While half the Big Blue Nation is busy complaining about UK’s poor NCAA tourney seeding and the other half is licking its chops for a potential shot at revenge vs. West Virginia in the next round, a scrappy Ivy League team known for tournament upsets is hatching a plan to pull off a stunner Thursday.
No, we do not believe the Princeton Tigers have the juice to beat this Kentucky squad, but in March, just about anything can happen. So we approach with caution, and offer you this mini-game preview.
The Tigers are not the same team as they have been in the past. The four corners, halfcourt spread, backcourt screening offense is mostly a thing of the past. But not completely. Head Coach Sydney Johnson was a Georgeown assistant under John Thompson III who learned his trade from, you guessed it, former coach Pete Carrill, who is credited as the architect of the “Princeton offense.”
However, this year’s squad will score a little bit more and push the tempo at times. They aren’t the sharp-shooting three-point bombers you may think of when remembering Princeton’s landmark upset over UCLA in 1996, but they have a couple guys who can knock down deep jumpers. Their strength is their size and rebounding. As Calipari told reporters earlier this week, “they’re bigger than us.”
How They Match Up
Princeton has enough bodies down low to give UK some trouble. They are long as a team and do a good job on the offensive glass. They will interchange a couple 6-10 guys, and their two leading scorers are 6-8 Kareem Maddox and 6-7 Ian Hummer, so size-wise they won’t be outclassed.
Princeton thrives by not turning it over and maximizing possessions. In this regard, they are similar to the backdoor cutting, shotclock working teams of the past. The primary differences lie in that Princeton will sub a lot of bodies and doesn’t mind running a bit if they can get good looks.
Princeton’s best perimeter player is Doug Davis, a good handler and streak shooter who is probably the only player in the backcourt capable of creating his own shot. He’ll need to have a big game for them to have any chance.
The Tigers only played two teams from BCS conferences. They beat Rutgers at home and got blown out (97-60) by Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium back in November. They did have 25 wins and played well away from home, albeit vs. inferior competition. The fact that they beat a Big East team tells you that they won’t be intimidated.
Princeton’s senior class went 6-23 as freshmen, which was the worst team in the conference that year. The three senior starters have a lot of heart and will likely put up a fight to the finish, even if the score gets out of hand.
What to Watch For
For Princeton, the key will be whether they can get a clean shot off from the perimeter. If they can, and they’re making them early, this one could be a bit more interesting than expected.
For Kentucky, it will be interesting to see how much Vargas plays and if he can maintain his recent intensity and energy. If Vargas can provide 8-10 minutes of inspired play in this tournament, UK’s chances of a deep run go up exponentially.
Unfortunately for Princeton, they run into a Kentucky team that is hitting on all cylinders both offensively and defensively. UK’s superior athletes and length on the perimeter will completely swallow the small, slow footed Tiger backcourt and prevent them from getting any kind of clean looks in a halfcourt game.
If Princeton tries to push the pace, it could be even worse. The Cats possess great team speed and every player 1 through 6 can get up and down the floor. An up-tempo game, where UK can unleash its herd of gazelles, will spell doom for the smart kids.
About the only shot Princeton will have is if it can get the ball inside and get some fortuitous foul calls against Kentucky’s bigs (I fear we’ll be saying this a lot for UK during this tournament), forcing the Cats to play a little more tentatively on defense and giving Princeton shooters more space. We’d be surprised if the Tigers are still in the game by the first TV timeout of the second half—and think UK will be a little too athletic down the stretch.
Kentucky 78 – Princeton 56go back