Two years ago I approached Princeton's season opener with a player-by-player wish list. Last year it was simply 19 questions for 2011-12. In lieu of a standard preview, here are a bunch of connected rhetorical queries that all start with the same word.
Feel free to add/answer your own in the comments.
What struck me while putting this together was that the answers may end up being far different but many of these inquests were quite similar to ones posited a season ago.
Will...Ian Hummer catch Douglas Davis?
In the final game of his career, Doug Davis (1,550 points) surpassed Kit Mueller's career scoring total to become second all-time in school history behind Bill Bradley. Davis' silver status is not likely to last long. Ian Hummer (1,070 points) enters the season in 13th place - 380 tallies behind his former teammate - and would need to average 13.6 points per game in Princeton's 28 regular season contests to inch past. Given Hummer put up 16.1 ppg as a junior and 13.8 as a sophomore this seems pretty likely baring the unexpected.
If Hummer’s scoring total is the same as it was last year he’ll pass Davis in the season’s 24th game when Princeton hosts Harvard. That should be something.
Should Hummer play in every game on the schedule plus a single postseason outing he would have around 467 points as a senior and would be the second Princeton player to crack career 1,600 points. You know the other one.
Will...Hummer live up to the endless preseason hype and expectations?
Is there a prognosticator or pundit that hasn't named Hummer the Ivy preseason Player of the Year? I'm personally curious to see what new tricks Hummer has added to his arsenal but I'm not sure any more can be stacked on Hummer's shoulders. Last season Hummer was part of 31.7% of Princeton's possessions, 17th-highest in the nation.
Here's how he improves on an excellent All-Ivy campaign, though. Hummer was poor at the free throw line to start last season (60.2% non-conference) but ended the year at 67.1%, up from 64.3% as a sophomore. Perhaps most important was the leap he took to 73.9% in Ivy + Postseason action (versus 68.3% the year before that).
He attempted 173 free throws, most in the conference. On average he went to the line 5.4 times a night. A consistent season from the stripe would set this year apart from Hummer's other three Princeton campaigns.
Ok, that's not a real question but the return of the re-junior forward should add an interesting dimension to Princeton's 2012-13 squad on both ends of the court. A 6'10" player who can seriously bother the wing and shoot from outside, it was Barrett's rebounding numbers on the trip to Spain that stood out.
10.3 boards while scoring 12.3 points versus high level professionals are digits that tantalize Tiger fans.
As I wrote after Princeton's overseas trip, I had thought following the lone practice I saw that Barrett stood a chance to be Princeton’s third consistent scoring option in 2012-13 (behind Hummer and T.J. Bray) and these statistics only boost my belief.
It will be curious to see what degree of difficulty Barrett is comfortable with in regards to his passing. Barrett can make jaw drop feeds that others on Princeton's roster can not squeeze through but that doesn't mean he should be trying every one.
Two more Barrett thoughts while I'm at it:
1. I'm sure the coaching staff will be trying to get Barrett to avoid falling too hard for his outside jumper. Barrett looks physically more sound than he did his first 2+ seasons and I'd love to see what's possible inside the arc and if he can take advantages of mismatches against smaller forwards - something I expect this team to try and do with a number of their players.
2. Barrett struck me pre-injury last year as a compelling alternative to Patrick "you know what you're going to get every night out" Saunders. Barrett could be much better than Saunders but also stood the risk of being a far worse option. Hopefully since his return the positives will far outweigh the negatives.
Will...size equal rebounding this year?
Boy are these Tigers tall. Even larger across the board than they were a season ago. IAN HUMMER IS THE TENTH-TALLEST PLAYER ON THE ROSTER! But that doesn't mean they'll be dominating the glass. Last season Princeton was out-rebounded 1051-1048 but the numbers on the offensive glass went 329-266 towards the opposition. The Tigers grabbed 26.4% of all offensive rebound opportunities, which was 315th nationally.
Will...Bobby Garbade force the coaching staff to move Mack Darrow to forward?
This would be a welcome issue to have with an already crowded frontcourt. By being able to spell Brendan Connolly for a few minutes and provide a change of pace, the sophomore center Garbade could be a contributor.
Will...Princeton have anyone available to bring the ball up the floor?
With T.J. Bray unable to go in Spain and his status unclear entering the non-conference slate ("full speed by mid-November" was Mitch Henderson's quote in a preseason interview) and Coach Henderson mentioning in passing that Clay Wilson was also banged up to an unknown degree, the back court options are the single biggest question mark.
The absence of Jimmy Sherburne, who deferred his senior season so he could recover from shoulder issues, does not help matters.
Chris Clement averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in the four Spain games with a 3.8:1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and it seems the junior should be part of the guard rotation.
