Head Coach Mitch Henderson had his most successful season to date last year going 21-9 and ending with a loss to Fresno State in the CBI quarterfinals. However, they lost four players from their rotation to graduation, including their star point guard and center. Although they've recruited well, thus far the re-load looks more like a re-build as the young Tigers have stumbled out to a 3-7 start.
As a Princeton alum, Coach Henderson is not-surprisingly a strong proponent of the Princeton offense. Expect plenty of ball-reversals, backdoor cuts, and three-pointers all executed care.ful.lly. and delib.erate.ly. . If there's one thing different for this squad from the typical Princeton team, they actually have some size and can score effectively on the low block. But lest ye overdose on Red Bull and/or vodka in preparation, the Tigers actually play at a faster pace than Wyoming. Then again, so do coma victims, mold, and three-toed sloths. Dead ones.
The Princeton defense is stereotypically Ivy-league. They move their feet, play fundamentally sound positioning, and box out. This is not a team that will trap, gamble for steals, or block a lot of shots. They show excellent discipline getting back on defense at the expense of crashing the offensive boards. Conversely, they are very good at keeping opposing possessions to one and done. Overall, their defense has been solid on the inside, but prone to giving up open three-pointers.
Unfortunately, many of their strengths look like tougher match-ups for our current team. Pushing tempo will be difficult against a squad that excels at getting back. They're going to sag in the paint to take away dribble penetration and try to negate Wallace. With Bird presumably out, we'll need our young guards to break out of their collective slump to help space the floor. On offense, they're going to force our guys to be aware of screens and close out on shooters. Unlike our last several opponents, this is a team that knows how to move the ball and has the shooters to make us pay for slow rotations.
Kenpom projects an easy Cal victory with 88% certainty. That would work for me, but I can't shake the suspicion that this one could be tougher than anticipated.
G Spencer Weisz(So), 6'4, 180 lbs, 14.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.2 apg
G Amir Bell(Fr), 6'3, 160 lbs, 8.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.4 apg
F Steven Cook(So), 6'5, 185 lbs, 11.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg
F Hans Brase(Jr), 6'8, 231 lbs, 12.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.7 apg
C Pete Miller(So), 6'10, 225 lbs, 6.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg
F Henry Caruso(So), 6'4, 190 lb
G Clay Wilson(Sr), 6'3, 170 lbs
G Ben Hazel(Sr), 6'5, 191 lbs
Last year's Ivy League Frosh of the Year, Spencer Weisz is the do-everything engine that drives the Tigers. He's a dangerous outside shooter, but also leads the team in free throw attempts by a wide margin. He's well-complemented by steady stretch-four Hans Brase who actually leads the team in three-point attempts and assists. Bell and Cook are both youngsters that provide scoring from the wing. Bell is more of a slasher while Cook is yet another three-point specialist. Pete Miller fulfills the obligatory space-eating stiff in the middle role.
Keys to the Game:
1) Close out and rotate.
In previous stops, Coach Martin has emphasized closing out on three-point shooters. Princeton will have three-four legitimate outside threats on the floor. We'll need to avoid losing guys on the perimeter while also being aware that Princeton loves to bait overplays into backdoor cuts for layups.
2) Wallace vs. Weisz
Whichever star guard is able to exert his will on the game sets the tone for this contest. Weisz is the better shooter and wants to play this one in the half court. Wallace needs to be aware that the Princeton bigs won't block his shot, but are going to try to sag and draw charges when he attacks the paint. Foul trouble for either player could be a big deal.
3) Kravish vs. Hans Brase
Although they may not start matched up against each other, Princeton runs a lot of four-out with Brase as their lone big. It'll be interesting to see how Coach Martin decides to defend Brase in the high post. Since Brase shoots the ball so well, he'll probably rotate Kravish and Behrens on him; Singer or Moute a Bidias may not have the height to bother his shot. Unfortunately, this draws shot-blocking away from the paint. On the other end, neither of Princeton's bigs match-up well with Kravish defensively. It'd be really nice to see Kravish break out of his funk and give Hans a resounding, "Welcome to the party, pal!"
One would hope we learned from the near-loss to Montana that we can't show up without bringing the Cuonzo Mantra of "Defend, rebound, play hard." Especially since our offense may have been left in baggage claim following our trip to New York.
5) Make shots
Because apparently, it has to be said.
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