Princeton men’s recruits look to help team return to form in 2018-19

Even though the Princeton men’s team lost Ivy Player of the Year Spencer Weisz, first team All-Ivy Steven Cook and 25 game starting center Pete Miller from the undefeated regular and postseason Ivy champions of 2016-17, last year’s team was still expected to challenge for the 2018 Ivy title. Selected third in the preseason media poll, the Tigers trailed Yale by three points and Harvard by only eight, while picking up three first-place votes. With returning first team All-Ivy and conference Defensive Player of the Year Myles Stephens, honorable mention All-Ivy Devin Cannady and a resurgent Amir Bell anchoring the back court, Princeton entered the season optimistic that the new frontcourt would develop by the start of league play to give the team a shot at a repeat.

Early-season losses to Butler, BYU, St. Joseph’s, and Miami contributed to a 2-5 start for the Tigers. They rebounded in the later part of the non-conference schedule, including a 103-93 overtime victory at USC, to pull even at 7-7 by the start of the Ivy schedule. Despite an opening game loss at the Palestra to an improved Penn, Princeton found itself at 3-1 in league play, following an overtime win against Yale. The Tigers then, unexpectedly, went 0-7 with three overtime defeats and losses to each of the previous year’s lower division teams. After two wins against Dartmouth and Brown, Princeton entered the regular season finale with a solid shot at the fourth spot in the Ivy Tournament.  The Tigers got the necessary Harvard win over Columbia, but they lost by four to Yale, in their fifth overtime game of their Ivy season. In 2018-19, the Orange & Black (13-16, 5-9 Ivy) will look to put last year’s fifth-place effort behind them and show the rest of the conference that they belong in the league’s upper division.

Read morePrinceton men’s recruits look to help team return to form in 2018-19

Ivy weekend roundup – Feb. 2-3, 2018

Now that we’re at the point of the season where the conference standings really start to loom large, the IHO Power Poll goes away and we drill down each of the Ivies by their order in their standings.

First, though, some observations about an unusually exciting Ivy slate of games so far. The Ivy League, per KenPom, ranks first among all 32 Division I conferences in close game percentage, or percentage of games decided by fewer than four points or in overtime, with 11 of 23 games falling in that category. The Ivy League ranked 20th in that category last season, 25th in 2016 and next-to-last in 2015, so hope you’re enjoying the uptick in close contests.

This season’s Ivy slate has been unusually kind to the home teams so far too. The Ivy League also ranks first in Division I in home win percentage, as 18 of 23 hosts have been victorious so far. Interestingly, the league ranked last in Division I last season, when home teams went just 28-28 in conference play. The Ancient Eight ranked 15th in home win percentage in 2016 and 26th in 2015, so this season’s frequency of success for home teams has been unusual too. Since Penn and Princeton are going to be hitting the road down the stretch, the league’s home-win percentage could go back down some by the time the season is over.

Read moreIvy weekend roundup – Feb. 2-3, 2018

Princeton’s 12-day road trip ends on a high note

The Tigers capped off a hugely successful 12-day swing to the West Coast and beyond with a workmanlike 77-63 victory over the host Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Monday to conclude their their three games in the Diamond Head Classic. Only a two-point loss to Middle Tennessee State  in the tourney opener marred the Tigers road trip record of 4-1. Princeton finished its out-of-conference schedule at 7-7.

Read morePrinceton’s 12-day road trip ends on a high note

Princeton splits two nail-biters in first two games of Diamond Head Classic

The Tigers came into the opener of this Christmas tournament hosted by the University of Hawaii as slight underdogs to the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee State, winners of games in the last two NCAA tournaments, including a monumental upset over Michigan State in 2016.

In a game the Tigers led by as many as seven and never trailed by more than four, it took a big-time play by the Raiders’ great guard, Giddy Potts, to break the last tie with two seconds to go. The final: Middle Tennessee State 69, Princeton 67.

Once again the Tigers played quite well from the outset, leading 28-23 at the break. This was perhaps as good as the defense has shown over a 20-minute stretch all season. The Raiders are very well-coached, boasting a deep, talented roster, featuring size, strength and speed. They fully expect to make another deep run for Conference USA laurels.

Read morePrinceton splits two nail-biters in first two games of Diamond Head Classic

Princeton reloads in quest for second straight Ivy League championship

If Tiger fans are reluctant to turn the page after last year’s historic run through the Ivy season and the first-ever Ivy Tournament, we can readily understand. After a so-so 4-6 start and the loss of two All-Ivy caliber starters, Princeton went on a 19-0 tear, including 16-0 in the Ivies, culminating in a championship and a berth in the NCAA’s March Madness. A close loss in the Big Dance to Notre Dame hardly diminished the accomplishments of a truly phenomenal season.

