Everything is at stake on Friday night when the Princeton Tigers men’s basketball team clashes with the Dartmouth Big Green in Hanover. And by everything, I mean winning an Ivy League regular season championship. That’s the goal for a program like Princeton’s every year.
Earning a berth in the conference postseason tournament is a nice reward, and one that Princeton very nearly has cemented at this point. But make no mistake, the real goal for Princeton this year—and every year—is to win an Ivy League championship. When you win an Ivy League championship, they put a banner in the rafters enshrining the memory of your team for eternity. Princeton players and fans are reminded of the glory of Princeton’s greatest players and teams every time they enter Jadwin Gym and gaze upon that awesome pantheon of conference championship banners hanging in the rafters.
And that’s why Friday’s matchup against Dartmouth is the most important game of the season. Princeton needs to win on Friday to fortify its suddenly insurgent campaign for a conference title. Keep in mind, Princeton now controls its own destiny. Though only tied for second place in the league standings entering the weekend, the Tigers can assure themselves of at least a tie for the regular season title by winning their final four games. But for that to happen, Princeton must come out strong on Friday and secure a win in a game the experts essentially are calling a tossup.
Remember, only two weeks ago at Jadwin, the Tigers survived a tenacious Big Green club by only one point, and that was with Devin Cannady in the lineup. Princeton hasn’t announced whether Cannady, who missed both games last weekend due to personal reasons, will play this weekend. Having a seasoned veteran like Cannady available on Friday would certainly provide the team with a boost.
So far, the Tigers have found strength in adversity when playing without Cannady. Coach Mitch Henderson was done a sensational job harnessing the power of a “next man up” mentality. At times this season, Princeton seems to have benefited from feeling like it has a chip on its shoulder. Yet, there can be no doubt the Tigers are a deeper, stronger, more potent team having their senior co-caption, leading scorer, and leading rebounder in the lineup.
However, even if Cannady is not available, this Tigers squad has proven that it has enough talent and grit to beat any opponent with any lineup. Let’s not forget, the Tigers beat Arizona State without Myles Stephens, and just last week, Princeton swept the New York schools for the second weekend this season without Devin Cannady. So, if it comes down to another installment of “next man up,” Princeton remains more than capable of getting the job done.
Regardless of who starts the game for the Tigers, Princeton should be prepared for another street fight against the Big Green. With increasing fervor, each Ivy weekend looks like a pair of back-to-back heavy weight slugfests. It’s a brutal challenge for every team, but so far there’s a lot to like about how this Princeton team has responded to the pressure of competing in a conference loaded with talent.
Though the Tigers certainly have not been flawless this season, the coaches and players have demonstrated resilience and found ways to achieve success. This team has won close games, including two overtime struggles in league play, by playing tough defense and winning battles on the boards. In some ways, they are the mirror-image opposite of last year’s talented yet ultimately unsuccessful team.
Right now, the Tigers face a four-game season with a conference title on the line. To achieve glory, the Tigers must fight hard this weekend and find a way to come out of Hanover with a big fat win. It’s all on the line for Princeton Friday night.