2011 Team Similarities: Princeton vs. Harvard

The Ivy League during the 2010-11 season was about two teams, Princeton and Harvard. The Tigers and Crimson battled it out all season with Sydney Johnson’s team eventually prevailing after a last-second 63-62 victory in the teams’ third meeting of the season.

The two teams were almost inseparable by any metric. Princeton won 25 games, Harvard won 23. Harvard finished 83rd in KenPom, Princeton 84th. It was obvious that these were two very good, not just Ivy League, but basketball teams in general. But what do similarity scores say about the debate?

The answer is that it’s still almost too close to call. Here are the top ten comparisons for both Princeton and Harvard.


  1. Illinois St. 2009 24-10
  2. George Mason 2008 23-11 (12 seed)
  3. Wisconsin 2005 25-9 (6 seed, Elite Eight)
  4. Oklahoma St. 2010 22-11 (7 seed)
  5. Xavier 2011 24-8 (6 seed)
  6. Northern Iowa 2009 23-11 (12 seed)
  7. American 2011 22-9
  8. George Mason 2007 18-15
  9. DePaul 2007 20-14
  10. Northern Iowa 2006 23-10 (10 seed)
  1. Vanderbilt 2008 26-8 (4 seed)
  2. Pacific 2009 21-13
  3. Rider 2008 23-11
  4. Indiana 2006 19-12 (6 seed, Rd. 32)
  5. Oregon 2004 19-13
  6. Northern Illinois 2006 17-11
  7. Baylor 2009 24-15
  8. Temple 2008 21-13 (12 seed)
  9. Cal Poly 2007 19-11
  10. Montana 2010 22-10 (14 seed)

Theses results don’t do much to settle the debate. Obviously the two teams had different styles of play, but both were successful, and have been for past teams as well. It’s interesting that four of Harvard’s comparisons are BCS conference teams (and two others are Xavier and Temple), while Princeton has three (and Xavier). It should be noted that the next five comparisons for both schools are mid-majors (and that these numbers are adjusted for schedule strength.)

Princeton’s comparisons have the most successful team in their corner. Also, six of the Tigers’ Top 10 comparisons qualified for the NCAA Tournament, while just four of Harvard’s did. (And man was that Vanderbilt team in 2004 over-seeded. They were ranked 53rd in KenPom – thanks to a weak SEC – and received a four seed. Of course the Commodores were then promptly upset by Siena.) Just two of these twenty teams even made it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin in 2005 was the uber-version of what Princeton could’ve become. The Badgers hit the defensive glass so hard (#2 in defensive offensive rebound percentage), turned the ball over so rarely (#22 in offensive turnover percentage) and allowed so few free throws (#20 in defensive free throw rate) that they went 11-5 in the Big Ten and then beat Northern Iowa, Bucknell and North Carolina State before falling to eventual national champion North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament.

Both schools had great seasons, but with just one team that failed to win 20 games amongst its comparisons (and that one really odd looking Northern Illinois comparison in Harvard’s) the Tigers look to just be a tad better last season. Apparently just by one point.