Heading into the season, the Princeton men’s and women’s basketball teams are relying on similar foundations. Both have towering seniors playing a central role in the offense — 6-foot-9 center Richmond Aririguzoh ’20 for the men, 6-foot-4 guard/forward Bella Alarie ’20 for the women. And both have dynamic returning point guards — Jaelin Llewellyn ’22 for the men, Carlie Littlefield ’21 for the women.
But the similarities only go so far. The Princeton women, two-time defending champions, are preseason favorites in the Ivy League, vying with rival Penn for the chance to return to the NCAA Tournament. The Princeton men appear to have a more treacherous road ahead, with Harvard, Penn, and Yale all ranked above the Tigers in the media’s preseason poll. Below, PAW looks at the coming season for each team.
Men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 sees Richmond Aririguzoh ’20 as a lodestar for his team. It’s not that he expects everyone to make 69 percent of their field-goal attempts, as Aririguzoh did last year, or improve their free-throw shooting by 35 percentage points, as he did between his sophomore and junior seasons. Rather, Henderson wants his Tigers to emulate the way that Aririguzoh has gone about transforming himself into one of the Ivy League’s most capable big men — diligently, tirelessly, and with an unshakeable positive outlook.
“[He is] arguably the hardest worker that we’ve had around in a really long time … and one of the more improved players in college basketball history,” Henderson said at Princeton’s media day Oct. 28. “The team has taken on that personality, and that’s a really good thing.”
Aririguzoh averaged 12.1 points per game last year, and in the offseason, he said he’s focused on “being able to help my teammates offensively with more than just scoring,” including finding the open man when defenses try to double-team him in the post. On a related note, the Tigers’ perimeter players will be looking to improve their three-point shooting after an uncharacteristic season that saw them finish last in the league in both three-point percentage (30.5 percent) and three-pointers made (207).
Home schedule highlights:
Nov. 26 vs. Arizona State
Jan. 10 vs. Penn
Feb. 1 vs. Harvard
Feb. 14 vs. Yale
Princeton returns four of five starters from last year’s Ivy Tournament semifinal loss at Yale: Aririguzoh, Jaelin Llewellyn ’22, Jerome Derosiers ’21, and Ethan Wright ’22. Also returning is Ryan Schwieger ’21, who averaged just under 20 points in a four-game Ivy stretch in late February and early March before he was sidelined by a concussion. Jose Morales ’20 delivered a jolt of energy off the bench last year, finishing second on the team in assists, and Max Johns ’22 emerged as a defensive stopper. Both should reprise those roles this season.
Llewellyn had a remarkable freshman year, particularly for a player who missed seven weeks of practice due to injury. “I’ve been really impressed with his leadership,” Henderson said. “Last year, we played Dartmouth here at home, and he kind of took over the game vocally and verbally towards the end. We’re really going to rely heavily on Jaelin, on both ends of the floor.”
Princeton has added five freshmen — two guards and three forwards — but with so many contributors returning, finding minutes for the newcomers might be a challenge. “They’re learning so much on a day-to-day basis,” Henderson said. “We’re thrilled with the group. I think it could be one of the best recruiting classes we’ve ever had. … But right now, it’s a good sign that they’re struggling — not in all ways, but to learn how they’re going to make us win.”
“Coach Berube has really emphasized getting after it on the defensive end — feeding off that energy and trying to set the tone on that end — and she’s also emphasized playing fast,” Littlefield said at the team’s preseason media day last week. “We’re going to be pushing the ball a lot. She doesn’t want me to jog it up, ever.”
Wanting to have more possessions and more shots makes perfect sense when you have a scorer as prolific as Bella Alarie ’20. Her 22.8 points per game last year was the highest single-season average in program history, and that came after she’d missed the first nine games of the year with a broken arm. Even with all the attention that Alarie draws from Ivy defenders, she managed to make more than half of her field-goal attempts last year — and averaged 11.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 2.5 blocks in conference games, team highs in all three categories.
Alarie said that Princeton is adjusting well to Berube’s coaching. “It’s different rotations than what we’re used to, so in a lot of ways I feel like a freshman on the floor again, running Coach Berube’s style of defense, but it has been really awesome,” she said. “I think we’re a really cohesive unit when we’re locked in.”
Home schedule highlights:
Nov. 17 vs. Florida Gulf Coast
Dec. 14 vs. Penn State
Feb. 21 vs. Harvard
Feb. 25 vs. Penn
Berube also was pleased with her team’s offseason and preseason work ethic. “They’ve done a really great job of just buying into what we’re teaching and coaching,” she said. “They’re committed to the growth and taking everything we say and trying to transfer it to every single drill.”
In addition to Alarie and Littlefield, the Tigers return starting guard Grace Stone ’22 and four reserves who averaged at least 10 minutes per game last year: guards Maggie Connolly ’22 and Julia Cunningham ’22, and forwards Sydney Boyer ’21 and Taylor Baur ’20. Shooting guard Abby Meyers ’22 also has returned to Princeton after a year-long absence following an academic violation. Meyers averaged 9.8 points per game as a freshman in 2017-18.
With two straight Ivy titles, the Tigers are again the team to beat in the league, receiving 10 of the 17 first-place votes in the preseason media poll. “I think we really own that bullseye,” Alarie said. “I think that makes us a stronger team, knowing that we’re going to get everyone’s best game every night. … We’ve really grown to love having that target on our backs.”