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Who is Princeton?

Early in the 2010-11 season, with the Tigers holding a 2-3 record after a pair of last second losses during James Madison's subregional of the College Basketball Experience, I looked at five concerns these first five games had raised.

With the back half of the season beginning Sunday versus The College of New Jersey, the time has come to try and answer a single question:

Who is Princeton?

Princeton is...

...a team with an 11-4 record at the midway point. They've won a trio of games in extra time they could easily have lost in regulation - Rutgers, Siena and Tulsa - and lost two contests before Thanksgiving that could have been victories - James Madison and Presbyterian. Nine of their last 10 outings have been wins, the only blemish a six point defeat at then-unbeaten UCF before the close of December.

...a team with a program record-tying 11th DI non-conference wins against the 153rd-most difficult schedule in the country.

...a team with three overtime victories. It is the first time Princeton has recorded three OT victories versus non-conference foes in the same season in program history. The Tigers last had three overtime wins in the 2005-06 season (vs. Columbia, at Cornell in double OT and vs. Penn).

...a team who has been perfect at home (4-0) and an impressive 7-4 in road/neutral games - the most road/neutral triumphs of any Ivy squad. With seven of nine away from Jadwin to close the season, the Tigers' performance on the road will determine this year's success.

...a team that ranks 59th in the RPI (trailing Harvard's 44), 84th in Sagarin (trailing Harvard's 61) and 117th in Pomeroy (trailing Harvard's 91). If the two teams met tonight, the Tigers would have a 54% probability to defeat the Crimson at Jadwin and a 25% probability to win at what stands to be a raucous Lavietes Pavilion.

...a team that has improved significantly offensively between the 2009-10 season and this one. The Tigers' Adjusted Offensive Efficiency is 104.2, 113th in the nation. Last year Princeton finished at 98.3, good for 214th overall. While their offense has improved, their defense has slipped. The numbers are still above average (99.0, 125th overall) but pale compared to last year (91.8, 36th overall).

...a team that doesn't force many turnovers. Their Turnover % is 19.1 (249th), down from 23.7 (20th) a year ago.

...a team that is playing at a faster pace than in recent seasons, but is still in the bottom third of Division I. Their Adjusted Tempo of 65.8 possessions ranks 247th nationally, but is up from last season's 59.9, which was 342nd. Their fastest pace was 77 at Duke. Their slowest pace was 57 versus Presbyterian.

The question becomes: Will this Princeton team playing at a faster pace with improved offense and decent but not as sound defense be a team that can then more easily avoid losses like last year's home defeat versus Brown but is less prepared for Harvard than they were a season ago?

You see, Harvard's Adjusted Offense is tops in the Ivy at 107.6 (Princeton is second) and the Crimson's Adjusted Defense is also tops in the Ivy at 98.1 (Princeton is second).

Last year's pair of three point victories over Harvard were both played at 57 possessions.

...a team that might become the first Sydney Johnson-coached squad to have a positive Assist:Turnover ratio.

This season - 204:198
Last season - 363:407
2008-09 - 302:354
2007-08 - 352:317

...a team with extremely balanced scoring. Four Tigers average double figures: Ian Hummer (14.3), Dan Mavraides (14.2), Douglas Davis (13.2) and Kareem Maddox (12.8).

Davis is third on the team in scoring after leading the team his first two seasons but is averaging more points per game this year than he did as a freshman (12.3) or sophomore (12.7). With 926 points for his career, he's on pace to become the first Princeton player since Kit Mueller to exceed 1,000 points as junior. If his scoring average remains the same he'll hit that mark six games from now versus Penn.

Mavraides has 860 points, so he would potentially go over 1,000 nine games from now at Yale. He's hit for double figures in 10 straight games. 22.9% of all Princeton possessions involve Mavraides. He's one of three Tigers using >22% of possessions. Hummer utilizes 24.7% and Maddox's in on 22.4% of the possessions.

Maddox began the season slow, but has been unstoppable at times coming off the bench. As a starter Maddox scored seven, six and four points in the Tigers' first three games. Beginning with a career high 30 versus Siena, Maddox has hit double figures eight times in Princeton's last 10 games, including 31 at Tulsa. Scoring 30 points put Maddox in an exclusive group at Princeton. Doing it twice in once season is something only Kevin "Moon" Mullin has pulled off wearing orange and black in the past four decades.

Of all Ivy players who have used 20%+ of their team's possessions, Maddox's Offensive Rating of 115 is second in the league behind Crimson guard Laurent Rivard's 116. Ian Hummer is also in the top five with a rating of 113. For comparison:

Harvard's Keith Wright (114)
Penn's Zach Rosen (113).

Maddox is getting to the free throw line 65.3% of the time he tries to score, 92nd in the nation. His 76.6% average at the line is second-best on the team.

Maddox's True Shooting % is 62.1, 95th nationally.

