Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

Preview: Men’s Basketball at Ivy Madness

A group of men pose with a championship trophy following a basketball game.
This past weekend, the Tigers won their 30th Ivy League title after a dominant performance against Penn.
Photo courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/X

Inside and outside of the Orange Bubble, all eyes are on this year’s edition of the Princeton Tigers. Fresh off a Cinderella run to the Sweet 16 fueled by wins over powerhouses Arizona and Missouri, the men’s basketball team (24–3 overall, 12–2 Ivy League) hopes to secure back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since 1998. With only three losses, a neutral site win against Rutgers, and a NET ranking of 48, Princeton has built an impressive resume — and the Ivy League has taken notice.

On Wednesday afternoon, sophomore forward Caden Pierce was named the Ivy League Player of the Year. The reigning Rookie of the Year had a stellar league campaign, averaging 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. Pierce finished with double digits points in 14 of his last 15 games. Pierce was also one of just four unanimous All-Ivy first team selections, along with standout sophomore guard Xaivian Lee. Senior guard and captain Matt Allocco was named to the second team, while the helm of the Tigers, Head Coach Mitch Henderson ’98, was named Coach of the Year.


Despite all of their success, however, the Ivy League has never had two men’s teams make the NCAA tournament. Princeton will need to win back-to-back games at the Ivy Madness Tournament this weekend to secure the League’s sole shot to appear in March Madness — the Tigers have no other path, given that at-large bids are largely reserved for Power-5 teams, and Princeton likely doesn't have the resume to steal a spot.

“It stinks because there are multiple teams in this league that can do a lot of damage,” Henderson told the Daily Princetonian following a 73–62 win against Yale on Feb. 17. “There’s something about how hard you have to work to get there that gets you ready for that moment. That’s what happened to us last year.”

Should the Tigers make the tournament, they are currently projected to be a No. 12 seed according to ESPN’s latest bracketology. The last time an Ivy League side was a No. 12 seed was back in 2017, when Henderson’s Tigers lost in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame in the Round of 64.

Tiger v. Bruno

When the Tigers head to the Upper West Side, their first obstacle on the road back to March Madness will be the No. 4 seeded Brown Bears (12–17, 8–6). For most of the season, Yale and Cornell fought Princeton for the top seed in Ivy Madness — Brown was merely an afterthought.  

While the Bears clinched their spot in Ivy Madness a full week after the top three seeds and have been left out of the three-horse race for the top of the Ivy all season, they pose a real danger to the Tigers on Saturday. Since the Tigers beat the Bears at Jadwin Gymnasium on Feb. 16, Brown has been red hot. They will enter Ivy Madness on a six-game win streak, in which they picked up two impressive road wins over Cornell and Yale — a feat Princeton failed to accomplish.


The Tigers have beat the Bears twice already this season, but both games were within ten points. Their last meeting in Princeton took a massive Tiger comeback in the final five minutes of play to earn them the win. The Tigers will certainly be favored, but their shaky wins in their past matchups, coupled with Brown’s recent success, make it far from a lock for Princeton.

Guard Kino Lilly Jr. has led the way for Brown and was named to the All-Ivy first team along with Pierce and Lee. Lilly leads the Ivy League with 18.4 points per game this season and has buried 84 threes. 

His impressive shooting, coupled with his speed and ball-handling skills, will be the main defensive challenge for the Tigers, but perimeter defense tends to be a strength for Princeton — they are giving up only seven three-pointers per game on 32 percent shooting for the season.

One area the Tigers will look to exploit against Brown will be the turnover battle. A streak of Brown turnovers sparked the Tiger comeback that made the difference in their last matchup, and Princeton’s total of 218 turnovers on the season is significantly less than Brown’s 358. Ball security has been a strength for the Tigers all season and a weakness for the Bears.

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »

A high-pressure loss to a team five games under .500 and No. 191 in the NET rankings would eliminate the Tigers from March Madness contention. This makes the Tigers’ semifinal matchup a sink-or-swim contest — a win keeps their tournament hopes alive and a loss would put them at the wrong end of an upset and will likely see them in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).

