With its season-ending defeat of the Penn Quakers last night, the Tigers ran their record to a gaudy 22-6 (12-2 Ivy), their best 28-game record in this century (when you are as old as Toothless you think of these things in terms of centuries). On only two occasions, 2004 (13-1) and 2011 (12-2) did a Tiger team win at least 12 Ivy League games, and both of those squads won Ivy titles.
It took Yale’s historic run, in which the Bulldogs suffered but one loss, to deny the Tigers another Ivy crown. (That one defeat came at the hands of Princeton.)
Mitch Henderson’s five-year tenure at the helm has resulted in an overall record of 92-52 (49-21 Ivy), marking him as one of the nation’s outstanding young coaches. Obviously hitting his stride as he settles in at Jadwin, Henderson’s recruiting efforts are paying handsome dividends. Not only do all his starters return next year, but a starter from two years ago who missed this season will also be in orange and black next season.
At the outset of the season, the biggest obstacle in Henderson’s quest to recapture championship glory for the Tigers remained the twin powers in New Haven and Cambridge. Hugely successful against every Ivy team except Harvard and Yale, Henderson hoped to shake that monkey off his back. In one sense, he did that, managing to outscore the Big Two by more than 30 points in their four games against each other. But splitting those four games left Henderson’s five-year mark in the most crucial matchups at 6-14. Worse yet, the Tigers’ stinging loss at Harvard on the season’s last weekend, a one-possession heartbreaker, not only knocked Princeton out of a virtual first-place tie in the Ivy standings, but proved to be the key in Yale’s first outright title in more than half a century. It’s no wonder Harvard senior Patrick Steeves was Justin Sears’ pick for first-team All-Ivy.
The Tigers must now sit and wait for the NCAA Tournament Committee to announce its at-large selections for the Big Dance. History suggests they ought not hold their breath. A shot at the NIT seems more likely and the possibility of hosting a high-major program at Jadwin very real.
Princeton has every right to take a great deal of pride in its excellent record this season, especially since it was achieved without Hans Brase, who missed the season with a torn ACL. To come this far without a title to show for their hard work leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of each of these kids. Each knows that capturing the title next year that slipped away at the end of this one is the only way to wash away that bitter taste.
Henderson knows that for his team to reach its goal, he must finally solve the Harvard-Yale mystery. Bet against him at your peril.