Brendan Connolly started his sophomore season strong with seven points, 11 rebounds and a key charge taken late in regulation against Rutgers. Since then, Connolly has been the least aggressive and least confident of the starters. Versus James Madison the Dukes dared him to take the final shot of a game-ending possession that concluded with the Tigers throwing the ball away.

26 of Connolly's 52 points this season have come in the past five games, including a pair of 10 point efforts against Wagner and Marist. Connolly's soft hands and ability to finish at the rim further balance what Hummer and Maddox can do inside. His chemistry with Hummer continues to improve and hopefully his confidence will rise as the season rolls on.

Connolly, Maddox, Hummer and Mavraides give the Tigers four different types of posting options. Mack Darrow and Patrick Saunders have also shown an ability to call for the ball on the low block depending on the matchup.

...a team that might have the highest Field Goal % of any Sydney Johnson-coached squad.

This season - 46.8%
Last season - 44.1%
2008-09 - 42.9%
2007-08 - 42.5%

Maddox (55.9%) and Hummer (56.7%) lead the team.

...a team that shoots free throws well, except when they don't. The Tigers are hitting 71.8% at the line, 81st in the land (222-309). That's an identical percentage to what they shot last season (347-483) but they're on pace for far more attempts this season. Three poor nights at the line nearly cost Princeton in non-conference play. 8-19 versus Rutgers (OT victory), 8-16 at Monmouth (held on at the end of regulation) and 9-19 against Northeastern (a missed layup at the buzzer away from extra time).

While Ian Hummer was 13-26 (50.0%) at the line to start the season he's been 24-35 (68.6%) since Thanksgiving. Hummer ranks in the Top 500 nationally in nine different statistical categories.

Patrick Saunders has missed just one free throw the last two seasons but has only attempted 4-4 at the line in 2010-11.

Douglas Davis made 75.6% of his free throws as a freshman, 87.3% as a sophomore and then started his junior year 17-18 at the stripe. Oddly, over his next nine games Davis was just 5-12 overall, but has returned to form with 6-7 shooting against UCF and Marist. He's 75.7% overall this season.

Speaking of Davis, his 3PT% versus 2PT% splits are interesting, especially given the adjustment in his role as a junior. With more points coming through post opportunities, Davis hasn't been able to drive to the tin as easily.

Freshman year - 50-137 (36.5%) vs. 76-145 (52.4%)
Sophomore year - 74-173 (42.8%) vs. 59-135 (43.7%)
Junior year - 40-94 (42.6%) vs. 25-69 (36.2%)

Davis was 4-4 inside the arc last time out versus Marist.

Averaging 2.9 three pointers per game, Davis could end 2010-11 with ~83 three point shots. That would make him the fourth Tiger to convert 200+ career treys (joining Brian Earl, Sean Jackson and Gabe Lewullis) and would be just the fifth time a Princeton player nailed 80+ triples in a season (done twice each by Jackson and Earl).

...a team with an eight man rotation, but two players have been seeing additional minutes recently. Davis, Hummer, Mavraides, Saunders and Connolly have made up the same starting five the last 11 games with Maddox, Darrow and T.J. Bray coming off the bench.

Forward Will Barrett played seven solid first half minutes versus Northeastern and saw limited time against UCF in Orlando. Used primarily as a defensive plug alongside Bray in the backcourt, Jimmy Sherburne also received time against Central Florida and was used a season-best seven minutes versus Marist before the break. Coach Johnson has said that the rotation may increase to 10 players and I'd look for Sherburne and Barrett to find additional spots during Ivy play.

Whenever Sherburne scores next, it will be his first points this season. He's only attempted one shot in his seven games. Barrett is 1-8 from the field, all three point tries.

It has been hard for additional backcourt minutes to be found with Davis playing 86.3% of the time (66th nationally) and Mavraides on the floor 83.4% of the time (139th nationally).

...a team that is on pace for the most blocked shots since the school record 146 in the 1999-2000 season when Chris Young played for Princeton. With 58 blocks through 14 games, the Tigers could reach 116+ swats if they stay on a 3.9 block/game pace.

College Basketball Stats by

Princeton returns from their annual exam break versus TCNJ and then hosts five straight Ivy foes at home, as the Tigers begin to try and answer a larger, more complicated question:

Are they the 2010-11 Ivy League champions?

Steven Postrel said,

January 23, 2011 @ 5:29 am

My sense is that Schroeder's departure has hurt the team's perimeter pressure on defense, hence the reduced steals and forced turnovers. I haven't seen much of their play, so I can't tell if not having Zach and Pavel has softened up the interior D. I'd feel more confident of the team winning the Ivies if it looked more like last year's super-stoppers--a team that relies on defense is more likely to be consistent and more likely to frustrate and disrupt the opposition than a better-than-average offensive squad with OK defense. If you have great offense like Cornell last year, that would be a different story.

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