Men’s basketball hosts Fairleigh Dickinson Saturday at 7 p.m. in Jadwin Gymnasium. The Tigers (5-1) are off to their best start in 16 years and look to continue a four game win streak against the Knights (3-7). Princeton is ranked 70th in the country in Jeff Sagarin’s college basketball computer rankings, which are based on which teams have beaten which teams and by how much. These rankings go back to the 1999-2000 season and have never seen the Tigers ranked this high at the end of the season.
Princeton has won four league titles in this span, including the legendary 2010-2011 season, when they very nearly beat Kentucky in the NCAA tournament and were 76th in the final rankings.
“The guys really like each other. They want to see everyone do well,” said Coach Mitch Henderson ’98. He emphasized several times the importance of playing together as a team. “We’re a balanced team-we’ve had four different leading scorers in six games this year. We shoot the ball well and we’re getting better defensively.”
With the Princeton offense eating up clock, opponents have traditionally had very few possessions per game against the Tigers, and the same is true this season. The Tigers have also rebounded very well defensively in the past, limiting opponents' shots. This year’s team ranks 12th in the nation in possessions allowed per game, fourth in defensive rebounding percentage, and 23rd in field goal attempts allowed per game, all contributing to a 22nd ranking in points allowed per game at 62.5.
Princeton’s offense is high scoring relative to its historical average, though still not in the top 200 Division Iteams, at 70.3 points per game. Its strengths, as has always been the case, are a large number of three pointers made and a high ratio of assists to field goals made. The Tigers rank eighth and 15th in the nation in those categories, respectively. Perhaps the most impressive stat of all is Princeton's .387 percentage from beyond the arc.
Enter Fairleigh Dickinson University. One of just two New Jersey division one teams Princeton has never faced, the Knights have not won double-digit games in a season in four years. This year hasn’t been spectacular for them either, as they lost to a Division II team by 11 points and to No. 5 Arizona by 50. However, they do have a very good player in Sidney Sanders Jr., who leads the team in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, and steals. FDU, like Princeton, loves to shoot the three, taking 38 percent of its shots from outside. However, they make just 34.4 percent. They score an average of 65.4 points per game to their opponents' 75, and they rank outside the top 300 schools in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage.
All around, Fairleigh Dickinson's offensive stats are more level with Princeton’s defensive stats, and their defensive stats are level with Princeton’s offensive stats. Team Rankings, a sports analytics website, places Princeton’s win probability at .962, highest for any of the Tigers’ games this year versus a division one opponent. Still, the Knights won at Seton Hall last Sunday, a game in which they were 22-point underdogs, so anything is possible.
“They’ve got some good players and they’re a Division I team. We won’t overlook them,” Henderson said.
Princeton is led by senior guard T.J. Bray. Despite a preseason injury that caused him to miss the first three games, Bray has not missed a beat. A multifaceted player, he leads the team in points per game and 3-point field goal percentage, while ranking second in rebounding. He’s also a careful player, committing few fouls and turnovers. His assist to turnover ratio is 5 to 1, ranking 27th in the nation.
Sabermetrics attempt to capture a player’s overall performance in a single number. There are many different formulae, but a simple one is known as win score, which is a simple weighted addition and subtraction of basic statistics. Bray ranks 65th in Division I with 10.333/game, higher than Ian Hummer '13, last season's Ivy League Player of the Year. Sophomore forward Hans Brase has also been a huge contributor for the Tigers, averaging 12.17 points and leading the team with 7.17 rebounds per game.
“We haven’t shown our full potential yet. We’ve got to make the right reads, be versatile and unpredictable, and most of all, have fun playing together,” Henderson commented.