2008-2009 Record: 13-14 (8-6, T-2nd Ivy)
2008-2009 Review: After two consecutive last-place Ivy finishes, no one outside Jadwin Gym was predicting much of an improvement in Head Coach Sydney Johnson’s third year. Yet, seemingly out of nowhere, the Tigers overcame a horrid 2-8 start and stormed into conference play, knocking off Harvard and eventual league champ Cornell en route to a 2nd place finish in the Ancient Eight.
Despite sporting a starting lineup that consisted of a little-known newcomer and a motley crew of former role players, the Tigers became a force in the Ivies. While most Princeton fans were probably hoping for even a slight improvement over the misery of the two previous seasons, the team surpassed all expectations and was in the thick of the race for the league crown until very late in the season.
Key Losses: None
Key Returnees: Doug Davis (12.3 ppg, 1.2 apg), Dan Mavraides (10.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg), Pawel Buczak (7.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
The lightly-recruited Davis wasted little time making his presence known for Princeton, going off for 25 points in the season opener against Central Michigan and not looking back. A SG guard stuck in an undersized PG’s body, Davis has seemingly unlimited range and will not hesitate to let it fly from all over the court. The team’s leading scorer in his freshman campaign, he also garnered an All-Ivy Honorable Mention nod.
As unexpected as the emergence of Davis was, it was the ascent of Mavraides, a sparingly used SG a year before, that was perhaps the biggest surprise for Princeton. After seeing the court in only 7 games as a freshman, Mavraides’s prolific shooting had the Jadwin faithful seeing visions of Princeton gunners from the past. His 42.6% three-point shooting was good for 2nd in the Ivies, while he led the team in steals and free throws made.
Buczak, who has terrific size for the post at 6’11” and 220 pounds, gives the Tigers a strong interior presence. An All-Ivy Honorable Mention selection a year ago, he was 3rd on the team in scoring and tied for the team lead in rebounds.
Key Arrivals: Ian Hummer, Will Barrett
Hummer is a name that Princeton fans are already well-acquainted with, as his father, Ed, and uncle, John, are former Tiger basketball standouts. Ian, a talented wing who doesn’t hesitate to mix it up in the paint, has a smooth stroke, good range and rebounds well for his position. Don’t be surprised to see Hummer challenge for a starting frontcourt spot at some point this season.
Barrett, a widely-heralded recruit who spurned Michigan for the Ivies, has ideal size for the SF position. He’s extremely comfortable finishing around the basket and can bury the open 3 with equal aplomb. Barrett could compete for early minutes in a now-crowded frontcourt.
Top Non-Conference Games:
Princeton at Cal, Sunday, November 29th, 5:00 p.m. – The Tigers will have their hands full in Berkeley with 12th ranked Cal, a popular pick to win the Pac-10 this year. The game is a homecoming of sorts, as four of Princeton’s upperclassmen hail from the Golden State.
Princeton at Rutgers, Thursday, December 3rd, 7:30 p.m. – After getting back from its west coast trip, the Tigers head to New Brunswick to face in-state rival Rutgers. The Tigers came close to knocking off the Scarlet Knights last year, ultimately being on the losing end of a Princeton-esque 49 to 44 contest.
Princeton at St. Joseph’s, Tuesday, January 2nd, 2:00 p.m. – In one of its final tune-ups before conference play, the Tigers will start off the new year by making the hour-long trip to Philadelphia to play A-10 foe St. Joe’s, who should look a little less intimidating without Ahmad Nivins patrolling the paint. The game should have added significance for Davis, a Philly native.
By The Numbers: Nothing stands out more than Princeton’s fifth-ranked three-point shooting defense, though the fact that the Tigers were also able to hold teams to just 45 percent shooting from inside the arc (57th nationally) might come close. Combine the two and you get the nation’s 21st best field goal percentage defense, which surely should mean that Princeton was far and away the Ivies’ best defensive team.
In reality, it finished fourth in the league and outside the top 200 in the nation, because for every field goal attempt it was so masterfully defending, Princeton handed its opponents 0.43 free throw opportunities, among the nation’s worst. Opponents scored 25 percent of their points against the Tigers from the charity stripe, which completely negated Princeton’s five-plus percentage point shooting advantage. For the Tigers to reach their potential this season, they simply cannot repeat having four different players among the top 10 in fouls committed per 40 minutes.
Strengths: Make no mistake, this is a team that can really shoot the basketball. Princeton shot over 37% from beyond the arc last season, good for 51st in the country, while their 75% mark from the charity stripe ranked 20th in all the land. The team was also solid defensively, holding opponents to less than 30% on 3-point attempts and 45% overall.
Weaknesses: Backcourt depth. Although Princeton’s forward-heavy roster should provide the team with a formidable playing rotation up front, depth at the guard spots is fairly thin. Outside of the dynamic duo of Davis and Mavraides, senior Marcus Schroeder is the only other proven guard on the roster. Sydney Johnson’s 6-man recruiting class failed to seriously address the issues, as Jimmy Sherburne was the only guard in the group. With the lack of a contingency plan at the 1 and 2 spots, the Princeton faithful should be wishing for the team’s good health during the upcoming holiday season.
Season Outlook: Continuing to employ the eponymous offense that would make Pete Carril proud, this year’s Princeton squad has reason for optimism. However, the Tigers won’t be sneaking up on any of their conference foes this year and neither will their mercurial lead guard.
If the team can continue to display the 3 point shooting prowess that emerged in ’08-‘09, they’ll be able to show that last season’s unexpected conference run was no fluke. This, of course, is assuming that the Tigers are able to avoid any significant injuries to their thin but talented backcourt. But with all of the key pieces returning from last year’s team, anything less than a trip to the postseason is going to be a disappointment.