After a disappointing end to last season, the Princeton men’s basketball team is looking for a return to glory.
Last season, with a conference record of 8–6, the team qualified for the Ivy League tournament and was seeded third out of the four teams that qualified. The Tigers lost in the semifinals against Yale, who went on to win against No. 1 seed Harvard and qualify for the NCAA tournament.
The 2019-20 Tigers squad will look to recreate the success of the 2016-17 season, which saw an Ivy League victory and the infamous ever-so-close loss to Notre Dame in the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament.
To qualify for the Ivy League tournament, win it, and succeed in March Madness, the team needs to step up to the plate. Pundits are pointing to a strong showing again by Harvard, as well as tournament winner Yale and perpetual foe Penn.
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson ’98, however, doesn’t give much weight to preseason projections, such as the Ivy League preseason poll in which Princeton was voted to finish fourth.
“It’s a guess, after all,” he said. “It has very little bearing to do on what the end result is.”
The team is looking to upperclassmen such as senior center Richmond Aririguzoh, junior guard Ryan Schwieger, junior forward Jerome Desrosiers, and sophomore guard Jaelin Llewellyn to lead the team in storming the Ivy League — and potentially March Madness.
Schwieger, despite scoring relatively few points per game at the beginning of last season, began to drop buckets toward the end of conference play. His top three games in terms of points were all in a row: 23 against Cornell, 20 against Columbia, and 26 against Dartmouth. A concussion ended his season before the Ivy League tournament.
“We missed him at the end of last season,” Henderson said. “He’s way more vocal and taking a larger role on both ends of the floor.”
Llewellyn, a former four-star recruit, will look to continue to improve after carrying a heavy load for the team in his rookie season despite struggling with injuries.
“We’re really going to rely on Jaelin on both ends of the floor,” Henderson said. “The ball is his. There’s great responsibility in that, but there’s also freedom in that.”
This season’s first-year cadre includes guard Ryan Langborg from San Diego, Calif., guard Konrad Kiszka from Newton, Pa., forward Tosan Evbuomwan from Newcastle, England, forward Jacob O’Connell — who at six feet and eleven inches takes the crown of tallest on the team from senior forward Will Gladson — from Voorhees, N.J., and forward Keeshawn Kellman, from Allentown, Pa.
Henderson acknowledged that while the rookies show promise, they still have a long way to go.
“Right now, it’s a good sign that they’re struggling,” he said. “Not in all ways, but to learn how they’re going to make us win, and how to compete.”
Princeton was handily defeated by Duquesne University on Tuesday night in their first game of the season. This likely won’t be their only touch matchup of the non-conference slate: the Tigers are scheduled to play big dogs such as Arizona State and Indiana University.
Henderson acknowledged the tough non-conference schedule this year but justified it as the best thing to do for the program.
“My aim every year is to prepare these guys to beat the best teams on our schedule and win the league, and I think you do that by challenging yourself in the non-conference,” he said. “It’s brutal … but we’re doing that for a specific reason. Here, I want to recruit nationally and play a nationally-recognized schedule.”
Llewellyn added that he sees “playing a schedule like that as an opportunity to show the work we’ve been putting in and that we can compete with the best in the country.”