In 2012-13: 17-11, 10-4, 2nd place, No Postseason.
A Look Back
Mitch Henderson’s third season at the Tigers’ helm will be his first outside the shadow of Sydney Johnson.
In his first campaign, Henderson enjoyed the services of Doug Davis, a Johnson recruit, whose last-second playoff heroics in his junior year stalled, if only momentarily, the Amaker juggernaut. The Tigers compiled a very respectable 20-12 overall record in 2011-12, Davis’ senior year, overcoming a disastrous start to the Ivy League season to finish in third place at 10-4. Davis graduated as the second leading career scorer for the Tigers, trailing only some skinny guy from the 1960’s.
Davis held that second spot for only eleven months until he was overtaken by 2012-13 Ivy POY Ian Hummer, the Tiger team leader in virtually every significant category last year. The Tigers managed an overall record of 17-11, including a 10-4 mark in the League, good enough for second place. But it was the way the Tigers finished second that has caused much head-scratching among the Tiger faithful.
I suppose one might make an argument that the Tigers can be better without Hummer, but not this reporter. Last year, Princeton never found a way to replace Davis. Almost every possession started, went through, or finished with Hummer. Losing two players of the caliber of Davis and Hummer in successive seasons presents Henderson with his second major test.
His first arose last December. After the Tigers lost to Wagner in a game in which they allowed just 40 points in regulation while forcing 20 turnovers, then blew a lead at the Barclays’ Center to a mediocre Fordham team, Henderson was forced to shake things up. He benched a senior co-captain in favor of the smaller but far more athletic Hans Brase, an untested freshman. Immediately, the Tigers put together a nearly flawless performance in a 12-point victory against tournament-bound Bucknell and the Bison’s NBA draftee, center Mike Muscala.
Henderson’s gamble paid off and the team was clearly his. The Tigers’ momentum carried them well into 2013, as they reached 9-2 in the Ivy League, gaining a stranglehold on the title with three games to go. With its fate in its hands, Princeton fell flat on its face, losing back-to-back contests in New Haven and Providence before rebounding in a largely irrelevant finale at the Palestra. When the team declined to consider any post-season opportunities, the hand-wringing began in earnest. Henderson appeared stunned at the end of the year.
Players to Watch
T.J. Bray, Senior. If Hummer was the team’s warrior, Bray was the mechanic who kept the machine tuned up and running smoothly. He was the only Tiger who played more minutes than Hummer, and he emerged as a reliable threat from behind the arc. He runs the show and must continue to play at a very high level for the Tigers to improve.
Denton Koon, Junior. Henderson’s first impact recruit, the 6’8” Missouri native has contributed in a major way since early in his freshman year. A natural forward, Koon became an emergency backcourt fill-in last year, impressing everyone with his versatility. He should thrive in his more comfortable spot.
Hans Brase, Sophomore. Much is expected from Brase after his early splash. He showed his relative immaturity at times last year, but should benefit a great deal from his exposure. Brase displayed a frustrating tendency to foul too much but he has a very high ceiling, indeed.
Bray needs a running mate in the backcourt. Jimmy Sherburne returns after missing the entire year due to a gruesome shoulder dislocation, suffered just as he was emerging as a potential star. He could be the answer. Someone in the talented class of incoming freshmen must step up in the way Koon did two years ago if this team hopes to be a factor in the Ivy race.
Tommy Amaker may have more starters on his second team than most Ivy squads can find on their rosters. That said, Brown, Penn and Yale will be better this year than last, promising that the fight for second place will be spirited. In a transition year, the Tigers, who go on the road early in conference play to Penn and Harvard, may challenge for second but do not appear likely to reach double figures in Ivy wins for a third straight campaign.