Arizona is coming off a successful run through the Pac-12 Tournament in which it knocked off three teams it had already played—and lost to—during the regular season. The Wildcats made the most of those past results to craft the game plans for the rematches, and it showed.
Now comes the NCAA Tournament, where they’re unlikely to see a familiar opponent until at least the Sweet 16, and that started with the opening-round matchup against Princeton.
The Tigers (21-8) are making their first NCAA appearance since 2017 after winning the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Ezra Amacher has put together a profile on Princeton, but we wanted to get a little more insight on Arizona’s opponent so we reached out to Nick Lorensen of SB Nation sister site Mid-Major Madness.
Here are his feisty answers to our gutless questions:
AZ Desert Swarm: Princeton tied for the Ivy League title but lost both regular-season meetings against co-champ Yale only to beat the Bulldogs in the conference final. What did the Tigers do differently in the third meeting to produce a better result than the first two?
Nick Lorensen: “The revenge factor goes deeper than those two games. Last season, Yale clinched its berth to the NCAA Tournament by beating Princeton in New Haven. At Jadwin Gymnasium (Princeton’s gym) in late February, PU had Yale put away, leading by 19 with 7:59 to go. They blew it in one of the toughest losses I’ve seen this season. So, the difference was being able to hold onto a lead late. They couldn’t do that in either of its regular season matchups against the Elis.”
The only team in the NCAA field that Princeton faced this season was Iona, in mid-December, a 6-point loss played on the court of a Division III school in New Jersey. The only other NET top-100 school it faced (and lost to) was Hofstra in the regular-season opener. Do you think the Tigers’ schedule prepared them in any way for a team like Arizona?
“Princeton is better than a 15-seed but I don’t think its schedule prepared them for a team like Arizona. The Wildcats are a national championship-caliber program.”
Speaking of the Wildcats, how will Princeton handle Arizona’s frontcourt of Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo, who combine for 34 points and 17-plus rebounds per game?
“Princeton has one of the best big men in all of mid-major basketball with Tosan Evbuomwan. He’ll probably be a top name in the transfer portal this offseason. But with that, I don’t think they could’ve had a worse draw than Arizona, that’s an insane frontcourt. Keeshawn Kellman is good but not on their level.”
Who are the Tiger players on the offensive end that UA fans should most be concerned with, and why?
“Matt Allocco enters the postseason as one of the top 3-point shooting players in the country. To tag along with him, they have a really solid pair of freshmen. Caden Pierce has been great shooting the ball and Xaivian Lee can dish it like crazy. Evbuomwan, as mentioned earlier is not only a great rebounder but a very good passer and the majority of the possessions go through him.”
Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd called the Princeton offense a “staple in college basketball,” but do the Tigers actually run this sort of traditional scheme? How would you describe what they do with the ball?
“It’s not your typical Pete Carril offense but they still heavily use it. Good ball control and a lot of open 3-pointers are created through their beautiful style of passing.”
Prediction time. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson was part of the team that shocked defending champ UCLA in 1996, but the Tigers’ last NCAA win was in 1998 and the Ivy League hasn’t won a tourney game since Yale upset Baylor in 2016. Can they pull the upset, or will Arizona play like a No. 2 seed and cruise into the second round?
“I think that Princeton is one of the most under-seeded teams in the tournament, but personally, I have Arizona in the national championship. So give me the Cats by double digits.”