Princeton escaped its opening Ivy League weekend with a 67-63 nail biter against a gritty Yale team that refused to quit. You can get the recap here and a more full one at the Princeton Basketball blog. I was there last night and have the following observations:
1. It's not often you win a game when the other team had 12 assists to 11 turnovers and your team had 8 assists to 15 turnovers. Typically, the team with the better assists-to-turnover ratio wins the game. Give Princeton some credit that despite a night when it didn't do a good job protecting the basketball, it came out with a win.
2. Following up on point #1, the assist-turnover ratio tells a larger story -- the lack of discipline and creativity -- to a degree -- of Princeton's offense. Princeton's basic strategy, especially in the second half, seemed to be to pass the ball on the perimeter at the beginning of an offensive set and then get the ball inside, where a big man would go 1-on-1, 1-on-2 and occasionally 1-on-3 on the Yale front line. There wasn't much passing or movement (outside perhaps two low-post give-and-gos in the second half). The offense doesn't appear to honor Pete Carrils' adage, "the strong take from the weak and the smart take from the strong," or, at least, all of it. Clearly, by pounding the ball inside, the strong took from the weak, as overall, Princeton's front line was better than Yale's. But, it's not finesse play, and while it might work against my league opponents, it wouldn't appear to be able to translate against every Ivy opponent, let alone higher-level Division 1 opponents, whose front lines can more than match up with the Tigers. And, okay, while the teams today can't compete against bigger-time competition the way the teams of 30 and 40 years ago could (not to mention teams of 10 and 20 years ago), this Princeton offense doesn't seem to be as clever as Princeton offenses of old. The Tigers are one of the favorites to win the league and have talent, but I'm not sure how difficult this offense will be to defend against. There weren't any back-door cuts (and Yale played man-to-man defense for a good part of the night), and the screens were mostly high screens for the ballhandler that Yale defended reasonably well.
3. Princeton needs to work on its inbounding plays. How many times last night did the Tigers have difficulty inbounding the ball? They played into Yale's hands on too many occasions to count, and the coaching staff needs to do a much better job on this fundamental play.
4. Princeton's inside players carried the night for the Tigers, as Ian Hummer and Kareem Maddox combined for 18 rebounds (the Tigers outrebounded Yale 33-23, and outshot them 52% to 44%). Normally stellar senior guard Dan Mavraides had an unusually off night in his 36 minutes of play. Yes, he had 11 points and 4 assists, but he also turned the ball over 8 times, an effort he probably would admit was one of his worst in a couple of years.
5. Give Yale credit. Princeton had several opportunities to push the lead from 11 or 12 to 15 and higher, only to have Yale battle back because the Bulldogs played with high intensity the entire night. Yale is a well-conditioned, physical team, and I thought that Yale coach James Jones outcoached Princeton's Sydney Johnson last night by keeping his Bulldogs in the game, making some good substitutions and putting his team in a position to tie the game with under a minute to play.
For Princeton, overall, an excellent weekend, its first weekend back after a long break for exams. This is an important weekend to get through, and, in the end, the Ws are what matter the most. I'm sure that Princeton's coaches, loyalists and diehard fans might disagree with my dissection of the offense, and that's fine. The Tigers are playing to their strengths, and, thus far, that strategy has worked out very well for them.