Men's Basketball: Tigers have tall roster, taller expectations
“Our view right now is NCAA tournament or bust,” junior guard T.J. Bray said.
“This year’s team is definitely one to watch out for,” senior forward Ian Hummer added.
Bray said the team believes it can play with anyone on the national level, proven by last year’s impressive road upset over Florida State, a team that finished the regular season as the No. 10-ranked team in the nation.
The Tigers will have their opportunity to show just how well they can handle top competition early on in the season when they travel to upstate New York to take on a Syracuse team that finished last season ranked No. 2 overall and is starting this season ranked No. 9 in the nation.
“I think this year’s team is very talented from top to bottom, and I truly believe we can make some noise on the national level,” Hummer said. “While every team dreams of going undefeated and being nationally ranked, I just want the team to really buy into the notion that we have the ability to win it all.”
The Ivy preseason poll has Harvard in second place, receiving the remaining first place vote. Harvard, who won last year’s Ivy title, was rocked by offseason difficulties in the form of a cheating scandal that has left the team without last year’s co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who led the team in points and assists, respectively.
The Tigers were most recently picked first two years ago before they went on to win the Ivy League and have been picked first 10 times since the poll began in 1985.
“To be honest, it really doesn’t matter to us,” Bray said. “It doesn’t matter whether we’re picked first or last because the team has expectations for ourselves.”
“Unless you back it up on the court, all the hype we are getting will basically be for nothing,” Hummer added. “Another result of being picked No. 1 is that from this point on we have a target painted on our backs. While we are definitely up for the challenge, every game is going to be tough because we will get everyone’s best shot.”
Princeton will rely heavily on Hummer, who is coming off a season in which he earned a unanimous first team All-Ivy selection and is the leading candidate for Ivy League Player of the Year. Hummer stood out in all aspects of the game, ranking in the top 10 in the Ivy League in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, blocks and field-goal percentage. Hummer scored the most points of any Tiger since 1972 with 515 last year and is on track to finish the season as the second highest scoring player in history after Bill Bradley ’65, which would include surpassing recently graduated Doug Davis ’12, who is currently ranked second in that regard.
Davis, along with Pat Saunders ’12 and John Comfort ’12, are the three players whose shoes Princeton will have to fill in order to compete.
“Everyone has come back after working really hard in the summer and added a different aspect to their game,” Bray said. “So while there won’t be one-for-one replacement, we’ll have guys stepping up and doing things that you haven’t really seen before.”
The team has added three freshmen to the squad; forward Hans Brase, center Edo Lawrence and guard Mike Washington Jr. Junior forward Will Barrett will also return to the team after missing most of last season due to a foot injury.
“With the addition of three freshmen to our team, there always seems to be a player that can make an impact,” Hummer said. “While all three of our guys are very gifted and bring a lot to the table, Hans Brase has definitely shown himself to be capable of playing at a very high level.”
Among the reasons the team is expected to be atop the Ivy League standings is the height advantage that the team possesses, averaging an impressive 6 feet 7 inches.
“We are one of the biggest teams in the country, and our overall size will definitely cause problems for opponents,” Hummer said.
Bray added that, in addition to their size advantage, defense should also be among the Tigers’ strengths this season, an aspect they fared well in last year when Princeton finished third in the league in points allowed.
Hummer added that the biggest challenge the team will have to overcome will be a lack of experience.
“While we have a good core group of guys who have played a lot of minutes, some of the players we will have to rely on this season have not played that much,” Hummer said, before optimistically adding, “Even though some of them may be inexperienced, many of them have the talent to make impacts.”
Among the areas that the Tigers need to improve upon from last year’s squad is free-throw shooting, in which the team ranked seventh in the league at 67.9 percent. This can be especially helpful to the Tigers as bigger teams tend to find their way to the line more and Princeton was in the top half of the league in attempts last season. Additionally, the Tigers need to do a better job of using their height to get more offensive rebounds, as last year’s team finished dead last in the league in that category, despite being second in terms of total rebounds.
The way the schedule will play out does not exactly help Princeton, as the Tigers will be spending a lot of time on the road. Before their first Ivy League game, the Tigers will only play five games at home compared to eight on the road. They will also have a tough end to Ivy League play with seven of the last nine Ivy games being on the road.
Second-year head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 is returning to coach the team after replacing Sydney Johnson ’97 last year. While his first season was relatively successful, he looks to lead the team back to the top of the Ivy League by building upon the momentum the team established at the end of last season, when it won eight of its last nine regular season games including a huge win over then No. 25 Harvard on national television.
The team will open up regular season play on Nov. 10 at Buffalo, but the first chance to see the Tigers play at home will be Nov. 3 when the team hosts Northeastern. The team will have its first Ivy game on Jan. 12 against Penn, but it will have a break for finals and Intersession before starting the Ivy League stretch at home against Cornell on Feb. 1.
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