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On the road to Ivy Madness: How different styles shaped success for Princeton basketball

Coaching staff in white Princeton apparel high five players as they walk by on sideline.
Head coach Carla Berube and staff prior to Round of 32 matchup versus Utah.
Photo courtesy of Go Princeton Tigers.

Though basketball is not what Ivy League schools with low acceptance rates and mandatory senior theses are typically known for, over the past decade, the Tigers have made a name for themselves on the court in both men’s and women’s basketball.

The women’s team has won 10 of the 13 Ivy League championships since 2010 and the men have won four. Both teams are currently tied for first in the Ivy standings and are coming off runs to the NCAA Tournament last season that earned them national attention.


While the teams have enjoyed similar levels of success in the regular season, the philosophies that got them there are vastly different. For the women, it is the mantra of ‘Get Stops’ that guides them; for the men, it is ‘Make Shots.’ Although they are just catchphrases to the average fan, they symbolize a real rallying point for the teams.

“It’s been our motto for the last couple seasons,” women’s head coach Carla Berube told The Daily Princetonian. “It’s what we want to be able to hang our hats on, we want to rely on getting stops when we need to, especially if offense isn’t running on all cylinders.” 

With key cogs such as senior forward Ellie Mitchell, two-time reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, the Tigers boast the 20th-best scoring defense in the nation, holding opponents to just 56 points per game. Additionally, Princeton is holding opponents to just a 39.5 percent field goal percentage and forcing over 17 turnovers per game — two metrics in which they lead the Ivy. 

Sophomore guard Madison St. Rose and Mitchell are leading that effort, with 43 and 39 steals on the season respectively. Junior forward Parker Hill also leads the team with 23 blocks.

“It’s multi-faceted,” Berube continued. “Getting stops means you’re communicating well, you’re playing great on the ball defense, you’re being a great help defender. For us, it’s getting your hands high in the air when you’re defending the basketball.”

Paying homage to their #GetStops motto, the women’s team holds the best defense in conference play, holding Ivy League opponents to just 56 points per game. The women’s team also has the best turnover margin in the league by a vast 3.59 margin, as its mark of +4.85 greatly eclipses Harvard University’s next-best of +1.26. With a defense like this, it’s no wonder that the Tigers stand at the top of the Ivy League standings.


Whilst the women’s team focuses on a defensive element, the men’s team looks for their opportunities at the offensive end, characterizing the classic ‘Princeton offense’ from the days when Pete Carril was coach. This coaching methodology relies on intelligent players across the court and focuses on constant movement in order to adapt to whatever defense they face. 

Men’s head coach Mitch Henderson spoke of this philosophy after last week’s game against Columbia University and connected it to the team’s defense.

“We’re going to have to make shots, they’re just so prolific offensively,” Henderson said about the mentality behind the game against Cornell University. “Our shot selection also dictates our ability to get stops on the defensive end.”

The men’s basketball team is dominating the Ivy League in multiple key statistics that should forecast their performance in the Tournament. The Tigers have the highest free throw percentage — 81.2 percent — in the league by a substantial margin, nearly eight percent higher than the next best team. Princeton also plays a relatively clean game on offense, averaging the least turnovers per game in the league — a mark of only 8.27, compared to the next-lowest, Yale University at 9.46. Additionally, the team has the league’s best turnover margin with a rating of +2.62.

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The Tigers are certainly on track for postseason success. The men’s team is ranked 66th in the country in the KenPom Rankings, a rating system that takes a myriad of advanced basketball metrics into account, such as offensive and defensive efficiency per 100 possessions, strength of schedule, and tempo. Princeton’s ranking is the highest in the Ivy League, compared to 79th for Yale and 102nd for Cornell.

In adjusted offensive efficiency, a metric looking at points scored per 100 possessions adjusted for opponents, the Tigers’ offensive performance is apparent. Princeton ranks 30th across the nation with a score of 116.6 — 31 places above 61st-ranked Cornell, the next highest-ranked in the Ivy League. Princeton also boasts the highest NET ranking out of all Ivy League schools, coming in 51st in the nation, compared to 81st for Yale and 92nd for Cornell.

Despite the different mindsets and styles of play that got both Tigers squads to this point, the men’s and women’s coaching staff are united by their high expectations heading into the postseason.

“We have lofty goals, we have high goals…we go into every game expecting to win [it],” Berube told the ‘Prince’. “We want to play top 25 teams in that non-conference stretch and prepare us for the postseason.”

“We have a few goals every season,” Brett MacConnell, Ted Athanassiades ’61 Associate Head Coach, told the ‘Prince’. “One is to win the Ivy League regular season championship and the other is to win the Ivy League tournament, and of course with the tournament championship comes a bid to the NCAA championship.”

The Tigers met their goals last year, when they upset seventh-seeded NC State in the first round and came up just short against second-seeded Utah in the second round. The teams’ national ranking and notoriety have allowed Princeton’s recruitment process to gain more attention from potential future Tigers.

“It’s certainly helped to be on the national stage, and in recruiting, that’s how we keep this thing rolling,” stated Berube. “We keep recruiting and leveling up, and keep getting better and better student-athletes. We’ve been really successful in that, as you can see with our team and how deep we are.”

Before the next class of Tigers arrives, the men’s and women’s teams still have work to do this March. Both teams are the favorite for the one-seed in the Ivy Madness tournament scheduled to take place in Levien Gymnasium, home to the Columbia Lions in New York City. For the women’s team, the semifinals will occur on Friday, March 15th, followed by the championship game at 5:00 p.m. on the 16th. For the men’s, the semi finals take place on the 16th and finals will be at noon on Sunday, March 17th.

Just how high can the Princeton Tigers fly? The answer to that question isn’t one that can be answered right away. Despite the shared goal of the men’s and women’s squads, the road to success in the concrete jungle looks different for these two teams — whether it’s making shots or getting stops.

Alex Beverton-Smith is an assistant Sports editor for the ‘Prince.’

Peter Wang is a staff Sports writer for the ‘Prince.’ 

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