Princeton's 2010-11 season officially gets underway tonight with the first full team practice. Since driving home from Saint Louis in March, I've frequently been thinking about a "wish list" for this year's roster. Hopefully these paragraphs on each returning and incoming player will spark some interesting responses in the comments. I've gone in alphabetical order for the upperclassmen, with the coaching staff and freshmen worked in at the end.
Will Barrett - One of the biggest struggles for Princeton's coaches early in non-conference play last year was how to jive the two different Tiger teams that existed in the same lineup. A rotation with seniors Zach Finley and Pawel Buczak on the floor lent itself to a half court game. A rotation with freshmen Will Barrett and Ian Hummer lent itself to more speed plus points off turnovers and in transition but was higher risk/higher reward. It took 6-7 games for the staff to figure out the right balance, which eventually produced some nice combinations from Finley and Hummer in Ivy play.
Barrett never got the chance to completely show off what he could do as a freshman. There were moments where his size on the perimeter created mismatches on both sides of the ball and he had to work through some stereotypically freshman moments - which combined with a loaded frontcourt made consistent playing time tough. When he did come in off the bench in Ivy play, a newly-inserted Barrett provided a huge three point basket at Harvard to give Princeton a 14 point lead.
He waited for his chance, he got it and he took advantage.
Understand your time is coming and learn from your past mistakes - especially knowing when to get rid of the ball on drives to avoid charges. Continue to use your length to confound opponents on the wing. As a very good outside shooter who started his Princeton career 0-8 from downtown (and was a far better 7-16 the rest of the season), take advantage of those who don't respect your shot and use your long first step to take advantage of those who do.
John Comfort - Comfort developed a niche as a freshman as someone who could come off the bench and bang a couple quick shots - such as at Jadwin in the first half against Penn, where he connected twice. As a sophomore, Comfort never found his footing and went from 7.8 minutes in 18 games to 2.0 minutes in 10 games. I've seen how exciting and explosive he can be in JV games and his stroke is pure, but without increased physical strength it is hard to figure where he fits in to the Tiger rotation.
Hopefully Comfort spent his summer in the weight room.
Brendan Connolly - He has the hands. Soft hands. He has the size. Big size. He sees the floor well. Perhaps most importantly, Connolly is all of these things but has also worked off a lot of his baby fat since last season which should hopefully increase his quickness a hair. He can provide the Tigers with a traditional post presence who can pass out of the elbow and set wide hand-off screens. It is clear he knows how to finish at the basket. Now he just needs opportunities. The longer non-conference schedule may benefit Connolly's development most of all.
I'd like to learn more about Connolly the free throw shooter, as he only went to the line twice with one make in 79 minutes of play last season.
Mack Darrow - Remember Dan Mavraides, Mack. As a freshman Mavraides played a total of 27 minutes. The next season he was the team's second-leading scorer, and averaged 27.3 minutes per game. Darrow only saw 17 minutes of action in 2009-10, but nearly every time I've had to stop in at Jadwin this summer/fall, he's been working out.
Douglas Davis - What more can he do offensively? 333 points as a freshman, but not the Ivy League Rookie of the Year? 395 points as a sophomore and leading a 22 win team in scoring for the second straight campaign, yet apparently not good enough to make first team All-Ivy? He's improved slightly on defense from where he started, which no longer means he's off the floor on critical late defensive possessions, so some additional work there would be great on a team that values defense so highly.
All I want is for him to keep being Douglas Davis, but perhaps a Douglas Davis that plays with a chip on his shoulder while still efficient on offense and able to improv when needed.
Improving on 1.2 assists per game would be a bonus.
Bobby Foley - Heading into his senior year he's only played double figure minutes in a game once. Foley's biggest role may be the same as a former player like Jon Berger or Pete Hegseth who pushed teammates higher on the depth chart in practice to improve and helped simulate the opposition's offensive and defensive game plans. It is an unheralded role but an important one.
Ian Hummer - With the graduation of Finley and Buczak, a lot more is going to be expected of Hummer inside. Given his ability to get position low to the ground under his defender and spring up with his shot, Hummer should continue to get fouled frequently. His 78 free throw attempts were 13th most in the Ivy League and that number should go higher. The percentage of makes needs to rise as well. A 59% free throw shooter as a freshman, even a 10% increase would go a long way.
In games where he went to the line 6+ times, Hummer was 75% from the stripe (27-36). In games where he was only fouled once or twice he shot a very poor 45% (19-42). It always looked like Hummer's first two free throws set the story. Success and he was going to have good form for the rest of the game. Misses (especially on his first attempt) did not bode well for other tries.
