Princeton’s customary post-holiday exam break normally passes quietly and uneventfully for the men’s and women’s basketball teams as the Tigers play no games for more than two weeks while the rest of the college basketball world shifts into high gear for conference play.
This year, a stunning development marred the exam break with the news that senior co-captain Devin Cannady had been suspended from the team for a violation of team rules. The University has remained tight-lipped about Cannady’s status, making no announcements about when or whether Cannady will return to the team. In what perhaps is an indication that the Princeton sharpshooter may be allowed to return to the team at some point this season, Cannady sat on the team bench during Princeton’s return to action on Sunday against Division III opponent Wesley College of Delaware.
In the meantime, it seems likely that Princeton will resume its conference schedule this weekend without its leading scorer and senior co-captain. During the next two weeks, Princeton will play four consecutive road games against Ivy League opponents: Columbia, Cornell, Yale and Brown. For Princeton to remain atop the league standings, coach Mitch Henderson will have to find a way to fill the enormous void created by Cannady’s absence.
Before the suspension, Cannady was making a strong case for Ivy League Player of the Year. His scoring average of 19.5 points per game is second only to Cornell’s Matt Morgan, and his 91.3 percent free throw shooting leads the league and currently places him ninth in the nation. Of course, Cannady’s prodigious three-point shooting is the stuff of legend, but what many overlook about Cannady is his defensive prowess and his success in rebounding the basketball. Cannady currently averages 6.2 rebounds a game, which places him 10th overall in the Ivy League, an incredible accomplishment for a 6’ 2” shooting guard. He also handles the ball effectively and has a knack for making big plays in crunch time. Perhaps most important, his competitive spirit and overall leadership skills have been critical to the team’s success from the moment he arrived on campus nearly four years ago.
Several players will need to step up in a big way to fill this void, including first and foremost senior co-captain, Myles Stephens. As has been noted in recent posts on this site, Stephens’s pre-exam break awakening has played a large role in catapulting the Tigers to a six-game winning streak, including back-to-back wins over arch-rival Penn. But with Cannady removed as a scoring threat, Princeton’s opponents should be able to focus more defensive attention on Stephens, double-teaming him if necessary. Somehow, Stephens will need to find a way to fend off the added pressure and generate good scoring opportunities for his team.
Another player who will need to continue to stay hot is junior center and budding superstar Richmond Aririguzoh. Aririguzoh is averaging 11 points per game this season, but he led Princeton with 20 points in the initial win over Penn at Jadwin Gym and tallied another 17 points when Princeton swept the regular season series against the Quakers at the Palestra a week later. Aririguzoh will have to continue to play a dominant role in the paint to help compensate for a likely fall-off in outside shooting while Cannady remains sidelined.
Several other role players will have to make larger contributions for Princeton to stay in the hunt for a league title. The two super sophomores—Jerome Desrosiers and Sebastian Much—must provide consistent production every night, especially from behind the arc. And freshman sensation Jaelin Llewellyn must return to the same form he displayed when he debuted at Madison Square Garden against St. John’s in early December. Heralded as the best Princeton recruit in a generation, Llewellyn made an immediate impact in his first two games, scoring 17 points against St. John’s and tallying a team-high 22 points a few days later against Iona.
Since then, however, Llewellyn hasn’t looked the same, shooting just 14 for 72 from the field, or 19 percent, in his last six games. Llewellyn has the ability to drive the lane and score layups, but since mid-December, the freshman simply has not finished his shots at the rim or converted his free throw attempts. Even against an undermanned Wesley squad on Sunday, Llewellyn missed his first four shots and finished with only six points, shooting 33 percent in 21 minutes of play. Somehow, Henderson must find a way to restore the confidence of his talented, young point guard if the Tigers are going to have any hope of surviving Cannady’s absence.
Will someone else emerge from the bench to fill Cannady’s shoes? Drew Friberg, another heralded freshman recruit, proved that he can play the role of clutch shooter when he rescued the Tigers against Iona in Atlantic City with three consecutive three-pointers late in the game. Jose Morales also has given the Tigers a lift at times this season playing in the point guard position. Other players likely to be called upon include sophomore swingman Ryan Schwieger, who led Princeton with 15 points against Wesley, and Max Johns, a 6’ 3” freshman with promising athletic ability.
In the most recent installment of his weekly radio show, Coach Mitch Henderson acknowledged the challenge presented by Cannady’s absence, but expressed confidence that his team would embrace a “next man up” mentality.
Of course, this is not completely unexplored territory for Henderson or the Tigers. Princeton opened the season without Cannady while the senior nursed an injury and the results were not good. The Tigers lost by double digits in their Division I opener to Lehigh in a game in which Princeton shot an atrocious 4 for 32 from behind the arc. If the Lehigh game is any indication, expect Princeton to struggle from distance without Cannady in the lineup.
Overall, Princeton’s greatest hope is that Cannady won’t be absent for long. By all accounts, Cannady is an outstanding young man who certainly deserves a second chance. In the meantime, Princeton enters the heart of its Ivy schedule at the top of the standings but without its best player. The Princeton fan base will be watching and wondering how their beloved Tigers will adapt to this new and uncertain reality.