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What I see.

Princeton has already played seven non-conference games this month and while the complete picture of who this year’s Tigers are has not finished developing, I’ve still seen enough traveling from Raleigh to Jadwin Gym to Lewisburg and back again to share some individual and team observations.

Before clicking through, you might want to read the preseason piece 19 questions for 2011-12 again. It can’t hurt.

I see Ian Hummer playing at a sustained high All-Ivy level with one fatal flaw.

Hummer leads the Tigers in scoring (16.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.1 rebounds and 3.0 offensive boards per game).

Neither of these statistics are surprises, but it is worth noting that Hummer, who had not attempted a three point shot before this year, also leads the Tigers in three point shooting percentage (6-13, 46.2%).

That’s certainly unexpected.

Like several Princeton players this year Hummer is shooting better from three point range than two point range (43.6%). If you subtract Hummer and Douglas Davis’ 22-50 outside shooting Princeton is 29-106 (27.4%) as a team . Oof.

The orange and black was 16-32 in its first two games from three, 35-124 since (28.2%).

I’m getting off track though. Back to Ian Hummer…

I didn’t think Hummer could drastically improve on his usage numbers from a year ago, but Hummer is tops in the Ivy League in possessions used (34.2%), percentage of his team’s shots taken (35.4%) and free throws attempted (41).

Here’s the rub. Hummer has only made 23 of these free throws for a 56.1% average.

X0X0
00XX
0XXXX0X
XXX00X00X0X00XX
X0XXX00
00XX
XX0XX00

Above are Hummer’s free throws presented in order by game. X = make. 0 = miss. He hasn't been off target on more than two in a row but also has yet to convert more than four in a row. This consistent inconsistency remains vexing. How could Hummer add three point range to his bag of tricks without increasing free throw accuracy?

As a sophomore Hummer attempted 126 free throws, making 64.3%. This year he’s on pace for over 200 tries at the line and the fifth-most FT attempts in a season in program history – the most since the Bill Bradley era.

Unless Hummer’s free throw numbers improve, defenders are going to get more and more physical with him, knowing that they could create empty possessions instead of points by fouling hard.

One more note on Hummer before I move on. The junior has 768 points for his career. If he continues on pace at 16.0 ppg, he'll crack 1K points scored 14 games from now when Princeton travels to Yale in early February. Mark your calendars.

I see the “The Committee” is dead and T.J. Bray killed it.

As first year coach Mitch Henderson looked for the best way to replace the graduated Dan Mavraides’ contributions, he initially started the season with the pool of Bray, Ben Hazel, freshman Denton Koon and Jimmy Sherburne rotating next to Davis in the backcourt.

The breakneck speed Princeton tried to play versus Wagner in the season opener (74 possessions!) was not well-suited for this group. Stability was required, like Marcus Schroeder provided despite lacking great speed.

After 11 turnovers in the first three games, Bray is down to seven giveaways in the last four contests.

I suspect he’s the player who can improve the most as this season goes on and it would be great to see his offensive game rise to the level of his on-ball defense. The rest of the non-conference slate is a time for Bray to run the show playing 30-32 minutes a night.

As other coaches watch tape of Princeton, many of them are going to extend the ball pressure either full court or half court on Tiger guards. If Princeton bigs don't come up to help, Bray will be looking at a lot more fire during his extended trial.

Bray isn’t the primary or secondary scoring option, but he needs to be ready to shoot when open. He went 3-7 from three point range in Lewisburg.

He is also a very nice rebounder, able to slide down from his position with the ball in the air and grab boards on the baseline. Watch him follow opponents' shots. Bray is tied with Mack Darrow for second on the team in rebounding with 4.0/game.

I see Mack Darrow is your starting center going forward.

For whatever reason, junior big man Brendan Connolly does not yet perform in game situations like he does in practice. Connolly’s struggles have left Princeton pining for a third scoring option and left Henderson no choice but to replace him in the starting five with fellow junior Darrow.

What Darrow gives up in size and defensive footwork he adds in speed and range. Darrow sets the same hand off screens on the arc as Connolly is capable of but can pop outside to fire from behind his head with decent accuracy.

