Princeton men’s basketball aims for elite mid-major status

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.

The Tigers managed to survive a strong challenge from archrival Penn, on the fourth seed’s home court and then defeated Yale the next day to win the league’s first ever men’s conference tournament and earn its automatic bid for March Madness. Princeton’s magical season ended four days later with a two-point loss to No. 5 seed Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

While the Orange and Black lose four All-Ivy seniors, as well as 25-game starting forward Pete Miller, no one in the conference will be shedding tears for a squad that will be anchored by Stephens, Cannady and Bell.  To replace the losses down low, the likely candidates will be 6’11” senior Alec Brennan, who played in 25 games, 6’10” sophomore Will Gladson, who played in 29 contests, and 6’9” sophomore Richmond Aririguzoh.  The Tigers will also have three-star recruits in sophomore Vittorio Reynoso-Avila and first-year Sebastian Much to backup Stephens at the wing, while first-year Jerome Desrosiers will help out in the backcourt.  Looking to the future, Mitch Henderson, the reigning Ivy League Coach of the Year, has already secured three 2018 commitments, including four-star guard Jaelin Llewellyn, who chose the Tigers over several ACC, SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 teams.

Princeton’s 2017-18 schedule reveals an ambitious nonconference schedule for a team looking to challenge itself for league play and make a claim for the elite level of mid-major hoops. The Tigers will start the season on November 12 in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse to take on Butler of the Big East, followed by a return match at Jadwin Gym against BYU of the West Coast Conference. Last season, the Cougars defeated Princeton by nine points in Provo as part of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. Through the rest of November, the Tigers will stay in the tri-state area to take on the St. Joseph’s of the A-10, and Fairleigh Dickinson of the Northeast Conference, as well as Lafayette and Lehigh of the Patriot League.

The Ivy champs will start December in Miami taking on the ACC’s Hurricanes in the Hoophall Miami Invitational.  As the team travels north, they will play the first of a home-and-home series against the A-10’s George Washington Colonials, before a rematch against in-state rival Monmouth.  Following last season’s six-point loss to the 27-7 regular season MAAC champs, the Tigers went on a 19-game win streak. After the December 12 contest against the Hawks, Princeton will head west to California to complete a home-and-home series with Cal Poly and then start the Diamond Head Classic with a non-bracketed game against the USC Trojans, a preseason Top 10 program.  From there, the team will travel to Honolulu for the tournament’s bracketed games on December 22, 23 and 25.

The Tigers will open up the Diamond Head Classic against Middle Tennessee State, the Conference USA champions who upset Minnesota in the second round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.  In the second of the three guaranteed games, Princeton will take on either the Akron Zips or a return match against USC.  The last game will close out the Tigers’ nonconference schedule and feature one of the teams in the opposing bracket, Davidson, New Mexico State, Hawaii or preseason Top 15 Miami.

While Princeton has not finalized its games against Penn, it will visit the Palestra for the first contest against its travel partner and host the second game.  The Tigers will host Columbia and Cornell on January 12 and 13, as well as Yale and Brown on February 2 and 3 before heading up to Cambridge for their first showdown with the Crimson on the 9th. Following the road contest game against Dartmouth on the 10th, Princeton will travel through New York to take on the Big Red and Lions. On February 23, Harvard will visit Jadwin in a game that has been rescheduled from Saturday for national television. Senior night will be held on the 24th against Dartmouth and then the team will travel to Brown and Yale to finish the regular season. The following weekend, the Tigers will likely return to Philadelphia for a chance to defend their postseason title and return to the Big Dance.

1 thought on “Princeton men’s basketball aims for elite mid-major status”

  1. The Penn games are set for January 5 at the Cathedral and February 6 at home. Technically, of course, Brase and Caruso were “lost” early last season without hurting the Tigers’ prospects. Weisz, Cook and Miller will be much harder to replace. Assuming 45 points a night from Bell, Cannady and Stephens, a not unreasonable assumption based on their histories, Henderson will need to find some help from sources as yet unknown. Of the returnees Gladson and Aririguzoh have high ceilings, Brennan perhaps not. We do know Henderson likes the incoming freshmen and will not hesitate to put them under the gun. Given the strength of Harvard and Yale the Tigers should be thrilled to get a second chance in the tournament.

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