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The NCAA’s most equally matched league is set for another tightly contested year as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and even Penn get set to compete for the top spot in the Ivy League. 

The Crimson made big splashes in the offseason through recruiting. This puts pressure on the Tigers, who are now feeling the gaze of the league’s supporters. The stakes are high: last season, when faced with the prospect of back-to-back Ivy titles and NCAA Tournament appearances, the Tigers never seemed to be able to get out of their own way, and failed to make the Ivy League tournament.

This season, things are bound to be different. The Tigers learned from their mistakes from last year. The key to this year’s success is defense. During the Princeton basketball media day conferences, head coach Mitch Henderson noted, “If we're going to be really good in this league, or really anywhere in the country, you have to play a hard-nosed defense ... We lost some really heartbreaking games, but when you look at the games towards the end and even the overtime games where we struggled, I think it’s our defense.” The first step in defense, Henderson argued, was rebounding. “I think rebounding is about having the tenacity to go up there in college,” Henderson said. "Going up there with two hands, having the discipline to box a guy out.”

This season, Princeton welcomes a stellar recruiting class of athletes who have the ability to shine for the Tigers from day one. Max Johns, Drew Friberg, Ethan Wright, and Colby Kyle are all expected to provide crucial contributing support to the upperclassmen. Then, of course, there’s the centerpiece of the Class of 2022: Jaelin Llewellyn. The first-year has already impressed those inside the organization and is ready to take his talents to the live stage. Praising Llewellyn, Henderson said, “He has so much knowledge of space for a college game, and he’s so fast that he will be able to get himself into little positions that will help everyone by changing the defense. He certainly doesn’t play like a freshman.”

Then there are the captains of the team, who have been essential players since they were first-years. Senior Myles Stephens, last year’s Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, and Devin Cannady, one of the most prolific scorers for the Tigers since his arrival, know that they have the chance to build a young team into a worthy contender. Cannady has continued to perfect his art and has taken the time to study and learn from some of the best shooters in the world. “It’s amazing watching Klay and Steph shoot the ball,” Cannady noted. “I’m big not just on watching their shots but on how they get themselves open. Being a shooter, that’s something that you love seeing happen in real time.”

Stevens is optimistic about the team’s composition. “Even though we have a lot of young guys, I think we all have a lot of talent and we all bring something to the table,” he said.

Just like last season, the Tigers pushed themselves with a tough non-conference schedule to try and prepare them for the parity of the Ivy League. Highlighting the non-conference slate is a three-game stretch where they will travel to Madison Square Garden to take on St. John’s University, a game in Atlantic City against Iona, and a showdown in Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke, arguably the best team in the country. The Tigers will open their Ivy League season with their only two regular season games against Penn. The most notable game on the schedule comes Feb. 15, when the Tigers will host Harvard in a showdown between the Ivy League’s best.

In one of the closest Ivy League races in recent memory, Princeton looks to ensure they have a fighting chance at the title. They know they have the talent to do it — now they have to put it all together.

“It comes with that focus and that mindset that we are a good basketball team,” Stephens said. “The better we are as individuals, the better that we can do as a team on the court.”

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