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Penn, Princeton a Tough 1-2 Combination

Ball Four

By Zachary T. Ball

No matter how many cliches get thrown around in the aftermath of the men's basketball team's 0-2 road trip, the simple fact remains that the Crimson lost to better teams.

Coach Frank Sullivan can claim that "the best team won tonight" and that "the Princeton game had nothing to do with [Harvard's 81-56 setback at Penn]," but these are merely the coded phases a coach must say when his team is soundly trounced.

Though it is certainly true that the best teams overcome adversity and manage to succeed against the odds, it is also a fact that for Ivy schools, the Penn-Princeton road trip is among the most grueling weekends in collegiate basketball.

Everything surrounding the trip, from the hostile environment, to the back-to-back match-ups against teams with very different weapons, to the simple fact that Penn and Princeton historically field excellent teams, lends itself to an overall feeling of David facing Goliath.

Slaying Goliath is possible--Harvard swept the two on the road in '85, Yale accomplished the same in '87--but those are the only two such sweeps in 40 years, a testament to how daunting the task really is.

It begins with the atmosphere.

Entering the weekend, Harvard had not played before more than 2,021 fans this season and saw less than 1,000 fans in over half of its contests.

On Friday, Harvard had to contend with Princeton's cavernous Jadwin Gym and its 6,408 screaming, taunting faithful. Last year the Jadwin crowd actually garnered a technical foul for rocking the Harvard basket by jumping up and down in the bleachers.

You don't see that at Lavietes Pavilion.

After that, Harvard traveled to the Palestra in Philadelphia, advertised as "the nation's most historic arena." In a dark, sweaty, gem of an arena, Harvard faced a crowd of 5,215 in an intimate setting that puts the crowd literally on top of the action. When Penn jumped out to an early lead, the crowd wanted to bury the Crimson early and let everyone know it.

Entirely apart from the facilities, the trip presents difficulties in preparation.

Unlike in other leagues where a Wednesday-Saturday schedule permits individual preparation for each opponent, the Ivy's back-to-back format forces teams to do almost all of their preparation for both teams during the week.

This requirement is especially problematic against this year's Penn and Princeton squads.

After facing a Princeton team on Friday night famous for its slow-down style, relentless, disciplined defense, and shooters at all positions, a team is forced to adjust to Penn's athleticism, speed, and dominating size.

When preparing for such a wide range of foes, things are bound to slip through the cracks.

And so it was Friday when Princeton effectively neutralized Tim Hill--Harvard's leading scorer--with an aggressive zone in the half-court that prevented Hill's traditional one-on-one playmaking.

After the game, Sullivan was clearly surprised by the tactic from a team which historically has relied on man-to-man in the league.

"We hadn't seen the zone, and it really threw us off," Sullivan said. "We worked a lot on man-to-man switching during the week."

A brilliant defensive strategy? Maybe not: Princeton Coach Bill Carmody was surprised himself.

"In past years, we've played man-to-man in the league, but this year, from watching the tapes you'd see we haven't played man-to-man all year, so I'm surprised that [Sullivan] was surprised."

Finally, and most significantly, Penn and Princeton present the most difficult match-up problems in the league.

Especially without captain center Paul Fisher in the lineup, Harvard's front-court--which measures 6'2, 6'7, 6'9--faced Penn's 6'7, 6'7, 6'11 frontcourt and Princeton's of 6'6, 6'9, 6'10.

Both teams feature athletic swingmen (Princeton's Gabe Lewullis and Penn's Jed Ryan), who pose serious problems for either an undersized guard or a forward lacking enough foot speed and quickness.

Combined with athletic guards in C.J. Chapman and Michael Jordan and skilled centers Geoff Owens and Chris Young, Penn and Princeton stretch a team to the limit everywhere on the floor.

By the second half Saturday night, that expenditure of energy had simply taken its toll. A 14-point comeback against Princeton and an energetic opening at Penn were simply too much.

Even Clemente, whose 15-point night led all Harvard scorers and was probably the most admirable in a disastrous campaign, was clearly affected.

"I was very tired from [Princeton]," Clemente said after the Penn game on Saturday. "My legs and feet were just dead. We knew we could play with [Penn], but we couldn't put together 40 minutes."

And that from the guy with the good night?

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