The biggest difference between Darrow and Connolly might be a 17:8 assist-to-turnover ratio versus a 6:7 one.

Darrow made a nice, old school right handed hook shot yesterday sweeping into the lane that gives me hope for Princeton’s post production. With the Tigers obsessed over shots behind the three point line, that’s needed.

Princeton is averaging 22.3 three point tries a game (compared to 29.9 two point tries), making 7.3 of these chances.

I see Douglas Davis is Douglas Davis.

What do I mean by that? Well, he's not a ball handler who can distribute, even though Henderson looked to have him bring the ball up more in early games. Five assists (against 11 turnovers) in 214 minutes played prove that. As the ball has found Bray's hands more coming up the floor, Davis has returned to a world of three point shots and step back midrange jumpers while also able to get free on cuts once or twice a game (which is more than I remember him doing in his first three seasons).

Davis continues to not be able to drive all the way to the tin like he did as a freshman and while a sharp 16-37 on three point shots (43.2%) he's 13-33 (39.4%) inside the arc.

After sitting the final 14 minutes against Morehead State, Davis' decision-making and floor positioning was better the next day against West Alabama and by being in the right places at the right times he was able to score with greater ease.

Updating two chases I looked at before the start of the season:

Davis has 1,192 career points, 15 behind Steve Goodrich for 11th in program history and 354 behind Kit Muller for second all-time. Davis will need to average 15.4 ppg the rest of the way to catch Mueller.

Davis is also up to 206 career three point shots, three behind Gabe Lewullis for third as a Tiger and will need to average 3.3 triples a game to catch Brian Earl for most by a Princeton player.

I see Denton Koon providing some needed bounce.

When recruiting services and high school coaches call players “bouncy,” I never quite know what they mean, yet I can’t come up with a better word for this freshman guard.

Even when he doesn’t know what he’s doing on the floor (oh, those two fouls on Elon three point attempts...) – a combination of youth and playing a position he did not play in high school – I still always find something there to capture my imagination as he plays.

One moment I neglected to mention in my write up of the Morehead State loss came late in the game. Down 62-54 and inbounding under his own basket, Koon could not find an open man so he forcefully threw the ball off the spine of his back-turned defender, reestablished position on the floor and laid the ball in before the Eagles could react.

It provided a spark and it seems like Koon is always providing some sort of spark.

I see a team that can’t shoot, even though many of their shots are wide open.

Whether it is the five missed first half layups at NC State or the open outside looks in the second half versus Bucknell, Princeton hasn’t found their stroke this season.

The Tigers are 302nd nationally in field goal percentage (38.4%), 305th nationally in free throw percentage (60.5%) and 165th overall in three point percentage (32.7%).

Their high water mark from the field is 46.5% shooting against Wagner and their best effort on the line was 69.2% versus Buffalo.

Not good.

I see a coach willing to seek production from unexpected sources.

Mitch Henderson has not shied away from making unexpected personnel moves to attempt to get his team going. Versus Bucknell he brought senior John Comfort in during the first half because Comfort can make shots with the best of the Tigers and Princeton needed a jump shooter more than they needed a ball handler or another defender. Comfort rewarded his coach by making three of his first four three point attempts.

The next day against Morehead State, dissatisfied with his guard production, he provided Clay Wilson with his first collegiate minutes trying to overcome a 13 point deficit. Wilson quickly got open his first two times with the ball and fired from outside but was long on both looks.

Seven games in and Henderson has already switched his starting five twice. What began as Hummer, Connolly, Bray, Davis and Will Barrett versus Wagner has transformed into Hummer, Darrow, Bray, Davis and Patrick Saunders the last time out. I do not think Henderson would hesitate to make additional rotation adjustments if he felt he was not receiving strong performances from his starters.

I see the “Defensive DNA” starting to take shape.

Henderson promised prior to the season that Princeton would have strong nucleus guarding other teams and that’s taking form. Ken Pomeroy sees the Tigers’ adjusted defensive efficiency as 83rd-strongest in Division I. That’s helped keep Princeton in games despite the 236th-best adjusted offense.

While the Tigers have struggled on free throws, for whatever reason their opponents are an even worse 60.3% as Princeton’s “free throw defense” ranks in the top 35.

