G Amir Bell (Jr.)
G Henry Caruso (Sr.)
G Steven Cook (Sr.)
F Hans Brase (Sr.)
F Pete Miller (Sr.)
Bench: F Spencer Weisz (Sr.), G Devin Cannady (So.), G Myles Stephens (So.), F Alec Brennan (Jr.)
Another March passed, and yet another set of dreams were dashed by a congregation of hoopster virtuosos. If it wasn’t evident already, the Ivy League can ball. Harvard won a first round game as a double-digit seed in consecutive tournaments. Yale, of course, owned complete control of almost the entirety of their 12-over-5 upset of Baylor seven months ago. This go-round, however, the Ivy League’s readiest opportunity to bust brackets will belong to the Princeton Tigers. The conference’s track record as a giant-killer can be traced back to the frustrations the patented Princeton offense caused in some of the nation’s bluebloods. The 1989 Tigers were the closest any 16-seed has ever been to actualizing the impossible against the mighty Hoyas. A 13-seeded Princeton meticulously snuck past defending national champion UCLA in 1996. Most recently, in the Tigers’ last NCAA appearance in 2011, they nearly halted a Kentucky Final Four run in its tracks on opening weekend. Those three games saw Princeton score less than 50 points on average. It’s safe to say the 2016-17 version of Princeton will be quite incongruent from that trend, attributable to one of the nation’s most efficient offenses.
Mitch Henderson’s team receives a shot in the arm with the reappearance of All-Ivy League performer Hans Brase, who returns to the floor after taking a medical redshirt year due to a torn ACL. Brase was Princeton’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder in both his sophomore and junior seasons. Size was the Tigers’ most noticeable hole last season, and Brase plugs it. In spite of occasionally mobilizing a lineup with five players 6-5 and under, Princeton still managed to finish 45th in the nation in defensive rebounding rate as a team. Brase, personally, was 32nd nationally in 2014-15. Thus, Princeton will possess the size and glass-cleaning ability blended with offensive skill necessary to be Sweet 16 caliber. The Tigers, in general, are incredibly difficult to defend. Amir Bell technically is the man that initiates their offense, but they more utilize a point guard-by-committee approach with a half-court offense predicated on constant movement, inversion, and pinpoint execution.
Speaking of Bell, the improvement of his jumper by leaps and bounds was a major driver behind the Tigers adding 6 wins last season. Already a nifty pick-and-roll scorer, Bell was able to force defenses to respect him from beyond the arc, opening up even more avenues for the remainder of his team. Princeton is stabilized on the wing by senior leaders Henry Caruso and Steven Cook, who both not only stretch the floor, but are very proficient scorers off of cuts and straight-line drives. Devin Cannady, on the other hand, is no longer the new kid on the block. Exploding onto the scene in his freshman season as a sparkplug sixth man, the certified bucket-getter was one of the nation’s most efficient offensive players (126.8 O-Rating), and will be expected to deliver the same type of production off the bench again. He is a sophomore in a sea of upperclassmen. The successful mid-major scheme is a senior-laden squad, and that is exactly what the Tigers have assembled. Their collective chemistry and basketball IQ makes for a beautiful brand of basketball. Princeton will have chances to garner national attention in the non-conference with games at BYU, at VCU, at Monmouth and against Cal. If the secret is not out by then, the Tigers will surely have the potential to torch brackets courtesy of the Ivy League once again.
Namedrop Corner: As each top 25 team is introduced, a player namedrop from the respective team from our generation will accompany it. You know, the guys where the name is merely said and your fellow college basketball connoisseurs die of laughter. Out of Write Field lives for those names, and Princeton owns plenty from their successes since 2010. The hero of the aforementioned 2011 tournament team was combo guard Douglas Davis, who provided a special moment for Tigers basketball in a one-game playoff against Harvard.
Davis delivered the up-and-under move I would attempt to emulate for the remainder of my unstoried high school basketball career. Davis’ uncanny Juwan Staten-esque mid-range game gave the Ivy League fits for years, but the memorable shot during championship week of 2011 will never be lost in college hoops lore.