Penn State Basketball Game 12 Preview: Princeton Tigers

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone's talking about Rec Hall, as they should be, but don't fall asleep on the 7-1 Princeton Tigers.

Who: Princeton Tigers (7-1)
When: Saturday, 2:00pm
Where: Rec Hall
TV: Big Ten Network
KenPom Rank: 70
Vegas Line: N/A, KenPom: PSU -5

The Return to Rec Hall is finally here at last, but all the excitement will be for nothing without a necessary win for this PSU team that still appears to be contending for postseason play. Harvard is still the cream of the crop in the Ivy League, but Princeton is by far their biggest challenge. They've already started the year with road wins at Rutgers and Bucknell, while defeating George Mason at home. Their lone loss was a 3-point nailbiter at Hinkle Fieldhouse against Butler back on November 15th.

Their KenPom rating (just 6 spots below PSU) suggests they're a pretty good ball club.

Scouting The Opposition

Princeton is coached by third-year man, Mitch Henderson, who has already won 65% of his games coached at the institution. Mitch knows Penn State well after spending eleven years on Bill Carmody's staff at Northwestern.

The Tigers' offense still runs plenty of backdoor cuts if you're not careful, but this year's team is most lethal from behind the arc. Just ask Rutgers, who saw Princeton sink sixteen of 34 treys in their 'upset' of the Scarlet Knights on Wednesday. As a team, Princeton could be considered the best 3-point shooting squad in the land, converting 40.1% while shooting 51.5% of their shots from behind the stripe. That's an absurd level of 3-point production.

Princeton brings a well-balanced attack to the table, led by senior guard TJ Bray. Bray has missed half of the Tigers' games so far, three due to an injury and one due to a suspension, but he should be on the floor tomorrow afternoon. Bray is averaging 16.0 points a contest, including three made 3-pointers a game at 52% accuracy.

The Tigers also have some height along their frontline, sporting four guys in the rotation who are taller than 6'8". Denton Koon is more of a wing who has been the leading shot-taker for Princeton. He's averaging 12.8 PPG while being the worst three-point shooter on the team at 32%. Hans Brase averages 11.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game and is another Donovon Jack-type that can play inside-or-out. He's made 13 threes on the year at 44%.

They will be without senior guard Jimmy Sherburne, who will be serving the last game of a 3-game suspension handed down by Henderson. This makes a thin bench even thinner, as the Princeton will only go 7-deep with 6'10" frosh Pete Miller picking up spot minutes here or there. Denton Koon actually was the sixth man off the bench but has been starting in place of Sherburne's absence.

Defensively, Princeton isn't too shabby either. As mentioned they have height across the board, ranking 49th in the country in KenPom's Effective Height statistic (pretty great considering that's better than a good amount of BCS schools). They have dominated their defensive glass (2nd in the nation) while doing a respectable job of not fouling and challenging shots.

Key Matchup

Any time you have a team like Princeton that can be so deadly shooting the ball behind the arc, that has to be primary focus number one. It's likely Princeton won't be able to sustain their current rate, so what better way to fall back to earth than play a game in Rec Hall? Still, the Tigers have five players who have made 10 three's already and four who are hitting at over a 40% clip. With so many shooters, one is bound to get hot for Henderson's team. And if you can hit 15+ threes in a game, you can beat anybody.

Prediction

This game is not going to be easy. A lot of folks seem to think this game won't have the same Rec Hall crowds as (glory) years past. And that's true because there is no Chris Webber, Glenn Robinson, or Bobby Knight on the visiting bench. But close, exciting basketball games have a tendency to create an organic, thrilling atmosphere and I expect to see one tomorrow afternoon.

I've mentioned this before, but I'm terrified for how PSU is going to come out of the gates. Frazzled nerves from the build-up of playing in Rec Hall, fans invading their personal space (even if they're friendly, it's still drastically different atmosphere), and playing on a court that they haven't practiced on before. The supportive crowd will be an advantage, but the confines certainly aren't.

Despite all of the worry, I still like Penn State. However, they won't win if they continue their foul habits. This will be another battle that will require 37+ minutes from Tim and DJ. Any ticky-tack fouls that sends them to the bench could be problematic for PSU. This will also be a good chance for Geno Thorpe to continue his strong defensive play as of late. If PSU is struggling to contain the perimeter early, I'd like to see Geno get some burn sooner than later.

I think KenPom is right near the mark for this one. His model predicts a 71-66 PSU victory.

My final prediction? Penn State 73 Princeton 69.

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