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February 8, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Friday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Harvard (6-14, 1-3 Ivy League) at Yale (7-11, 1-3), 7:00 p.m. EST
Rankings: Harvard, #266 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 8 in Ivy League); Yale, #261 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Yale, 74-70 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 33%
Prospectus: This Ancient Eight rivalry features two Ivy squads that are struggling--both come in having lost three straight conference games after taking their openers. Harvard hasn't won since 1999 at the John J. Lee Amphitheater in Yale's Payne Whitney Gymnasium, a claustrophic, creaky old venue that offers the Bulldogs a significant home-court advantage, especially when the Sons of Eli come out to taunt the hated Crimson. While Harvard was expected to struggle in its first year under new head coach Tommy Amaker, Yale, one of the oldest squads in the nation with an average of 2.2 years of experience, was expected to compete for the Ivy League crown in a down year for Princeton and Penn. The Bulldogs, therefore, need to turn things around quickly if they hope to still have a shot at the title--remember, there's no conference tournament in the one-bid Ivy League--when they travel to play first-place Cornell on February 22.

Matchup: Princeton (5-12, 2-0 Ivy League) at Cornell (12-5, 4-0), 7:00
Rankings: Princeton, #285 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 8 in Ivy League); Cornell, #119 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Cornell, 70-54 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 5%
Prospectus: The last several years have severely tarnished the proud Tigers tradition, as Princeton has had a losing overall record the past two years and a sub-.500 conference mark in two of the past three. Under first-year coach Sydney Johnson, the Tigers were expected to be at the bottom of the league. They did everything to reinforce those expectations by losing 12 of 15 non-conference games, including a defeat at the hands of Division II Chaminade. The Tigers, however, followed that by winning both of their initial league games over Dartmouth and Harvard. While Princeton will likely soon be brought down to the bottom of the standings, stranger things than a Tigers surge have happened before in a league that has long been ruthlessly dominated by the southern Princeton/Penn axis. In 2006, Princeton was 2-10 in its non-conference schedule, then went on to win five of its first six league games and finish 10-4 in Ivy play. History, however, won't be enough to stop the Big Red, the best team in the Ivy League this year, which is looking to become the first squad other than Princeton or Penn to win the league (and advance to the NCAA tournament) since Cornell did it back in 1988. The Big Red features a lethal three-point attack, with a connection rate from downtown of 40 percent, and with The Tigers trademark offense in full swing--51 percent of Princeton's field goal attempts are from three-point range--you can expect a game that will be played out beyond the arc.

Matchup: Pennsylvania (7-12, 2-0 Ivy League) at Columbia (8-11, 1-3), 7:00
Rankings: Pennsylvania, #309 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 8 in Ivy League); Columbia, #246 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Columbia, 70-66 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 15%
Prospectus: No one really knew what to expect from the Quakers heading into the season, as Penn lost its three big guns, the core of a team that won the last three Ivy League titles. The vast majority of Quakers on the 2008 roster were either new recruits or untested role players. What has happened is a very young Penn team has struggled badly, going 5-12 in the non-conference slate. Just like Princeton, however, the Quakers won their first two Ivy games, over Dartmouth and Harvard. If freshmen forwards Jack Eggleston and Tyler Bernardini can keep improving--both boast an eFG% over 53--then the Quakers might yet have a say in whether or not another squad can take away their crown. Columbia is the opposite of Penn from an experience standpoint, and has been a big disappointment thus far. The team, which features four senior starters, returned almost all its minutes from last season, but has performed well worse on offense while showing only marginal improvement on defense. Both the Lions and Quakers feature big contributions from the bench, with Penn getting 42.5 percent of its minutes from non-starters, and Columbia 38.9 percent.

Matchup: Niagara (14-7, 8-4 Metro Atlantic) at Rider (17-6, 10-2), 7:00
Rankings: Niagara, #147 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 10 in MAAC); Rider, #108 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Rider, 85-76 in 74 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: The Purple Eagles of Niagara sit two games back of the first place Broncs with six games left on the MAAC schedule. Rider is looking to advance to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in school history, with its last appearance coming in 1994, while Niagara advanced to the tournament as the MAAC's representative last season, its third appearance. The Purple Eagles are a terrible shooting team that has cobbled together a decent offense on the strength of the third-best free throw rate in Division I, as well as a strong team shooting percentage from the line of 74%--in fact, Niagara receives the largest percentage of its offense from free throws (27.8) of any team in the nation. The Purple Eagles also have a player, in 6'4" senior Charron Fisher, who has taken a larger percentage of his team's shots when on the floor than anyone else in D-I, but Fisher has only a 42.6 eFG%. The Broncs are a far different offensive team than Niagara, as they have a well-balanced attack that ranks 12th in the nation in eFG%, at 55.6. Rider has two forwards--sophomore Ryan Thompson and freshman Mike Ringgold--who both sport an eFG% above 60.

Matchup: Siena (14-8, 9-3 Metro Atlantic) at Marist (14-9, 8-4), 7:00
Rankings: Siena, #113 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in MAAC); Marist, #139 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Marist, 72-70 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: The Saints won their home game against Marist on Monday, 76-72, to pull a game behind Rider in the MAAC standings. If they can pull off this minor upset of the Red Foxes on the road, Siena will set up a showdown on Sunday with the Broncs with a share of first place on the line. Both these teams shoot exactly 39.5 percent from downtown, and they flashed that good long-range shooting in Monday's game, as the Red Foxes shot 9-of-20 and the Saints 7-of-12. As the stats would suggest, the taller Marist squad shot better from two-point range, but the difference in the game was that Siena was able to get to the line 16 more times than the Red Foxes and do a better job on the offensive glass. While that free throw advantage should hold up tonight, thanks primarily to the Saints' strong ability to keep opponents away from the stripe, Marist will likely do a better job controlling the backboards this time around.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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Next Article >>
Around the Rim (02/08)

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