A week after their furious second-half rally came up three points short, the Lions (9-7, 1-1 Ivy) face tough tests at Penn on Friday and Princeton on Saturday.
Last year, the Lions lost all four meetings to Penn and Princeton. Each loss to the Quakers came by two points, with the meeting in Philadelphia going into overtime. The Light Blue lost to the Tigers by four at home and 11 on the road.
That Red and Blue team suffered a major loss over the offseason, though. The Ivy League Player of the Year last season, guard Zack Rosen, graduated, and the Quakers have been worse off as a result. They are only 3-15 and fell by 12 to Princeton in their only Ivy contest to date, three weeks ago.
“They didn’t have a point guard in the program that would have offset it a little bit,” Lions head coach Kyle Smith said. “They’re kind of counting on the freshmen to come in. That’s where you’re going to have some growing pains.”
Smith added that he thinks Penn has been playing better recently. Since the loss to Princeton, Penn narrowly defeated New Jersey Institute of Technology, lost to St. Joseph’s, and gave a serious scare to Temple late in the game before falling 69-76.
A factor in that performance was good free throw shooting in the second half. The Quakers knocked down 12 of their 13 attempts during the final 20 minutes and were 15 of 16 for the game.
Although they are middling in free throw percentage in the Ivy League, only Harvard draws more attempts per game.
Last week, Columbia gave up 29 attempts to Cornell, which hit 25. Smith said he thought that some, especially those in Columbia’s offensive end of the court, were unnecessary.
“I think that was a little bit of playing with a sellout crowd, and just over-exuberance,” he said with regard to the fouling. “You want your guys to be wired and play hard, but we fouled 94 feet away.”
While he feels that the home loss to Cornell was a little “fluky” with regard to the number of fouls Columbia committed, he said fouls could be an issue this weekend, but for different reasons.
For Penn, he cited a fast backcourt that tries to get to the rim, but for Princeton, his concern was size in the frontcourt.
The most prominent Tiger forward is Ian Hummer. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, ranking second and fourth in the Ivy League, respectively. He was the preseason Ivy Player of the Year favorite and ranks among the top-10 players in the conference in most major offensive categories, including free throws made.
“He’s either going to get a shot attempt, get fouled, miss, or charge. And he’s also a very good passer,” Smith said. “He’s just a whirling dervish of, ‘There’s going to be contact.’”
Along with forwards Will Barrett and Denton Koon, Hummer anchors Princeton’s Ivy-best defense. And if historical trends are any indication—last year, for example, the Tigers finished the Ivy season by winning nine of their final 10 games—Princeton may only improve.
“They get better as the year goes on, because they become more efficient and they finally settle in on who gets in,” Smith said.
This season, Princeton has also been much better than Penn. The Tigers are 8-7 despite a tough schedule that included games with three top-56 teams (according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index), including No. 6 Syracuse. Princeton will be on the second leg of a back-to-back outing, hosting Cornell on Friday.
“This is an exciting time of the year—six weekends when we go back-to-back,” Smith said.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday. NBC Sports Network will broadcast the game versus Princeton.