Over 21% of his points game from the FT line, but this number could have been far higher with a greater shooting percentage.
Kareem Maddox - It is unlikely to draw a link between former high jump track star from California born in 1989 with a grimy Detroit punk band from the early 1980s, but when I've thought about Maddox's progression at Princeton, Negative Approach's "Why Be Something That You're Not?" always enters my head.
As a sophomore, Maddox saw many minutes of action early in the season, but those numbers dipped consistently while the year went on as Maddox continued to make some poor decisions and several times got caught in the air with the basketball before knowing what he was going to do with it.
2009-10 was the opposite. Maddox worked his way beyond bad habits as the year progressed and began to focus on the things he could do well.
Now Princeton's best on-ball defender who can shut down both guards and forwards plus a difficult match-up who can hang in the air to draw contact and finish at the basket, Maddox needs to remember what he's good at and, as the song says, not try to be something that he's not.
If Maddox is tempted to stand outside and improve his three point shooting (3-23 last season) he won't be as effective. I don't think the fact Maddox did not make a three point shot (0-9) in Ivy play is insignificant.
Ivy games only:
Non-conference games only:
Maddox looks to have gained some strength since the end of his junior year and appears to already be providing excellent senior leadership - the signs of a player who understands what is going to be expected of him.
Dan Mavraides - His numbers slipped off towards the end of his very nice junior year, shooting 4-25 from the floor in the last four Ivy games, then 0-5 versus Duquesne. Bouncing back with 18 points in the Tigers' improbable CBI win at IUPUI, Mavraides will need to finish his senior year strong, especially with seven of the Tigers' final nine Ivy games on the road.
Undersized at forward and not a traditional guard, Mavraides still led the team in rebounding.
Finishing his drives would improve his overall game. Mavraides' numbers inside the arc were surprisingly low.
57-160 from three point range (35.6%)
56-123 from two point range ( 42.0%)
Patrick Saunders - He would never admit it, but Saunders was bothered by a foot injury as a sophomore that limited his game and caused pain all season. It is the reason why he did not see time in the season opener versus Central Michigan and it never completely healed. As the season wore on into late March, the foot was an unspoken issue. The beneficiary of off-season surgery, not having to play through pain is my wish for Saunders in 2010-11. I'd also love to see him get to the free throw line more, given his 85.7% career average (48-56). A healthy heel should give him some more explosiveness and lateral quickness.
Saunders' offensive rating of 115.4 was sixth-best in the Ivy League.
Jimmy Sherburne - Luck. Wish this guy luck. Seen as the player who could provide Marcus Schroeder with a few minutes of rest at the guard position last season, Sherburne hurt his shoulder during early workouts and was unable to get medical clearance until the Wagner game. Despite the injury, Sherburne kept practicing with his shoulder in bandages.
After showing a taste of what he could do running the offense the next four games, Sherburne got saddled with mono and was lost until late in the Ivy slate. Late in the year, it was his elbow that broke Douglad Davis' nose in practice before the CBI - the only break Sherburne caught as a freshman.
Hopefully he can find some good fortune as a sophomore.
Coaching Staff - The defensive gameplans drawn up by the staff and executed by the team were one of the most impressive parts of 2009-10.
The Tigers were 18th in the nation on defense in Effective FG%, 20th in Turnover % and 32nd in Opponent's Off. Rebound %. They were also 12th in Defensive 2PT% and 31st in Steal %.
However, the offensive numbers were actually quite poor. Princeton committed a turnover on 22.5% of its possessions (283rd-best in the land), were 266th in Off. Reb. % and 289th in FTA/FGA %.
If the staff can work on ways to increase offensive productivity while keeping the defensive numbers constant from a year ago, this could be a fun year.
09-10: 13.1 turnovers/game (12.1 in Ivy play).
08-09: 13.1 turnovers/game (12.1 in Ivy play).
07-08: 14.4 turnovers/game (13.4 in Ivy play).
Shave one turnover per game and you're in the Top 60 nationally.
T.J. Bray, Chris Clement, Ben Hazel, Daniel Edwards and Tom Noonan - The ability to stick with it when times are tough and when you're not playing. The understanding that everyone thinks about quitting at some point, probably even some of the men coaching you. The chance to earn minutes with hard work in practice. I only like to comment on players I've seen in person and my exposure to the freshmen has been a limited sample size. I'll say that Edwards has a better-looking outside shot than I ever expected, Bray appears as poised as advertised and Hazel is surprisingly strong but more of a guard than a wing.
Like the rest of you, I can't wait to get a chance to judge more for myself.