Winners of 19 in a row, along with the inaugural Ivy League conference tournament, the Princeton Tigers (23-6) men’s basketball team secured a No. 12 seed in the West Regional of the NCAA Tournament and will head to Buffalo, N.Y. to face the fifth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-9).
It’s Princeton’s 25th NCAA Tournament and first since 2011. This year, the Tigers went 14-0 during the Ivy League regular season and swept the two-round Ivy League Tournament, beating Yale, 71-59, in last Sunday’s final at The Palestra.
The game is a classic tournament matchup with both teams having similar stats and styles of play. However, Notre Dame competes in the powerful ACC while Princeton toils in relative obscurity in the Ivy League.
Statistically speaking, Princeton has one of the country’s most well-rounded teams. Coach Mitch Henderson’s Tigers are very efficient on the offensive end, scoring 72.1 points per game this season. And they can shoot the basketball. At a 45 percent clip from the floor and 38 percent from 3-point land the Tigers have what it takes to compete with anyone in the country.
On defense, the Tigers are just as efficient. They have allowed just 61.5 points per game (10th in the nation) and they have one of the best turnover rates (4th) in the country.
Princeton is led by senior forward Spencer Weisz (Florham Park, N.J.). Weisz was named Ivy League Player of the Year and a unanimous selection to the All-Ivy first team. Weisz is ranked 13th in Princeton history in points (1,210) and fourth in assists (370). The senior captain is the only player in Tiger history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 200 three-pointers. Myles Stephens, Devin Cannady and Steven Cook are key contributors to Princeton’s well-balanced offensive attack.
Notre Dame enters the tournament as the only team that has advanced to the Elite Eight in the last two seasons winning six games in the process. Coach Mike Brey and his squad would like nothing better to take it one step further this year. And they have the talent and experience to do just that with Bonzie Colson, Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem and Matt Farrell.
Colson will pose a huge challenge on the offensive glass for the Tigers and Vasturia, Farrell and Beachem are dangerous from beyond the arc.
If the game is close the Irish will have edge as they are one of the country’s top free throw shooting teams, led by Vasturia (91.5%). The Tigers are also good from the foul line but they rarely get to the line.
Princeton and Notre Dame have a history of facing each other, although you would probably consider it more like ancient history. They have played three times yet they have never met in the NCAA tournament.
The last time they met, Princeton upset the No. 2-ranked Irish 76-62 in 1977 at Jadwin Gym. The other two meetings saw the Irish defeat the Tigers 35-22 (1927) and 80-66 (1974).
In addition, the contest features a ton of local talent on both rosters. There are 11 players, with the Tigers sporting six from the Tri-State area and the Irish five.
Princeton’s Cannady, Cook and Henderson have local roots in Indiana.
The game should be a good one and, if you like history to repeat itself, look no further than the Ivy League winning two of the last three first round games in the tournament.
In the end, I think Colson will be too much for the Tigers front line and the Irish will advance.
The winner faces the winner of the game between No. 4 West Virginia (26-8) and No. 13 Bucknell (26-8) in the second round on Saturday, March 18.
The first round game will take place Thursday, March 16, at Buffalo’s KeyBank Center (12:15 p.m.). CBS will televise the game with Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel and Allie LaForce will be on the call.
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