Princeton will face Brown at Columbia’s Levien Gymnasium on Saturday, March 16 at 11 a.m.

The Big Dance Awaits 

Should the Tigers overcome the Bears, they will face Yale or Cornell at Levien again on Sunday, March 17 at noon. Fans will either get a trilogy of Tiger and Bulldog brawls or two former Princeton players coaching teams dueling for a bid to the NCAA tournament.

If Princeton and Yale match up on Sunday, it will be the third-consecutive Ivy Madness championship game between both sides. Yale beat Princeton 66–64 two seasons ago, while last season, the Tigers got their revenge at home in Jadwin, beating the Bulldogs 74–65.

However, if Cornell beats Yale on Saturday, fans will see two former Tigers battling one another for a chance to go dancing in the NCAA tournament. Henderson and Cornell Head Coach Brian Earl ’99 were teammates for three seasons during one of the best stretches in Princeton basketball history.

Whatever the case may be, fans inside the Levien Gymnasium will get their money’s worth on Sunday afternoon. Outside of the storylines, each team has a stacked bench ready to give the Tigers a run for their money.

Earlier this season, Yale was selected as the Ivy League preseason favorite. On paper, the Bulldogs have an arguably better roster than the Tigers. Their backcourt consists of guards August Mahoney and Bez Mbeng. Mahoney is their team’s captain and averages 10 points per game while shooting a remarkable 44.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Mbeng — the reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year — has developed into a two-way star for the Bulldogs. Mbeng averages 11.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and nearly two steals per game. Consistently taking on the difficult tasks on the defensive end, he is the glue of this Yale team.

Rounding out the starting lineup are forward Matt Knowling, guard John Poulakidas, and forward Danny Wolf. Poulakidas is one of the best three-pointer shooters in the country. He has 70 made triples across the season while shooting above 40 percent. Poulakidas and Mbeng were both named to the All-Ivy second team. 

Knowling was a reigning unanimous All-Ivy first-team selection. This season, his star has dimmed with the emergence of Danny Wolf, but Knowling remains a threat every time he touches the floor, averaging 11.8 points per game. Lastly, Wolf is a unanimous selection to this year’s All-Ivy first team along with Pierce and Lee on the Tigers’ squad. Wolf is a seven-foot forward who can score from anywhere on the court. He is in the midst of a sophomore campaign that has him averaging nearly 15 points and 10 rebounds per game — though in his last appearance against the Tigers, he failed to sink a single shot and went back to New Haven having scored zero points.

The Bulldogs are led by Head Coach James Jones, who has had success against Henderson and the Tigers lately. In the last 14 matchups between both sides, Yale has won an impressive 11 games. This season, the teams split the season series, with each side protecting their home court.

Led by Earl, the Big Red is one of the most high-powered offenses in the country. Cornell comes in at No. 16 in the country, averaging 83 points per game. What sets the Big Red squad apart is that no one individual player stands out. Unlike Yale and Princeton, who have short eight-man rotations, Cornell regularly employs a 12-man rotation.

The backcourt is led by guards Chris Manon and Nazir Williams. The two average 12.6 and 11.7 points per game, respectively. Manon is a two-way star and a unanimous All-Ivy first team selection — rounding out the four unanimous picks along with Princeton’s Pierce and Lee and Yale’s Wolf — while Williams was selected to the second team. 

One of the biggest concerns for Cornell is on the defensive end, where they allow their opponents to score an average of 74.4 points per game. In the NCAA NET rankings, Princeton is ranked 48th, Yale is ranked 86th, and Cornell is ranked 88th — all higher than 191st-ranked Brown.

Yale will be the short favorite against Cornell on Saturday afternoon. The looming fight for a chance to dance in March seems destined to be a trilogy between the Tigers and Bulldogs, a task Coach Henderson says he has prepared his team to do.

“These guys sign up knowing that we gotta win the league and win the tournament.”

Hayk Yengibaryan is an associate Sports editor for the ‘Prince.’

Tate Hutchins is an associate Sports editor for the ‘Prince.’

Please send any corrections to corrections[at]