The coach of the Princeton Tigers, Arizona’s Round of 64 opponent in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, knows a thing or two about facing Pac-12 juggernauts in the Big Dance.
Mitch Henderson was a sophomore on the 1996 Princeton team that upset defending national champion UCLA in the NCAA Tournament first round. A photo of Henderson leaping for joy is etched in the collective memory of Tigers basketball fans.
In Year 11 of Henderson’s tenure at his alma mater, the Tigers find themselves back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017, when they nearly upset Notre Dame.
This time the Tigers (21-8) are the No. 15 seed in the South Region, where they’ll take on No. 2 seed Arizona (28-6) on Thursday at 1:10 p.m. MST in Sacramento. Princeton got here by winning the Ivy League Tournament, which concluded in a 74-65 win over Yale on Sunday.
The victory over Yale concluded Princeton’s own #RevengeTour, as they had lost to the Bulldogs in last year’s Ivy League Tournament final in heartbreaking fashion, then fell twice to Yale this year during the regular season.
The Tigers were led in the Ivy League Tournament title game by Tosan Evbuomwan, a 6-foot-8 senior forward from Newcastle, England. Evbuomwan had 21 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Tosan Evbuomwan made his mark with great playmaking skills, nifty moves and all sorts of high IQ plays in a big road win at Cornell that puts Princeton in sole possession of 1st place in the Ivy League— CBB Europe (@CBB_Europe) January 8, 2023
15 PTS • 6-10 FG • 2-5 FT • 7 REB • 9 AST (career-high)@Tosan_Evb pic.twitter.com/Uhor8wdPdJ
He leads Princeton with 14.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game and shoots 52.5 percent from the field. He’s a below-average free throw shooter, though, with a 64.9 percent rate from the charity stripe.
Caden Pierce, a 6-foot-6 freshman from Illinois, gives Princeton a legitimate option at wing. The 2022-23 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Pierce is playing his best basketball of the season right now. He’s collected three consecutive double-doubles, including a 12-point, 10-rebound performance against Yale on Sunday. Pierce averages 8.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists.
AT THE BUZZER.@PrincetonMBB's Caden Pierce nails to triple to beat the buzzer and send the Tigers into halftime with a 33-29 lead over @YaleMBasketball. pic.twitter.com/8YTFWgzuFk— The Ivy League (@IvyLeague) March 12, 2023
Princeton also depends heavily on junior guard Matt Allocco, who like Evbuomwan earned All-Ivy honors. Alloco, a 6-foot-4 native of Ohio, averages 10.4 points, 4.9 points and 2.1 assists.
Ryan Langborg, a 6-foot-4 senior guard from San Diego, and Keeshawn Kellman, a 6-foot-9 forward out of Pennsylvania, round out Princeton’s starting five. Langborg is Princeton’s second-leading scorer with 12 points per game, while Kellman adds 8.1 points per game on better than 60 percent shooting.
5:15 2nd | Princeton 59, Yale 51@Ryan_Langborg lays it in for two!— Princeton Men’s Basketball (@PrincetonMBB) March 12, 2023
The Tigers lead the Bulldogs by eight!#MakeShots pic.twitter.com/OUZFOxFloo
Zach Martini, a 6-foot-7 junior forward out of New Jersey, has emerged as Princeton’s top bench contributor of late. He knocked down four 3-pointers in Princeton’s overtime home loss to Yale a few weeks ago and again on Saturday in the Ivy League Tournament semis against Penn.
Princeton’s strength offensively its 2-point shooting, where it connects on 53.5 percent of attempts. The Tigers make 34 percent of their attempts from 3-point range.
The Tigers are one of the best teams in the country at limiting offensive rebounds, according to Kenpom.com, ranking ninth nationally in that category. Princeton’s greatest weakness according to metrics is forcing turnovers, with a defensive turnover percentage (the percentage of possession where the opponent turns the ball over) that ranks 349th out of 363 Division I teams in the country.
Princeton doesn’t lose by large margins. Only one of the Tigers’ eight losses came by more than 10 points, an 87-65 drubbing at Yale in late January.
Princeton is the first Ivy League opponent Arizona will face in the NCAA Tournament since 2013, when the Wildcats as a No. 6 seed knocked off 14th-seeded Harvard 74-51 in the Round of 32.
The last time the UA opened March Madness against an Ivy squad: 1988, when it beat Cornell 90-50 en route to the program’s first Final Four.