Princeton Preview: A Look In The Mirror For ND?
Neither team is likely to beat itself, but Thursday’s first-round NCAA Tournament game between fifth-seeded Notre Dame and 12th-seeded Princeton is a matchup of two teams so similar that to the loser it may look like they got beat by themselves.
We spoke to a Division-I head coach familiar with both schools, especially Princeton, for his thoughts on the West Regional matchup.
“They’re really kind of similar teams,” the coach said. “Neither team turns it over. They both shoot a ton of threes. They both have a lot of skilled guys who can pass the ball around and get good shots. They’re both tough defensively.”
Princeton enters the Tournament with a 23-6 overall record as winners of 19 straight, including a perfect 14-0 run through the Ivy League regular season and conference tourney.
“They have good versatility,” the coach said of the Tigers. “They don’t have great size per se, but they have pretty good overall size. They have a bunch of guys who are 6-4 to 6-6 who can do a lot of different things. They can post you up on offense. They can shoot the three, they can drive it, they all pass it pretty well. Defensively, they can switch a lot of things and guard different positions.”
Princeton senior forward Spencer Weisz was named Ivy League Player of the Year last week and was joined on the All-Ivy First Team by teammates Steven Cook and Myles Stephens (pictured above).
“They’re all 6-4, 6-5, 6-6,” the coach said. “Amir Bell comes off the bench, he’s 6-4. He was a starter his first two years. Those guys can all kind of do a little bit of everything. Some guys are better at certain things, but they can all do a little bit of everything.
“They don’t beat themselves. They don’t turn it over. They don’t foul on the defensive end. They’re smart and experienced. For the most part, they know they’re going to get a good shot. They don’t turn it over, they don’t take bad shots early in the clock.”
Stephens was also named Defensive Player of the Year in the conference while Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson was an easy Coach of the Year selection. An Indiana native, Henderson was a member of the Tiger squad that upset reigning NCAA Champion UCLA back in 1996.
Henderson played under famed Princeton coach Pete Carril, but this group of Tigers doesn’t rely solely on backdoor cuts.
“They still have a lot of those concepts,” the coach said. “They can still go to that if they need to, but they’re more free-flowing with motion. They like to attack mismatches. They’ll isolate some guys in the low post, they’ll isolate some guys at the elbow, isolate some guys on the wing when they feel like they have a good matchup.
“They have all of those concepts. They’ll go backdoor on you, they’ll step behind screens and shoot three-pointers, they’ll play through guys at the high post like the traditional Princeton would in the past, but they’re not strictly running the Princeton Offense.”
Princeton is 10th in the nation with an average of 10 made three-pointers per game, making more than 38 percent of its attempts behind the arc.
“They rely on the three for a ton of their offense,” we were told. “I think for Notre Dame, defending the three-point line will be huge. Princeton can really, really shoot it. There are always four, sometimes five, guys on the court who can shoot the three.
“I don’t think Notre Dame is crazy about trying to deny teams entry passes. I just think being there on the catch, running them off the three-point line and making them put the ball on the floor more and making them shoot more twos. It’s a hard thing. You don’t want to give up threes and you don’t want to give up layups.”
When Notre Dame has the ball, the Irish are going to need to take care of it, something they’ve been great at all year, averaging just 9.4 turnovers per game, good for second in the entire country.
“For Princeton, they’ve had a huge advantage in turnover margin all year long,” the coach said. “They’ve turned teams over a ton and they don’t turn it over.
“I think the turnover stat for both teams and the three-point teams for both teams – offensively and defensively – will be pretty big.”
The winner of Thursday's matchup will play the winner of #4 West Virginia/#13 Bucknell on Saturday.