Tiger skipper Mitch Henderson has clearly come into his own, joining James Jones and Tommy Amaker as elite coaches, not only in the League, but in Division I. Having more than survived the loss of Hans Brase and Henry Caruso, the Tigers must figure out how to replace POY Spencer Weisz and fellow first team All-Ivy selection Steven Cook. It won’t be easy, and most handicappers pick the Tigers to finish no better than third behind Yale and Harvard in the coming campaign. Among Henderson’s strengths is his ability to recruit players who buy into his scheme right away. His teams are usually much more than the sum of their individual parts. As a result, the cupboard is hardly bare heading into the new season.

Read morePrinceton reloads in quest for second straight Ivy League championship

Princeton hangs on at Bucknell, 72-70

The Princeton Tigers, college basketball’s nomads, finally wrapped up the traveling portion of their preseason slate at the Sojka Pavilion on the campus of Bucknell last night. Needing a win against a tough opponent, the Tigers got it, grinding out another hang-on-at-the-end 72-70 decision against the perennial Patriot League contenders. It was the Bison’s first loss at home this season. Frankly, the game was not as close as the final score might suggest. This was an impressive performance by the Tigers.

Read morePrinceton hangs on at Bucknell, 72-70

Princeton bows to St. Joseph’s, 76-68

Tigers’ hopes for a boffo season took another hit last night against the St. Joseph’s Hawks at Jadwin Gym. The visiting Big 5 quintet led for nearly the entire game, often by double digits. Princeton found its defensive energy in the second half as the Hawks were denied very many good looks. The Tigers clawed their way back, even managing a brief lead at 64-61 with under four minutes to go. St. Joe’s revved up its speed game once again, going on a 15-4 tear to close out the game, 76-68.

Clearly, the Tigers were struggling to overcome the loss of Hans Brase for the second time in two seasons due to knee problems. The news that senior forward, and last year’s first-team All-Ivy selection, Henry Caruso will not play again because of a toe injury hit this team like a sledgehammer blow. Caruso brought a toughness and grit to the floor and it showed in the stats. He was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder a year ago.

Read morePrinceton bows to St. Joseph’s, 76-68

Where Princeton stands after eight games

Princeton’s first month, spent almost entirely on the road, ended on a positive note in Lynchburg, Va. on Saturday afternoon. The Tigers’ three-point dam, which cracked slightly against Hawaii’s Rainbow Warriors in a win to conclude the Pearl Harbor Invitational, burst wide open in a tough, hold-them-off-at-the-end 67-64 victory over the Liberty Flames. Princeton canned 17 threes, including an unlikely six from Aaron Young, presenting Princeton coach Mitch Henderson with an early Christmas present: career win number 100. Spencer Weisz also broke out of some early season doldrums to do what he does best: make other players better. His career-high 13 assists tied the program record held by T. J. Bray.

Read moreWhere Princeton stands after eight games

Princeton survives Penn, 73-71, in overtime

As most of you well know, to stroll the outer corridors of The Palestra is to take a nostalgic journey across decades of college basketball memories. Teams, players, coaches, writers, broadcasters and Big Moments are proudly displayed. One particularly prominent plaque chronicles the win-loss record of Penn against its fellow competitor in The Rivalry. Yesterday, prior to the outbreak of hostilities for the 233rd time, the record was Penn 124-Princeton 108. The Tigers 109th win was one of the most memorable in the great series. May I still be here when we take the lead!

Read morePrinceton survives Penn, 73-71, in overtime

Princeton’s lack of depth troubling against Rider

Yes, a win is a win, and Princeton’s come-from-behind 64-58 victory over Rider certainly qualifies as a successful season opener. But there’s more to a box score than wins and losses, and the Rider-Princeton box score was discouraging in unexpected ways for the Tigers.

Going into this season, Princeton figured to be one of the deepest teams in the league, even with Denton Koon lost indefinitely with an MCL injury. But what I identified as a potential tendency to rely too heavily on Spencer Weisz and Hans Brase seemed to come to fruition last night, as Brase and Weisz combined for nearly half of the Tigers’ shots from the field. That reliance worked in the end, but more disturbing was Princeton’s surprisingly small rotation of only six players. Mitch Henderson’s Princeton teams have traditionally had much more depth than what was on display last night, but rest assured, the Tigers do not stand a chance in Ivy play without a bench.

Having said that, this is a sample size of only one game and promising freshmen Amir Bell and Aaron Young are just beginning to round into shape at the collegiate level. For now, we know that they can dig deep. Maybe they just can’t play deep yet, that’s all.