If Ivy League titles were won on paper, the Princeton men’s basketball team would have its 27th in hand.
The Tigers were voted first in the preseason media poll, thanks in large part to returning 99 percent of their scoring from last year’s team — a team that went 22–7, finished second in the Ivies, and earned a bid to the NIT. Princeton gained additional practice time on its international trip to Italy in August.
“I don’t know if we’re at the point we were last February, where we were in our stride and going after teams in the league, and we kind of knew where everyone was on the court,” said Spencer Weisz ’17, one of Princeton’s captains. “It’s a work in progress, but I feel like we’ve made a lot of strides from Italy. The Italy trip really helped us out a lot to have a few practices and games under our belt against very good competition over there.”
If Princeton’s lineup did have a hole last year, it was inside, but the return of forward Hans Brase ’17, who missed last season due to injury, could resolve that issue. Brase has 77 career starts to his name and led Princeton in rebounding two years ago.
Brase rejoins a top-seven rotation of Weisz, Henry Caruso ’17, Steven Cook ’17, Pete Miller ’17, Amir Bell ’18, Devin Cannady ’19, and Myles Stephens ’19. Aaron Young ’18 and Alec Brennan ’18 also impressed coach Mitch Henderson ’98 in the preseason. Princeton opened with an 82–73 loss at Brigham Young Nov. 14.
Henderson hasn’t shied away from high expectations for his team. “I’m an optimistic person,” he said. “I’m bullish in general. It’s hard to be remotely pessimistic with this group. It’s a really fun group to be around because they want to be good. We’re starting further ahead than we’ve ever started before because of the seniors.”
At women’s basketball media day Oct. 31, Taylor Brown ’17 was sporting a black-and-blue right eye with stitches just below it, but it wasn’t part of a Halloween costume.
The co-captain’s injury came from an elbow during a preseason practice, a testament to just how intensely the Tigers have been preparing.
“As you can see,” said fellow co-captain Vanessa Smith ’17, “we practice hard.”
They have to in order to sustain the standard of success established in recent years. The elbow was nothing compared to the blow Princeton has taken since last year. After going 23-6 overall and 12-2 for second in the Ivy League and becoming the first Ivy team ever to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, Princeton graduated four of last year’s starters — and 92 percent of that team’s scoring. Smith, the fifth starter a year ago, underwent surgery on her foot in the offseason and still wasn’t cleared to play going into November.
Head coach Courtney Banghart’s team was predicted to finish second in the Ivy preseason media poll, as all 17 first-place votes went to defending-champion Penn.
In addition to Brown, Smith, Kenya Holland ’18, and Tia Weledji ’18 — the four most experienced returners — Banghart will rely on Qalea Ismail ’19, a strong player on the wing, and Jordan Muhammad ’19, who will help Brown with the point guard duties. Sydney Jordan ’19 and Leslie Robinson ’18 figure to fill the power forward spot. Banghart had high praise for newcomer Bella Alarie ’20, a guard/forward combo, and another freshman, Sara Lewis, will get time at the center spot.
The Tigers started the year with back-to-back losses against Rider and George Washington Nov. 11 and 13.