After last Saturday’s performance in South Beach against the Hurricanes, the Tigers’ winning percentage fell to .286. Now, with many games still left in the season – the Tigers have more than half of their non conference games left plus their entire Ivy League schedule – the Tigers have plenty of opportunity to improve their record. However, for the average onlooker of Princeton basketball, a 2-5 start for last season’s Ivy League champions would raise an alarm.
This season, perhaps the best explanation from the slow start comes from their tough early season schedule. Heading into this year, Princeton wanted to challenge themselves with a harder schedule to better prepare them for Ivy League and – if they were to make it – NCAA Tournament opponents. However, the Tigers may have bit off more than they could chew in terms of opponent toughness.
Below is a table comparing their non conference schedule from last year to this one:
There are a couple of things we can immediately take away from this table:
In regards to the slow start, the Tigers are not that far off pace from where they were at this time last season. This simply reinforces the idea that the Tigers have nothing to worry about at this point in the season; they were at the same place last year and still had a tremendously successful year.
This season, the Tigers are playing more games at neutral sites, at other schools, and at invitationals. Princeton added Butler University, University of Miami, University of Southern California, and other high profile teams to their road slate this season. The additional invitationals show that Princeton’s national reputation has increased.The number of top 40 teams played – almost all of them on the road – has jumped tremendously this season for Princeton. Playing a hard season will help them in the long run, even though the immediate results are not as promising.
While last season’s strength of schedule was good, the current strength of schedule they have would currently sit as one of the nation’s toughest. The Tigers have played three teams with two losses or less and have a few more top teams lined up. If Princeton continued playing opponents with this high of a record, it will be tough sledding all season. Fortunately, things will even out when conference play begins, as most of the Ivy League teams will probably have a couple of losses already under their belt.
If the season were to end today, their RPI (which combines strength of schedule with current record and creates an output and stands for rating percentage index) would be quite ugly. Their RPI of 260 is in the bottom 20% of the entire NCAA. This will improve as the Tigers get more wins, but for now their RPI is hurting at the expense of playing tougher teams.
Adjusted scoring margin tells us how the team is doing against its schedule compared to the average team. Last season, we can attribute the Tiger’s success to the fact that they were 8.1 points better than the average team in their shoes. This season, they are sitting at five points worse than the average team. While not overly troublesome, that -5.0 means that they should be at least doing a little bit better than they are now, especially if they have lofty goals for March.
Although the Tigers have been struggling, this challenging out-of-conference schedule has no effect on Ivy League standings. Credit Princeton for challenging themselves, which will hopefully help it come conference play. As for the rest of the nonconference schedule, the team will need to start winning if they want to get that RPI up and have a better chance at being considered an at large contender for a postseason tournament should they need that. But because it is only December, Tigers fans have absolutely no reason to panic about the current state of affairs.