The Tigers entered their annual three-week winter exam break riding an emotional wave. Five straight wins following the expected wipeout at Duke, including two stunning wins over Big 5 champion Penn, catapulted the Tigers to the top of the Ivy heap at 2-0. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson hoped that the layoff would not impact the Tigers’ momentum facing the first two back-to-backs on the road.
The Tigers’ annual January reading period and their forced three-week hiatus come to an end this weekend with visits from the Yale Bulldogs and the Brown Bears to Jadwin Gym. This is a good time to assess the season to this point and offer some predictions for the remainder of the Ivy campaign.
After a 2-6 start, the Tigers rebounded nicely, winning five of the final six out-of-conference games to conclude that portion of their schedule at 7-7. Princeton was bitten by the injury bug for the third time in as many years.
On Friday, the Tigers open play in the Diamond Head Classic on the beautiful island of Oahu in the 50th state. Their first foe in a “three games in four days” format is the very strong Conference USA representative, Middle Tennessee State, a frequent Big Dance contestant.
Coming in with a record of 7-2, including wins over SEC teams Mississippi and Vanderbilt, the Raiders have their own version of the big three, Nick King, Giddy Potts and big man Brandon Walters. These three play a lot of minutes and score a ton of points. Middle Tennessee State is currently ranked 67th by the esteemed Ken Pomeroy, high enough to warrant a 65 percent chance to beat the Tigers (128th) on a neutral court.
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.
Heading into the 2016-17 season, many experts predicted that the Princeton Tigers would win the Ivy League title due to its senior leadership. It was hard to bet against a team that would be starting Spencer Weisz, Steven Cook, Hans Brase, and Henry Caruso. When Brase and Caruso went down with season-ending injuries early in 2016, there was cause for concern. A slow start from starting guard Amir Bell only added to the growing worries for the Tigers. However, the arrival of Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens into the starting lineup righted the ship and had the Tigers in great position heading into the Ivy schedule. With first-team All-Ivy performances from Weisz (Ivy League Player of the Year), Cook (IHO Player of the Year), and Stephens (Ivy and IHO Defensive Player of the Year), along with strong performances from Cannady (Ivy and IHO Honorable Mention) and Bell, Princeton ran through the league with a 14-0 record, winning the regular season title by four games over Harvard.
Last week, Andrew Slater of 247 Sports reported that Yale rising senior Makai Mason will attend Baylor University in the fall of 2018 as a graduate transfer. The 2015-16 first-team All-Ivy guard missed all of last season due to a foot injury suffered in a preseason scrimmage against Boston University. Mason, who was recently named the Yale captain for the upcoming season, averaged 16.0 points, 3.8 assists, and 32.7 minutes of playing time per game in his sophomore campaign.
Mason declared for the 2016 NBA Draft, but withdrew his name a few days after the combine. Since he did not choose an agent, he returned to Yale and retained his last two years of eligibility. After his first-semester injury, Mason decided to continue his studies at Yale instead of taking a leave of absence, as opposed to Alex Rosenberg at Columbia or Siyani Chambers at Harvard. By staying in school, Mason will earn his degree in the spring of 2018 and retain one year of athletic eligibility. Since the Ivy League does not allow graduate students to participate, he is free to play his last season at any institution the following season. That freedom has been exercised over the last few years by Cornell’s Shonn Miller (Connecticut), Penn’s Tony Hicks (Louisville), Harvard’s Patrick Steeves (George Washington), Dartmouth’s Alex Mitola (George Washington) and Brown’s Rafael Maia (Pittsburgh). Recently, two graduating All-Ivy Princeton players, Hans Brase (Iowa State) and Henry Caruso (Santa Clara), have added their names to this ever-growing list.
Hans Brase is going to be a Cyclone.
Brase has committed to Iowa State, the Des Moines Register reported Friday. Brase had suffered back-to-back season-ending injuries in 2015-16 and 2016-17 at Princeton, including a torn ACL in 2015.
The Clover, S.C. native, a 6-foot-9 forward, averaged 9.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game during his 93 contests as a Tiger.
— Spencer Weisz (@S_Weisz973) May 12, 2017
Marketing hoops in China
Sophomore forward Erika Steeves was named one of five Brown student-athletes who earned a Royce Fellowship, which will support Steeves as she works with the NBA, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), and Chinese sport officials to study the growing market for amateur and professional basketball in China.
Columbia women to go south of the border in November
The Columbia women’s basketball team has been invited to participate in the 2017 Cancun Challenge at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula. In the 10-team tournament, they will be in the 4 team Mayan Division along with Arizona State, Green Bay and 2016 national runner-up Mississippi State. Each of these teams had 20-plus victories in their 2016-17 seasons. While the schedule for the November 23-25 Challenge does not come out until June, the four teams in last year’s Mayan Division played three games in three days against each of the teams in the group. So, the Lions should get their chance to beat the team that ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak.
Brase’s next move
Former Princeton forward Hans Brase will be a graduate transfer, according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports and FanRag Sports. Brase was a first-team All-Ivy selection in 2014-15 before missing the following season with a torn right ACL. He came back this year and played five games before another season-ending injury to his right knee on November 29.
Daugherty walks away
Bill Koch of the Providence Journal confirmed that sophomore Corey Daugherty has decided to leave the Brown basketball program but stay enrolled at the university. Daugherty, who played in 16 games last year and 29 games this season, was one of the first players off the bench for Mike Martin the last two years. The Barrington, R.I. native averaged 19.6 minutes and 4.2 points a game, while posting a 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.
A new Big Red commit
For Mitch Henderson, the climb to the top of the Ivy League mountain has been anything but easy.
Critics point out his teams’ surprising inability to close the sale in some past seasons and his struggles with Harvard and Yale as indications of something missing in his program. Supporters point out he is young, smart and has brought a vision for the long haul. He has developed a new culture and identity for Tiger basketball that bears his unmistakable imprint.
The Tigers’ 14-0 march through the 2016-17 Ivy schedule, making Henderson the odds-on favorite for Coach of the Year honors, tips the scales in favor of the supporters’ case.
Let’s take a closer look at what Henderson has done, particularly over the last three seasons as he put the building blocks of the current juggernaut in place.