They’ve been dubbed the Killer P’s. Since the 1958-9 season, there have been just three seasons in which neither the University of Pennsylvania nor Princeton could claim at least a share of the Ivy title. The last time an Ivy League school beat both Penn and Princeton on the road was in 1986-7. That school was Yale.
To hope for such a feat again is more than optimistic, but also less than implausible. Yale may have the best starting lineup in the Ancient Eight.
Yale vs. Penn
The key to winning this game should be Yale’s advantage in the post. Dominick Martin ’06 is one of the best offensive big men in the league, and he will not be facing his defensive equal in Penn’s Jan Fikiel and Mark Zoller. Zoller is 6-foot-7 and slow. Fikiel, on the other hand, is 6-foot-10 but lacking in rebounding and defensive ability. If Martin can capitalize on the mismatches, he could be looking at a 20-point, 10-rebound night.
Guard play shouldn’t be a problem for the Bulldogs. While Penn’s backup point guard freshman Michael Kach quit the team, Yale’s Eric Flato ’08 has been impressive as part of Yale’s eight-man rotation.
Penn’s Ibby Jaaber was recently named the Ivy League Player of the Week. Jaaber is an athletic scoring threat who has joined Tim Begley as the team’s second double-digit scorer. Jaaber is a good foul shooter, but has struggled from three point range. He is also an effective rebounder and he is averaging almost half a steal more than the next best Ivy League player. I think Casey Hughes ’07 will not have much difficulty guarding Jaaber, if he can resist the temptation to try to swipe the ball and avoid getting in early foul trouble.
The key to the Penn team, however, is senior Tim Begley. Begley is the only legitimate three-point threat for the Quakers. Without Jeff Schiffner to worry about, if Begley gets open looks, I will throw my TV through Coach Jones’ office window, and I’m sure he will feel the same way. But perhaps more important is making sure that those Elis not covering Begley do not concentrate too much on stopping the swingman. Because if he is double-teamed, it’s a good bet that Begley will find the open man — he is running away with the Ivy League assist title at 6.15 per game (the next closest is Brown’s Jason Forte, with 4.67 dimes per game).
I might throw a box and one defense at him every so often, until the other Penn players prove they can shoot from outside.
Prediction: Yale wins in a close one.
Yale vs. Princeton
While certainly a stronger team than Penn, Princeton has shown weakness. It’s hard to complain about a 60-33 romp over Haverford, except that the Tigers didn’t look overly dominant against a Div. III opponent.
Again, Martin will be key for the Elis. Princeton center Judson Wallace was unanimous first-team All-Ivy last year and is Martin’s main competition for best big man in the league (sorry, Matt Stehle of Harvard). But Wallace is temperamental and often inconsistent.
If the Elis can get him in foul trouble or out of rhythm on the offensive end, Wallace will force shots and take himself out of the game. With Andre Logan hampered by knee injury again, the Tiger bench is slightly thin on big men.
What Yale cannot do is let Wallace have wide open three-point shots, because this center can make them. Two years ago Wallace went crazy from downtown. Although that wasn’t against Martin, I might want to try Sam Kaplan ’07 or Dexter Upshaw ’06 on Wallace to cut down his outside looks.
Normally, I would say that Yale should try to force an up-tempo game. While I think it’s still good advice to not let Princeton play its normal slow-down style, the Princeton bench is deeper than Yale’s.
Finally, a note on deep shooting: Princeton is not as good this year as they have been in the past. I’d never say to give up open shots, but I’d rather see them take a few threes than make easy backdoor layups. And when we have the ball, let’s remember that they are playing a matchup zone — it will be hard to drive. But that does not mean that every shot should be a deep bomb.
I think Yale can keep this one close, but the odds have to be against them.
Prediction: Princeton pulls away in the second half.
The bottom line is that two wins would put the Elis in the front of the title race, one win would be a good showing, and taking two losses to start the Ivy season could do irreparable damage to the team psyche. This weekend could not be more important — it is the Ivy opener and the toughest pair of games of the season.