Survive and advance. The Maryland Terrapins and the Princeton Tigers did just that Saturday afternoon in College Park in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. The Terps and Princeton will meet for the second time in an NCAA Tournament game Monday night.
Princeton advanced with an 80-70 win over Green Bay. Top-seeded Maryland overcame some sloppy play to advance with a 75-57 win past the region's 16th seed New Mexico State.
How to watch:
WHO: Princeton Tigers (31-0, 14-0 Ivy) @ Maryland Terrapins (31-2, 18-0 B1G)
WHAT: Women's basketball NCAA Tournament second round game
WHERE: Xfinity Center, University of Maryland, College Park, Md.
WHEN: Monday, 6:30 p.m. March 23, 2015 ET
WATCH: In Person
Princeton and the NCAA - Five out of six
NCAA appearances are nothing new for recent iterations of the Princeton Tigers. Of late, they have been the dominant program in the Ivy League winning five of the last six titles. The Ivy League doesn't have a post season tournament so winning the league championship punches a ticket to the Big Dance. Saturday's win marks the first time Princeton has advanced to the second round.
Princeton has played a NCAA Tournament game in College Park once before. The 2011 team came in as a 12th seed and lost to Georgetown 65-49 in its first round game. This season's number No. 8 seed is not only the highest seed Princeton has received, it is the highest seed ever given to a team from the Ivy League.
No tail on the Tigers
Editor's Note: Unless noted, statistics do not include Saturday's NCAA win.
Princeton entered the tournament as the only undefeated team in NCAA women's basketball. That record was good enough to earn the team a No. 12 RPI rank despite having a strength of schedule at 125 and 156 for its non-conference schedule. Princeton played nine games against teams in the RPI top 100 and obviously won them all. Its win over Green Bay (RPI 22), however, was its first over a top 25 RPI squad.
Prior to Saturday, the Tigers' best wins were at Pitt, at American and at Duquesne. Pitt and Duquesne finished with RPIs in the forties and AU finished at 50. The Tigers played one game against a Big Ten opponent. Princeton traveled to Ann Arbor and ran the Michigan Wolverines out of their gym in a thirty-point romp, 85-55.
In fact, one could fairly call this Tigers squad road warriors. In addition to its seven Ivy League road wins, 12 (now 13) of its wins have been on the road or on a neutral court. In fact, Princeton played on the road at one other common opponent. The Tigers faced the American University Eagles, who won the Patriot League regular season and tournament championships, and edged AU 63-56 while the Terps romped over the Eagles 94-50 at Xfinity Center.
This season's Princeton squad has achieved its success through a combination of a strong and efficient defense and an efficient moderately paced offense. On defense, the Tigers allow just 50.9 points per game (ppg) a figure that is third best in the NCAA. They allow their opponents to score just 0.73 points per possession (ppp) again putting them in the top ten nationally.
On offense, the Tigers score at a highly efficient 1.07 ppp putting them in a very select group. Generally, teams that score over 0.90 ppp are considered efficient. (Maryland averages 1.09.) Princeton scores nearly 76 points per game but needs fewer than 71 possessions to do so. And they accomplish this without a heavy reliance but a very (and here's that word again) efficient use of the three point shot.
The Tigers are, along with UConn, one of only two teams in the country that shoots over 40 percent from behind the arc. However, only 24 percent of their scoring comes from long distance. They average just 15 three point attempts per game and make six. For the season, Princeton has attempted 18 fewer three point shots than Maryland but has made 27 more.
Princeton is as balanced a scoring team as Maryland has faced. Four players average in double figures for the Tigers led by Blake Dietrick's 14.9 and their top six scorers account for 62 of their 76 points. The Tigers carry a 15-player roster and eight average at least 10 minutes per game.
So, they shoot well and defend well. What about their rebounding? The answer is, statistically, they rebound every bit as well as Maryland. Maryland has 357 more rebounds than their opponents. Princeton has only 336 more but the Tigers have played two fewer games than the Terps. Both teams hold rebounding margins of plus 11.2 per game. Of course, Princeton amassed their statistics against the 125th most difficult schedule. On the other hand, in a single game elimination, anything is possible.
Players to Watch
Annie Tarakchian #10, junior, guard/forward, 6'0". Tarakchian is first on this list not because she leads Princeton in scoring. She is, in fact, fourth among the Tigers' double figure scorers. She does, however, lead Princeton in rebounding with 9.2 per game. Tarakchian is also the deadliest of Princeton's dead eye three point shooters burying 49 of 101 shots on the year. (Saturday, Tarakchian had 19 points, 17 rebounds and 5 assists while making 3 of 6 three point shots.)
Blake Dietrick #11, senior, guard, 5'10". As noted above, Dietrick is the Tigers' leading scorer at 14.9 points per game. She runs the show from the point and dishes out a team leading five assists per game. Oh, let's not omit her 4.7 rebound average and 41.8 percent three point shooting. (The only one of the three to have a bit of an off shooting day Saturday. Dietrick made only two of six three point attempts but tied Tarakchian with a team high five assists.)
Michelle Miller #34, junior, guard, 5'10" Normally, I try to limit this section to two players but Miller earns a brief mention as the third member of Princeton's long range bombers. Her percentage of 45.4 falls between Tarakchian and Dietrick. (Saturday she led Princeton with 20 points and made all four of her three point shots.)
Princeton outperformed its season averages in Saturday's win over Green Bay. The Tigers scored 1.12 ppp, had assists on 76 percent of their baskets (typically closer to 59 percent), shot 56 percent from behind the arc, and out rebounded the Phoenix 49-22. From the free throw line, the Tigers shot nearly 81 percent while their season average was slightly below 70 percent. Additionally, they controlled the tempo and had Green Bay playing at their pace rather than allowing the Phoenix to impose the slower pace they prefer.
The Final Word
Princeton has amassed piles of impressive statistics but they did so against relatively weak competition. They have yet to step on the court with a team as big, as fast, as athletic or as talented as Maryland. However, it's also worth noting that the Tigers are playing with a bit of a chip on their collective shoulders. They believe their season earned them a higher seed than the one they received.
As a first step, they raised their game to beat a talented Green Bay squad and advance to the round of 32 for the first time in program history. Whether they can take the next step is an open question.