Conference: Ivy (Auto Bid)
Record: 23-6 (14-0)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 12, West
How they got to the Big Dance
After losing four of its first six games, the outlook on Princeton’s season was bleak. Two more losses before Christmas dropped the Tigers to 4-6 as things had gone from bad to worse in Central New Jersey.
Thanks to a balanced scoring attack that features four players who average over 10 points per game, Princeton hasn’t lost since. 19 wins later, and after winning the first-ever Ivy League postseason tournament, the Tigers are going dancing for the first time since 2011.
Along the way, they’ve picked up two wins over conference foes Harvard and three over Yale, including one in the Ivy League Championship Game.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
The Tigers are a deep team — nine players average at least seven minutes per game. In tournament play, with little time between games, depth will be an important factor to Princeton’s success. In addition to their depth, the Tigers’ balanced scoring attack should make it difficult for opponents to stifle their offensive attack. As a team, the Tigers average 10.6 more points per game than their opponents who only score 61.5 points per game. Their scoring average of 72.1 points per game is thanks in part to a team 38.3 3-point shooting percentage which leads to an average of 10 made 3-pointers a game. Princeton’s depth and shooting could make them a team to watch that could pull an early upset.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
History is not on their side. An Ivy League team hasn’t advanced to the Sweet 16 since Cornell’s run in 2010. Height could also be an issue. Princeton’s tallest player is listed at 6-feet-9 inches, and the Tigers don’t out-rebound their opponents, pulling in exactly the same average number of rebounds per game at 33.4. Teams that live and die with their jump shooting can be dangerous in the tournament when they’re hot, but the Tigers have been hot for over three months now. At some point they’re going to go cold. If and when that happens, their lack of height and their subsequent rebounding struggles could spell disaster for Princeton.
Player to watch: Forward Steven Cook
Cook, a 6-foot-5 forward from Winnetka, Illinois, averages 13.7 points per game, which is tied for the team lead with G Devin Cannady. At 6-feet-5 inches, he is smaller than a typical small forward, but he can use that to his advantage, pulling bigger players out to the perimeter and using his speed and quickness to create offense.
Cook has taken the second-most shots on the team and still knocks down 49.1 percent of them. One wild card to watch out for is free throw shooting. Cannady takes the most shots from the charity stripe of anybody on the team, but he only knocks down 66.3 percent of them. Late in close games, free throw shooting comes with extra importance and could be the difference between completing an early upset or losing a heartbreaker.