Beyond that, what?
Denton Koon continuing to learn how to play guard? Better-dribbling forwards like Barrett and Hummer with the ball in their hand full-court?
That still seems risky.
Will...Ben Hazel return to the team in January?
A possible delayed answer to the above question comes in the form of Ben Hazel, who vanished from the Princeton roster in February due to what Coach Henderson deemed at the time "a personal matter" and is purported to be set to return to school towards the start of next year. I’ve seen pictures of Hazel present on the campus via social networking streams so he appears to still have Princeton in his plans. On a 14 man roster that includes only four traditional guards, Hazel's return could provide needed depth as well as experience.
Will...the seniors do what seniors do?
For Ian Hummer, Brendan Connolly and Mack Darrow, this is their last chance for a second title. Former classmates Will Barrett and Jimmy Sherburne have seen their careers extended one season due to injury.
I think more than you might imagine about a difficult offensive putback Connolly had during practice that caused his coach to remark words to the effect of “that’s the sort of play that wins us a game.”
That's also the sort of play you need your seniors to make.
Will...T.J. Bray be able to average double figures every night out?
Supposing he's healthy, Bray went from 1.5 ppg as a freshman to 7.3 ppg as a sophomore (8.1 in conference play). Bray is the quintessential "do what the coaches tell you" player and I sense that if the staff says "time to score more this season T.J.," Bray will take them up on the offer.
Not sure that means his effective field goal percentage will stay close to 60% given more opportunities but by posting smaller guards, as he did so effectively as the season wore on, there’s a chance.
Will...Mack Darrow remain so incredibly efficient?
Darrow’s not just the drollest Princeton player in many a year, he’s also astoundingly efficient. Can he keep those numbers up? In 2011-12 Darrow’s offensive rating was 120.3, the 73rd-best in the nation. Add on top of that 71 assists versus 27 turnovers and there’s a lot to like regardless of where he’s playing on the floor.
Will...Denton Koon take the next step?
Perhaps more importantly, where will he take this step from? The back court or the front court?
It took 26 games for Koon to make a jump shot in his freshman campaign (following 54 layups and dunks), but he showed an uncanny knack for meeting the ball at the rim on cuts and somehow getting open when that notion seemed impossible.
When Koon was on the floor for 10 minutes or more, good things happened. Princeton was 20-4 when Koon played double digits, 0-8 when he didn't. Now as a sophomore, he’s already a veteran presence who will be counted upon to expand his skill set starting with improvements to a 58.3% free throw shooting percentage and a 20:36 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Like Hummer did between his sophomore and junior years (remember, he did not attempt one his first two seasons), can a three point shot become a consistent facet of Koon’s game?
Will...replacing Douglas Davis happen by committee?
This has been tackled above, but last season Bray played 33.1 minutes/game. That leaves around 46.9 back court minutes to fill. I think a few of those will go to Koon but beyond that health and early season performance will determine what share falls to Clement and Wilson or an unconsidered option.
Will...a freshman crack the rotation?
Hummer. Barrett. Darrow. Connolly. Koon. Bray. That's six players you know will see the floor and with the exception of Bray they're all primarily forwards and centers.
Coach Henderson has said his team may go 8-9-10 deep and that depth chart sounds like it could include forward Hans Brase. While I expect Brase to be a key component of future Princeton teams, there sure are a lot of talented upperclassmen who also do what he does.
Edo Lawrence is behind a pair of seniors and Garbade at this point but if he isn’t inserted to guard a last second length-of-the-floor pass I'll be disappointed.
Mike Washington, Jr. is the one freshman I don't have a pulse of. It may not matter given Princeton's potential lack of guard depth in the early-going.
Will...the free throw shooting numbers improve?
This is an area of concern. If you back out the graduated Doug Davis and Patrick Saunders’ free throw shooting from last season (66-80 – 82.5%), all other players were 287-440 (65.2%) with Koon and Connolly sub-.600 for the year.
Will...the team three point shooting percentage drop off?
Did you know Princeton’s 36.7% marksmanship from behind the arc was the best by a Tiger team since the 1997-98 season (38.9%)? Replacing 127 of the team’s 236 made threes is going to be difficult on a guard-lite squad but efficiency may help compensate for the departure of Davis and Saunders, who combined to launch 9.2 threes a night.
Will...Princeton be playing meaningful basketball in March?
Even with my now-publicly-stated hesitations, the talent is there, the experience is there at up to four different positions and a second season as a head coach should come easier to Henderson. While I think Harvard will ultimately be better than others do and both Cornell and Columbia formidable, the postseason seems like a likely destination. The answers to many of these questions I've laid out will…determine which tournament we’re talking about five months from now.