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Know! Your! Foe! - Harvard.

For this weekend's Ivy installment of the sensational Know! Your! Foe! series, I exchanged emails for a second time with the knowledgable Michael James from the 14-Game Tournament.

Hello again, sir. It is almost a year to the date since we last exchanged questions. Beyond graduating Jeremy Lin, how has Harvard's team changed since then?

Lin was a huge loss for the Crimson, as were forwards Doug Miller and Pat Magnarelli, who were good Ivy four-men that just struggled to stay healthy.

Speaking of which, let’s start with “healthy.” When Princeton traveled to Boston last year, Magnarelli was on the shelf as were Keith Wright and Andrew Van Nest. Harvard had to try to scratch out 40 minutes with Miller, Kyle Casey and Jeff Georgatos. This year, the Crimson has the latter two and Wright and Van Nest, as well as Ugo Okam if necessary, making the frontcourt an asset, not a liability.

Balance has been the other key difference. During the “Jeremy Lin Show” era, all too often it seemed that everyone was looking to Lin to do something and when he struggled, the team struggled. This year, there are six guys that can carry the offensive load for stretches, which has made this team more consistent from game to game.

What are some numbers connected to this showdown you notice that others might be overlooking?

I spent a lot of time earlier this season pondering the “new” Princeton Tigers – a team that was running and gunning, putting up gaudy offensive numbers and getting a little lax defensively.

Well, on a relative scale, the team is still running and gunning, but the offensive and defensive metrics are sliding back to where I’d expect them to be for a Princeton team. Through nine games, the Tigers were at an adjusted offensive rating of 105 and defensive rating of 100. Over the past nine games, the splits have fallen to 101 and 94.

I don’t think Princeton wins the league this year by outscoring teams – more specifically, by trying to outscore Harvard. The Tigers hallmark last year was their defense, and it’s nice to see that they’re finally starting to match that effort this season.

Do you think Princeton's increased pace helps them or hurts them versus an opponent like Harvard?

As long as the Tigers are comfortable at a faster pace, and all indications are that they are, then it probably won’t have much effect. The two teams are similar in talent level, so there’s no possession increase or decrease variance strategy to try here.

Both teams’ offensive rating to pace correlations are negative (Princeton’s highly) indicating that both teams are more efficient at fewer possessions, but that stat is highly influenced by poor outlier games that were played at fast paces (George Mason and UConn for Harvard, Duke for Princeton).

While, as an onlooker, I’d rather see the two teams play faster, just because it’s more exciting, I don’t think pace will be a factor here, just because both teams are pretty evenly matched and comfortable within the pace ranges at which the game is likely to be played.

The Crimson appear to still be turning the ball over too often, but have been better with the ball than they were in 2009-10.

The slightly-below-national-average 21.0 percent turnover rate is pretty much a historic low for Harvard – that’s how bad this team has been in past years.

The main culprits this year have been the initial struggle to break pressure defense successfully and trying to get too cute with passes. The former is often dumbfounding – I mean, pressure defense rarely works at this level for anything more than giving the offense less shot clock with which to work. I’m fine with the latter, however. For every pass that Casey zings off of Wright’s hands, there are a couple where the high-low play works.

The one thing that has disappeared is the offense going stagnant, giving the ball to Lin and making him go 1-on-4 to the hole en route to eight turnovers on the night. At least the mistakes this year are over-active mistakes.

How improved has this team's defense been from last season?

Honestly, not all that much over the early part of last season. It has improved a great deal over Ivy play from last year, but that’s merely because the bigs are back and healthy.

Brandyn Curry continues to be the team’s best lockdown perimeter defender, though freshman Matt Brown could enter that debate. While those two are pretty good at keeping aggressive guards in front of them on drives, the perimeter defenders as a whole sometimes fall asleep on three-point shooters, which has been an Achilles heel this season. Wright, Casey and Van Nest all have impressive block rates and can rebound the basketball quite well, making it difficult to score on Harvard inside.

This will be my first time seeing freshman Laurent Rivard in person. What can I expect?

The scope of expectations is probably pretty wide. Given that he played only a couple more minutes all weekend against Cornell and Columbia than he had been averaging per game in his previous five, I think the ankle might really be starting to hinder him.

If I had to compare him to any former Harvard player, I’d say he’s like Kevin Rogus with a better dribble-drive game and more active defense. He has that Rogus mentality that all shooters need where he might be 2-for-10, but he knows number 11 is touching nothing but net. It’s a poise and resilience that you don’t often find in freshmen.

How close is Kyle Casey to 100% after breaking his right foot in October?

There’s the million dollar question. It’s clear that he’s confident on it. The myriad dunks over the past few weekends have proven that.

He still lacks the explosiveness on his drives, which has led him to settle for more jumpers than he should. In the Dartmouth game, I vividly remember him trying to take either Weeden or LaBove off the dribble a couple times, and he couldn’t get past them either time.

Once he figures out how to attack the hoop off the dribble again, he will be an elite player in this league. For now, he’s a very skilled Ivy big man, which is good enough for this team at the moment.

It strikes me that Harvard has won the marketing and promotions battle, they've won recruiting battles, they've won the social networking battle, they've won the press battles - now what do the Crimson need to do to win their final battle and get past Princeton?

Harvard has shot 20 or more threes in half of its Division I contests this year. The Crimson is 5-3 when it goes over and 8-0 when it stays under. That’s not the whole story though. Relying on the three as a primary option takes Harvard out of its game – pounding the ball inside with Wright and forcing its way to the free throw line. The proper flow of the Crimson’s offense is to force the defense to collapse inside and draining wide open threes when it does.

For Harvard to beat Princeton, it has to have Wright and Casey own the rim and it must get to the foul line consistently (the Crimson is 2-3 when attempting 15 or fewer free throws and 11-0 when getting more than 15 opportunities).

Defensively, the Crimson must focus on locking down the boards. Harvard’s not going to shut down the balanced Tigers attack and Princeton’s not going to magically start turning the ball over, so getting stops on a high percentage of missed shots will be key.

The Tigers beat the Crimson at Jadwin for the 22nd straight time if...

Princeton needs to push Harvard to the perimeter and goad it into launching three after three. Also, the Tigers should mix some pressure defense in from time to time to see if they can force some cheap turnovers. If the Crimson gets going offensively (Harvard loves to score in spurts), slow the game down both on offense and by employing time-wasting defensive looks (half-court traps, zones, etc.).

Dan Mavraides and Douglas Davis need to have efficient shooting evenings from beyond the arc. Davis is 9-for-20 career from three against Harvard and Mavraides is 8-for-15. If they shoot like that again, it’s hard to see the Tigers losing this game.

Plug. Your. Site. And. Or. Blog. Now. Please.

At the beginning of the season, I started up an Ivy Basketball blog at It’s my third endeavor to cover the league since writing men’s basketball for The Crimson from 2003-2006 and contributing to Jake Wilson’s Basketball-U site last year.

The site specializes in a macro approach to league coverage. The pieces are more about analysis and projections than they are about day-to-day news coverage (there are plenty of sites that can provide that). The site is philosophically quantitative, but presented in a manner that is both interesting and accessible to all. Most importantly, given the unique approach, I hope it will supplement the coverage that is already out there, rather than duplicating the opinions and analysis of some of the more established Ivy journalists and observers.

Thanks for your time, mister. See you this weekend?

If you cover a team the Tigers will face down the line, let us know. We'd love to talk with you.

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