After a 9-5 non-conference run where the Tigers went just 6-2 against teams outside the top 200, very few people could have imagined the closing stretch this squad would put together.
Princeton stormed through the Ivy season and marched all the way to the semifinals of the CBI, notching four top 150 wins and a pair of slim, three-point losses to Cornell along the way. The uber-athletic, defensive force Kareem Maddox led the Tigers' resurgence, as the 6'8 forward found an offensive game, combining his stellar free throw shooting with a new-found ability to locate and convert shots from the floor. The interior presence freed up Princeton's deadly shooters to fire away, creating a more potent offense down the stretch.
Now, fans and media alike have heaped expectations upon the Tigers that haven't been there since 2005. That Princeton team also returned a bunch of talent and grabbed the top spot in the preseason media poll but, after an impressive non-conference run, stumbled to a 1-5 league start and never was a factor in the Ivy race. The Tigers would be wise to take heed of that cautionary tale.
Last Season: 22-9, 11-3 Ivy
Pomeroy Ratings: .6892 Win Pct (106th), 98.3 Offense (214th), 91.8 Defense (36th)
Key Losses: G Marcus Schroeder, F Pawel Buczak, F Zach Finley
There are no Ivy POY candidates here, but that's the way Princeton designed it. The slow pace plus relatively even distribution of possessions makes it difficult for any one player to stand out, but All-Ivy caliber talent still exists at every position except point guard, which means far less for the Tigers than most squads.
Douglas Davis and Dan Mavraides are volume shooters, who can knock down the three ball with deadly accuracy. Each possesses a decent mid-range game as well and Davis adds an ability to take defenders to the hoop, making both players more than just long range bombers. Mavraides also chips in defensively with rebound rate of over 15 percent - highest among Ivy players under 6'6. If the Tigers are ever in need of a sniper, Patrick Saunders and his effective field goal percentage of over 60 can provide a boost off the bench.
While Zach Finley and Pawel Buczak will be missed in the rotation, between super sophomore Ian Hummer and Maddox, Princeton will have a strong starting frontcourt. With Will Barrett and Brendan Connolly providing depth, the Tigers should be well equipped to move forward without the departed big men.
The only real gap for Princeton is at the point guard spot. Marcus Schroeder had the position locked down for the past four years, and now the Tigers are faced with the choice of turning the reins over to a freshman once again or moving Davis a little bit out of position to the point spot. The good news is that the Princeton offense relies on vision and passing from every position on the floor, diminishing the importance of the point position pretty dramatically. Still, that's one area that the Tigers will need to address for which there isn't a clear answer at this point.
Expected Record: 22-8, 11-3 Ivy (T-1st)
Expected Efficiency Stats: .6767 Win Pct, 99.3 Offense, 92.1 Defense
Despite a decently difficult opening stretch, Princeton has put together a relatively manageable non-conference slate. The Tigers host Rutgers, then travel to Duke and fringe top 150 candidate James Madison, before returning home to face Bucknell in its first gimme game of the season. While Siena, St. Joseph's, Tulsa and Northeastern still dot the schedule, Princeton should be able to post a double-digit non-conference win total with relative ease (remember: the exempt tourney gives them more than the usual 14 out-of-league tries). If the Tigers are thinking about seeding at all, a 13-seed or better should survive that non-conference schedule with two or three losses at the most.
Princeton's league schedule should promote a really quick start, as the Tigers first five Ivy games are at home. Obviously, that leaves all seven road games for the final four weeks of the league season. A veteran team like Princeton should be well equipped to deal with that daunting task, but it would be hard for any team to make up ground during such a brutal stretch. The Tigers almost have to start 5-0 or at least 4-1 or else they will face long odds and will likely need some help to stay in the race down the stretch.
Princeton gained valuable experience from staring down Cornell twice and taking the Big Red to the final buzzer, so it enters this season as the team most prepared to deal with the tension of a title chase. There will probably be a few high stakes duels down the stretch, but expect the veteran Tigers to come out of the important ones unscathed.