With Princeton coming to town Friday night, the Harvard men’s basketball has a shot at gaining retribution for falling to the Tigers on the road two weeks ago. In preparation for Friday’s matchup, we caught up with The Daily Princetonian’s Kevin Whitaker via email to learn more about the Tigers. Find out below what the Crimson should do to slow down star forward Ian Hummer, where to grab a meal at Princeton, and how to tell the Tigers’ players apart.
The Harvard Crimson: What can Harvard expect from Princeton this time around?
Kevin Whitaker: I think it's pretty clear at this point that Harvard has a matchup problem with Princeton - four of the Crimson's last five Ivy losses have come at the hands of Tigers. Even if it's not entirely the textbook 'Princeton Offense' principles, the Tigers have turned up the dial on inside cuts and have tried to get players going towards the hoop against Harvard, which has worked well against the swarming perimeter defense. I don't think the Tigers will score 48 second-half points again this time, so it will be up to the defense to continue playing well - I was impressed with Doug Davis' defense and the team's scheme against Brandyn Curry, who was the key player when Harvard won last year.
THC: How has Princeton been playing since the win over Harvard at Jadwin?
KW: It hasn't really been that long, has it? The Tigers have been playing some of their best basketball of the season, especially on offense - starting with the second half against Harvard, Princeton has scored 200 points in 100 minutes. There's been more cutting and more motion, and most importantly, Princeton has been rebounding better. The Tigers are very tall, but they were constantly losing the rebound battle early in the season; throughout the four-game win streak, they've been even or better on the boards.
THC: Ian Hummer has been a big problem for Harvard throughout his career. Have other teams found a way to slow him down, and if so, what have they done?
KW: Well, not many have. Dartmouth had a decent plan against Hummer - a ton of his shots come when he catches the ball off the right block, then curls across the lane to finish on the left side, so when he got the ball, Dartmouth always parked one or two help defenders in the middle of lane, right in his usual path. But that left enough space elsewhere on the court for Doug Davis and a couple others to go off. A desperate team might try that strategy and hope that Princeton's shooters go cold, especially on the road, but I bet Harvard will play more straight-up and trust its interior defenders.
Another good strategy: don't let this happen. People are safely calling it the best dunk in Princeton history.
THC: How do you tell all the Princeton players apart—it seems like everyone has short brown hair?
KW: Haha, this was actually a problem last year, when Dan Mavraides and Will Barrett were playing. This year, there are 'only' three of them - T.J. Bray, Denton Koon and Hummer. Bray is the one who will be taking the ball up the court ... and, well, if you can't tell who Hummer is right away, you'll learn quickly.
THC: In your mind, was the court storming two weeks ago justified?
KW: I wrote about it at length the day after the game, but in short, yes. People mocked the storming because of Princeton's history - 23 straight wins against Harvard at home and all that - and many of them have the image of the nationally ranked Tigers of the '90s and the traditionally crappy Harvard teams. But here's the thing: students may know about the history, but it doesn't really mean anything to us, since our Princeton fandom basically starts at 18. Even I don't feel any emotional connection to those earlier teams, and I grew up in a Princeton family. In my time here, Harvard has provided us with six absolute battles, and this year it came in with huge hype, a shiny number next to its name and a great shot to go 14-0.
Besides, it's college, and court-storming is fun. It's not as if top-ten teams regularly visit Ivy League gyms, so this is likely as good a win Princeton fans will see at home for the next 5-10 years.
THC: How many times a day do you watch the Doug Davis shot?
KW: Funny story - I asked Doug two weeks ago how many times he'd seen it, and he said he thought about 20 total. I'm not sure how much I believe that; hell, I saw it at least 25 times that night alone, and I didn't even shoot the damn thing. To answer the question, I've been trying to restrain myself a lot more lately ... I think I'm down to about seven times a day. Usually when I'm in lecture, to get the people behind me to start involuntarily cheering.
THC: Where is the best spot to eat around Princeton’s campus? When we were up there the other week all we could find were J. Crew stores.
KW: Here's a good test to see if someone's really a Princeton student: Ask them this question. If they don't say Hoagie Haven, they're an imposter. It's a bit of a walk - and not for the health-conscious - but it's amazing.
THC: Final score prediction?
KW: Much as I'd love to be wrong: Harvard 67, Princeton 60.