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March Madness 2017: Let’s Talk About the Princeton Tigers

The Irish get the Ivy League champs in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Who are these smart guys, anyway?

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at VCU Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Princeton Tigers are your 2016-17 Ivy League regular season and tournament champions, earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by beating Yale 71-59 in the finals of the first ever Ivy League Tournament. Princeton went 23-6 overall this year, and were 14-0 in their conference. Their losses came to BYU, VCU, Cal, Saint Joseph’s, and Monmouth.

Adversity and the Princeton Winning Streak

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at VCU
Senior Guard Henry Caruso was lost for the season to a toe injury back in December
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The first impression on Princeton is that they are a very good basketball team, thanks to that sterling 23-6 record and the fact that they went undefeated in their conference. However, things weren’t always that rosy for the Tigers.

Way back before Christmas, Monmouth and Princeton squared off in a non-conference game. The Tigers lost that game by six, and in doing so, dropped to 4-6 on the year. It was their second loss in a row, following a 76-68 defeat at the hands of the Saint Joseph’s Hawks.

A few days prior to the game against Monmouth, the Tigers received news that senior forward Henry Caruso was lost for the year with a toe injury. Caruso averaged 15 points and six rebounds in 2015, and was averaging 9.5 and 4.3 at the time of his injury. Three days before losing Caruso, another senior forward, Hans Brase, was lost to a knee injury. Brase was averaging six points in 2016, after averaging double digits in both 2015 and 2014.

It was a frustrating time, as Princeton was tabbed as a favorite to win the Ivy League in the preseason. Following a 4-6 start and two season-ending injuries to seniors, the season was looking like an inevitable - and painful - disappointment. However, the Tigers rallied after the loss to Monmouth; they haven’t lost since.

In reeling off 19 straight wins, the Tigers won the regular season Ivy League title, the tournament title, and they earned a 12-seed in the NCAA tournament, as well as the right to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the first round.

Tigers by the Numbers

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at VCU
Devin Cannady is a Mishawaka, Indiana native, and is more than familiar with the Fighting Irish.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

So, how have the Tigers done it? Princeton is effective on the offensive end, scoring 72.1 points per game this season. They’ve shot 45 percent from the floor on the year and 38 percent from three, good enough for the 83rd ranked adjusted offensive according to Ken Pom. The stat that sticks out - and may hurt the Irish - is offensive rebounds. The Tigers have collected 231 offensive rebounds on the year, which is the second most out of any team in division one.

On defense, the Tigers allow only 61.5 points per game, which makes them statistically speaking the 10th best defense in the nation. They tend to force turnovers at a rate that pits them fourth best in the nation with 130 steals. Matt Farrell, Steve Vasturia and company will have to take care of the ball.

Sophomore guard Devin Cannady and senior forward Steven Cook share the bulk load of scoring for a balanced Princeton offense. Cannady, who is a Mishawaka native and played high school ball with former Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson, scores at a 13.7 points per game clip while also contributing 1.8 assists and 1.1 steals. Cook, who is from Winnetka, IL, also contributes 13.7 points per game as well as 5.1 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Myles Stephens averages 12.6 points per game, while senior forward Spencer Weisz averages 10.4. With four guys averaging double figures on the year, the Princeton offense is indeed balanced and well-rounded. Princeton has the 59th most efficient offense according to Ken Pom. To counter, Notre Dame will put the 25th most efficient offense on the floor.

Notre Dame and Princeton All Time

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament Final-Notre Dame vs Duke Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame is 2-1 all time against the Tigers, with the most recent game being a Princeton upset of the second-ranked Fighting Irish, 76-62, in 1977. To truly relive that game and the former glory of sports journalism, check out this article from the January 31, 1977 issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

In 1974, Notre Dame got Princeton at home, and the 13th-ranked Fighting Irish won the game 80-66. Way back in 1927, Notre Dame prevailed over Princeton 35-24.

As is built in with an NCAA Tournament game featuring the 12 seed and five seed, many people have tabbed this one as a potential upset. V.J. Beachem, Matt Farrell, Steve Vasturia, Bonzie Colson and the rest of Mike Brey’s squad aught to be prepared for a fight. As is evidenced by the recent NCAA tournament success the program has seen, coach Brey knows how to get his guys ready.

Ivy League teams have won a first-round game in two of the past three tournaments. This year, the Irish will look to avoid the fates of Baylor, who lost to Yale last year, and Cincinnati, who lost to Harvard in 2014.