I wrote a week ago that Steve Donahue is off to a great start as head coach at Penn.
But it’s Princeton’s head coach who has a program primed for an outstanding finish.
Mitch Henderson’s next season at the Tigers’ helm will be his fifth, and with the talent he has returning, it should also mark his first Ivy League championship.
This coming season, the Tigers will return all five starters and six of the first eight in their 2014-15 rotation. That means Princeton returns virtually all of its potent offense from last season too, one that finished 92nd in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency (behind only Harvard among Ivies). And Princeton was the highest scoring offense in the Ivy League last season at 68.9 points per game. The Tigers easily led the league in field goal and three-point field goal percentage a season ago.
But the Tigers have always maximized their potential offensively under Henderson, finishing in the top half of the league in scoring offense in every year of his tenure, including second in 2012. Henderson’s version of the Princeton offense has always been efficient and more aggressive than previous iterations of the same offense. That was never more evident last season than when Princeton built a 26-14 lead in the first half at Harvard, nailing 12 of its first 17 shots before eventually succumbing to Harvard Wesley Saunders. That Tigers offense was a pass-happy juggernaut and could be a blueprint for what Princeton could be next season – a big team that uses its size and ball rotation to wear teams down.
Princeton will indeed be one of the biggest squads in the conference next year, with 6-8 Hans Brase, 6-10 Pete Miller, 6-5 Steven Cook and fellow offensive threats Amir Bell (6-3), Spencer Weisz (6-4) and Henry Caruso (6-4).
The Tigers were as consistent as they were big last season, beating every Ivy not named Harvard or Yale twice except for Cornell. More importantly, Amir Bell and Steven Cook established themselves as two of the most athletic players in the league, and Bell picked up momentum as his freshman campaign progressed. He shot below 50 percent from the field just once in the final 12 games of the season (excluding the season finale, in which he did not attempt a shot).
Bell’s mere presence is a win for Henderson, who has showed he has serious recruiting chops in recent offseasons. By snagging Bell and Devin Cannady, Henderson has proven he can get players that can fit in any system and play in any league. But Henderson’s system – minus the rebounding woes in recent years, which aren’t insignificant – has proven optimal for players who want to be part of an offense predicated on sharing the ball and spreading the scoring burden. That can only bode well for the future of Tiger basketball.