Caden Pierce ’26 lays in a basket against Brown.
Lem Photography
Despite 24-4 record, NCAA Tournament return appears unlikely

Editor’s note: The Princeton men earned a No. 2 seed in the NIT and will host UNLV in the first round at Jadwin Gym on Wednesday, March 20, at 8 p.m. 

Princeton men’s basketball was the top seed and a strong favorite heading into the Ivy League Tournament, with 112 of 114 bracket predictions tabbing the Tigers to grab the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament berth on Saturday morning, according to But a 90-81 loss to Brown at Levien Gymnasium means the Tigers will have to take their chances in the at-large pool.

On the surface, the Tigers had a solid résumé heading into Saturday’s game: a 24-3 record and 20-0 against Quad 3 and Quad 4 teams in the NCAA’s NET rankings (a crucial measure of avoiding damaging losses). Princeton was the 56th ranked team on KenPom, and ranked 48th overall in the NET, ahead of NCAA Tournament locks South Carolina and Northwestern, as well as bubble teams such as Virginia, Seton Hall, and Providence.

Brown head coach Mike Martin, for his part, said that the Tigers “should be considered for the NCAA tourney” in his postgame press conference, and maintained that despite the outcome of their semifinal matchup, the Tigers will keep playing somewhere in the postseason. Tigers coach Mitch Henderson ’98 chose not to elaborate about postseason plans in his postgame presser, saying he had not given it any thought. Henderson had made his pitch briefly in Friday’s pre-tournament media availability. “We feel that we can compete with and beat anybody in the country and our focus right now is the [Ivy] Tournament,” he said. “I’m well aware of our résumé, and we’ve called every single school we can possibly call to try to play, in Northeast and all over the country. I mean, we went on the road and played St. Joe’s. That’s not a return game. We went on the road and played a game against one of the teams that’s in the A-10 semifinals [Duquesne] and won. We don’t have any Quad 1 wins, but we’re a Quad 1 team, so that’s nice.”

But Henderson also has said he believes the Ivy is a one-bid league in the current NCAA format, with the Ivy Tournament as the path to the Big Dance. “I think we understand what we’ve all signed up for, and the process of getting there and winning does prepare you very well for the NCAAs,” he told PAW in early March.

The Tigers find themselves in a battle against nearly a dozen other bubble teams competing for a handful of at-large bids; moreover, an unusually strong showing in conference tournaments from fellow bubble teams and “bid stealers,” teams outside the bubble that could only qualify with a tournament win, has not helped matters. Power conference teams such as Texas A&M, St. John’s, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma, and Michigan State as well as other mid-majors who could not clinch spots through their conference tournaments, such as Indiana State and New Mexico (though the Lobos are still alive in the Mountain West tournament final), are all in the hunt for these bids, several of which could disappear entirely with successful Cinderella runs from Oregon or North Carolina State.

The Tigers suffer from a lack of Quad 1 wins, having not played a top quadrant team all season, and while they were perfect against lower rated teams, a lack of strong wins and middling 2-3 record vs. Quad 2 opponents leaves them in a difficult spot. Indiana State, likely their closest comparable team, is ranked 30th in the NET, has a Quad 1 win, is 4-1 vs. Quad 2, and 22-1 vs. Quad 3 and 4. In short, while the Tigers are in the thick of things, and their résumé is strong, it appears that it will be an uphill battle to have their name called on Selection Sunday.

If the Tigers do not hear their name called on Sunday night, there are still postseason opportunities available. The Tigers played in the National Invitation Tournament in both 2016 and 2022, suffering first round losses in each appearance. They also appeared in the CBI twice early in Henderson’s tenure, reaching the quarterfinals of the tournament in both 2012 and 2014. While the NIT ended its practice of extending an automatic bid to regular season conference champions this fall, the Tigers’ ratings are strong enough that a return bid seems likely should they miss the NCAA Tournament. Whether the Tigers would accept an NIT bid remains to be seen, but the opportunity remains for a small consolation should Selection Sunday end in disappointment.