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Five games, five concerns.

Through Thanksgiving the 2010-11 Princeton Tigers have five games in the books and sport a 2-3 record that could be 4-1 just as easily as it could be 1-4.

Looking at these five games as a separate entity from the rest of Princeton's non-conference slate, some (potentially fixable) issues become apparent. When watching the Tigers play starting Saturday versus Siena, pay close attention to these five areas - as they may hold the difference between close wins and close losses.

1. Interior defense.

Opponents' big men have been able to get deep position on Princeton's bigs. Whether this is the result of being able to post up too close to the basket or backing down Tiger players one-on-one into advantageous locations without defensive help, the Princeton defense has struggled in the paint.

Mack Darrow, Brendan Connolly and to a lesser extent Ian Hummer have not been able to slow down their corresponding matchups.

This is surprising given how outstanding this team has rebounded. The Tigers are 12th in the nation in Offensive Rebounding Percentage, grabbing 23.6% of all possible offensive boards.

Against Presbyterian, Princeton looked to double the post late in the second half, but the double team was usually a touch slow or unable to throw off the Blue Hose's Al'Lonzo Coleman as intended.

When opposing big men have caught the ball outside their comfort zone, with multiple obstructions in their path or been bodied more emphatically further from the hoop, better defensive results have occurred.

To compare with last season, one year ago Princeton opponents shot 42.4% on two point field goal tries, 12th best nationally.

This year Princeton opponents are making 49.5% of their two point field goal tries, down to 219th nationally.

2. Free throw shooting.

Junior guard Douglas Davis is 18-20 (90.0%) from the line this season. The rest of this Tiger team has converted 48-81 (59.2%). For a team that's getting to the line an above average 39.0% of the time they have the ball, this number has to improve for success.

Last season all players not named Douglas Davis made 69.5% of their FTs. That's currently a 10.3% dip.

As a sophomore Kareem Maddox was an 83.6% shooter. Last season he hit at a 74.7% clip. Though five games Maddox is 9-15 (60.0%). Maddox is not alone in a decline at the line, but his is the most significant.

It appears probable that Ian Hummer will lead Princeton in free throw attempts for 2010-11 given his quick first step and his ability to slash into traffic. Hummer is 13-26 at the line after five games (50.0%). The vexing thing about Hummer is that there's no evident flaw in his free throw shooting form or release. He doesn't have a hitch and isn't just throwing the ball at the rim. Many misses look good coming out of his hand. Hopefully his 4-5 day at the line against Presbyterian is a sign of an upswing.

Sticking with free throw shooting, Patrick Saunders has yet to attempt a free throw in 67 minutes of play. Saunders was 18-19 on free throws (94.7%) in 2009-10.

One final point on free throws: This season Princeton is averaging 20.2 trips to the line, but is down 6.5% on free throw success as a team. Last year the Tigers averaged 15.6 trips to the line but made more of less.

3. Forcing turnovers.

Just 15.3% of the time Princeton's opponents have the ball, they cough it away. That's 337th in the nation and well below the national average of 21.5%. Only eight other schools have been less successful in forcing TOs.

Tiger opponents are averaging 10.4 turnovers per game as Princeton is forcing 5.0 steals per game.

4. Team Defense.

The inability to create turnovers is a smaller part of an overall defensive dropoff.

Last year Princeton was great on defense, 36th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, 18th in Effective FG Percentage, 20th in Turnover Percentage and 31st in Steal Percentage. It was the defense, not the offense that won so many games for the Tigers.

Comparatively, the 2010-11 Tigers are a more pedestrian 148th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, 271st in Effective FG Percentage, 337th in Turnover Percentage and 278th in Steal Percentage.

While team offensive numbers have almost all improved across the board, the defense has not stayed at a similar level to where it had been.

5. Finding space for Kareem Maddox's strengths.

Starting the first three games of the season, Maddox was unable to locate angles he could use to attack around two other Princeton big men on the floor. He was rarely, if ever, able to post up smaller wings to make one-on-one moves or pass out/across to open teammates. Against Rutgers and Duke, three of his four baskets were two-handed dunks set up by the penetration of other Tigers.

While his stat lines do not look that different in the two games he's subsequently come off the bench for, he's been able to start doing some of the things that he did so well in the second half of last year. Against Bucknell in particular he was able to take an entry pass, turn to the center of the paint and rise up above everyone else on the floor for a layin or short jumper.

Spacing adjustments need to happen for Maddox to have room to roam. Up two late in the second half Maddox went strong to his left across the lane without teammates in his way and scored to stop a Bison run.

What Maddox has yet to have the opportunity to do in 2010-11 is guard a difficult match from the wing to the post and wipe them out defensively.

larry said,

November 28, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

Jon, Thank you. Excellent.

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