Only UIC is letting opponents attempt a smaller percentage of their looks behind the arc. Princeton foes take 17.5% of their shots from that locale. Good perimeter defense or the fact that there are openings to drive? Hard to say.

Ultimately though, I see a 2-5 basketball team that has only one win versus a Division I foe. With a handful of made free throws and some better shooting, this team could easily be 4-3 or better.

It is so hard to tell what was real and what was mirage created by the talent gap on Sunday between Princeton and West Alabama. Wednesday's home game versus Lafayette is both a chance to see the Tigers play at Jadwin one final time in 2011 and an opportunity to see if the lessons learned in Lewisburg are translatable versus a more comparable foe.

What do you see?

Brian Martin said,

November 29, 2011 @ 9:28 am

Good report, Jon.

At this point, I am less concerned about the shooting than about solidifyng the defense, rebounding, and turnover avoidance. This is one of those teams that needs to hold opponents under 60 points to have a chance. On offense, they just need to keep working for open shots and not launch so many threes.

Rodney Johnson said,

November 29, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

Regarding the shooting:

The best three point shooters in Princeton history shoot about 40% from the three point line. (A 40% shooter will make two in a row only 16% of the time.) The only shooter with that level of accuracy is Davis. Saunders is probably 35%; the others are unknowns. Bray is looking more comfortable with his shot, and may yet emerge as the other three point threat. It is not clear if Hummer can shoot the three well yet. His stroke sure looks good.

What is really missing this year is the simple layup. They have been few and far between. It is really difficult to say watching of the computer screen, but I get the feeling that with Connolly and Hummer down in the block, one or the other or both, there is just no space for the cut, and defensive help is readily available when the cut is successful.

If Darrow becomes the starter, and spends more time at the high post, and if Hummer moves up higher as well (due to his new three point shot, and the fact that he gets triple teamed on the baseline), perhaps we can see more effective back door cuts by the perimeter players. A few made layups will raise the team shooting percentage immensely.

Stuart Schulman said,

November 29, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

1) Free Throws. Small sample size so far but the year-to-date performance had better be an aberration.

2) Having one more credible 3-point threat on the floor should *in theory* make Hummer more effective...having someone to kick out to might eliminate the triple-teaming. But does the plus-minus stat so far bear this out? What is the +/- of Hummer/Darrow versus Hummer/Connolly?

3) Are there changes in minutes distribution that you could forecast over the rest of the year? Assume that Connolly and Darrow are going to split minutes and that one's time comes at the expense of the other. If we see more of Koon and perhaps Wilson, where is that PT coming from? Davis? Barrett/Saunders? Bray? And then what about Ben Hazel? I am left with the impression that the more this team plays, the less certainty there is about where the minutes are going to go.

Jon Solomon said,

November 29, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

I need to double check my own numbers but another site has Hummer +3, Connolly -2 and Darrow -19 for the season. Would love to figure +/- for the pairings but that's another level of research.

If Hummer plays 31, Davis 31, Bray 30 and Darrow 22, that leaves 86 minutes to share between Connolly / Saunders / Barrett / Koon / Hazel on down the line.

See here for mpg through seven games:

http://www.princetonbasketball.com/stats.html

Jon

larry said,

November 29, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

Thanks Jon. Your self-promo that Princeton fans won't get this type of coverage anywhere else is correct.

Steven Postrel said,

November 29, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

I love Darrow on offense, but I don't think he is as strong a post defensive player as Connolly. So either the defense will have to be adjusted to account for that (more zone) or Mitch will have to make judicious substitution decisions.

I was most disturbed by the report from the Morehead State game. Shooting woes and lack of scoring options is one thing, but lacking defensive intensity after falling behind is what makes a team a consistent loser. I'm hoping that we don't need Georgetown influence on the bench to keep those defensive fires burning.

larry said,

November 29, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

One thing we all have seen is Connolly's inability to stay on the court.

Jon Solomon said,

November 29, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

Connolly is averaging one foul every 7.65 minutes.

Will Barrett is actually more foul prone, averaging one foul every 6.82 minutes.

Jon

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