekend. The Tigers forged a playoff with their road win at Penn on Tuesday.

The Tigers are solid at both ends of the floor, using a balanced offense and a tough half-court defense to win games. They are effective from inside and outside the arc offensively, while their defense is predicated on controlling the defensive glass. Princeton is led by the forward tandem of Kareem Maddox and Ian Hummer, two rugged forwards who do their damage around the rim. Dan Mavraides and Douglas Davis are the team’s perimeter shooters, with Mavraides also the team’s best distributor and playmaker.

For Harvard, the key will be limiting Princeton’s forward tandem of Maddox and Hummer – the Crimson did a good job when the two teams played a week ago. Offensively, they need to use their balanced offense to get points inside the arc, where the Tigers are vulnerable. Second chances could be key. Princeton needs to play disciplined defensively, not allowing Harvard to get easy points from the free-throw line. The Tigers also need to knock down perimeter shots.

The atmosphere at Yale on Saturday afternoon should be tremendous. Tickets to the game sold out within four hours and both teams are prepared for a battle. The frontcourt match-up between Harvard’s Casey and Wright and Princeton’s Maddox and Hummer should be tremendous. The difference could be the playmaking ability of Brandyn Curry – he is averaging 11.5 points and 12.0 assists in his last two games. How will Princeton counter?

Photo: US Presswire

Posted by Jeff Borzello

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 8, 2011 9:13 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2011 9:31 pm

Princeton win forces Saturday playoff for Ivy bid

Kareem Maddox had a huge game to keep Princeton's season alive

Posted by Eric Angevine

Harvard and Princeton are co-champions of the Ivy League. Let’s get that straight from the get-go. Tonight’s 70-58 Tiger win over Penn made that an indelible fact.

Nonetheless, there’s an auto-bid to be decided, so there will be an additional game added to the schedule on Saturday. It’s a one-game playoff, with the winner gaining automatic entry into the NCAA tournament.

The Tigers went with a short bench in the league's final regular-season game, garnering a huge 23 point, 5 board, 5 assist game from senior forward Kareem Maddox in a truly must-win game. Ian Hummer (14 points, 6 rebounds) and Dan Mavraides (10 points, 7 rebounds) were the highest-scoring starters for Princeton.

The playoff will take place on neutral but familiar ground. The league has set the huge finale for Saturday, March 12 at Yale's John J. Lee Amphitheater in New Haven, Conn. at 4 p.m. ET.

The last time a playoff was needed, it was a fascinating three-way between Yale, Penn and Princeton in 2002. This season's tie makes this the seventh time a tiebreaker game has been required to decide the league's postseason picture.

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: March 5, 2011 9:04 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2011 8:59 am

Harvard win may force playoff for Ivy auto bid

Harvard's Laurent Rivard

Posted by Eric Angevine

Things can get complicated at the end of the Ivy League season. There is no conference tourney to decide the auto-bid to the NCAA tournament. Harvard's 79-67 win on Saturday evening forged a tie atop the conference, which leaves a couple of scenarios still in play to decide which venerable team goes dancing. 

Fortunately, the Ivy League website provides these scenarios:

If Harvard and Princeton both win OR both lose Friday:
A Princeton win Saturday would clinch the outright Ivy title for the Tigers.
• A Harvard win Saturday would force Princeton to defeat Penn Tuesday, March 8 to necessitate a playoff.
• A Harvard win Saturday, coupled with a Princeton loss at Penn Tuesday, would give the outright Ivy title to the Crimson.

You read that right. Princeton has some strange outlier of a game with Penn still left on the schedule. Not sure if it was scheduled this way all season long or if it's a postponed game from the big snows of the winter, but it has a huge impact on the postseason hopes of both teams. **UPDATE: I've been informed that Penn-Princeton is always the last game on the Ivy schedule. Thanks, @JohnEzekowitz!**

We're kind of rooting for the playoff here. It's a rare and unique thing, and one of the aspects of the Ivy League, and college basketball, that we'd never want to change. Conformity is for squares.

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Posted on: March 4, 2011 4:49 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2011 5:19 pm

Waiting for tourney bid is like watching Ivy grow

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker

Posted by Eric Angevine

I don't know about you, but I had kind of gotten used to seeing our first auto-bid get locked down in late February, not early March.

That's the luxury Cornell's brief run atop the league gave us - they had no top rival that challenged them down to the wire.

That's not the case this season, as we wait and hope that Saturday's game between Princeton (22-5, 10-1) and Harvard (21-5, 10-2) gives us some measure of closure. It's not a certainty by any means. Princeton must play its remaining games on the road, including the head-to-head with Harvard. Should they stumble in their visit to Massachusetts, things get interesting, since the Ancient Eight don't play a conference tourney.

Now, I didn't get into an Ivy League school (didn't bother to apply, actually), so I can't tell you all the tiebreakers and mathematical possibilities that go into this. Fortunately, the Ivy League website has handled the cranial heavy lifting for me:

If Harvard and Princeton both win OR both lose Friday:
• A Princeton win Saturday would clinch the outright Ivy title for the Tigers.
• A Harvard win Saturday would force Princeton to defeat Penn Tuesday, March 8 to necessitate a playoff.
• A Harvard win Saturday, coupled with a Princeton loss at Penn Tuesday, would give the outright Ivy title to the Crimson.

If Harvard wins Friday, Princeton loses Friday:
• A Harvard win Saturday would clinch the outright Ivy title for the Crimson.
• A Princeton win Saturday, coupled with a Princeton win Tuesday at Penn, would clinch the outright title for the Tigers.
• A Princeton win Saturday, coupled with a Princeton loss Tuesday at Penn, would force a playoff.

If Harvard loses Friday, Princeton wins Friday:
• A Princeton win EITHER Saturday OR Tuesday at Penn would clinch the outright title for the Tigers.
• A Harvard win Saturday would only result in a playoff if Princeton loses at Penn Tuesday. Harvard would not be able to have an outright title if it loses Friday and Princeton wins Friday.

The playoff sounds interesting, doesn't it? Here's more from the same press release:

The Ivy League conducts a playoff in men's basketball when two or more teams title for the regular-season title. The tied teams share the League championship and the playoff game(s) are conducted merely to determine the team to receive the League's automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship. While it has been a while, a playoff is not new to the Ancient Eight in men's hoops. The League has conducted seven men's basketball playoffs in its history, the last coming in the 2001-02 season when Penn, Princeton and Yale tied for the Ivy title. Penn won the NCAA Tournament bid by defeating Yale in Easton, Pa., after the Bulldogs had gotten past Princeton two days earlier at The Palestra.
So, really, the Ivy's rules generally lead to either the first bid of the season, or, in a scenario like the 2001-2002 season mentioned abovce, one of the last.

Assuming that both teams win their Friday night games, Saturday's tilt should actually be more exciting than a conference tourney game: no odd, cavernous neutral sites in this one, just a capacity crowd at Lavietes Pavilion.

Honestly, I kind of hope they end up tied. I'd love to watch a Princeton-Harvard playoff game for the auto-bid.

Photo: US Presswire

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