There was a lot missing this past college basketball season, but Friday nights felt emptier than ever without Ivy League basketball. Rivalries that dated back to the 19th century and historic arenas that have housed the best will now always have a gap in their record books.
For the first time since the NCAA Tournament field expanded to 68, there were only 31 automatic bids given out instead of the normal 32. The Ivy League took the 2020-21 season off due to COVID-19, meaning that the 2021-22 season will be one of the most unpredictable ever in the league’s 67 years of basketball. It also means that coaches are more prepared than ever.
“I’ve watched more basketball,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, “I just feel like we maybe had a recalibration of the love of the game.”
Now a lot of “experts” have taken the easy route, choosing Yale to take its third consecutive regular-season title. But, with loads of roster turnover throughout the league, it is truly anyone’s game.
Teams such as Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Penn are each adding five to six freshmen to their rosters. All-league players such as Harvard’s Bryce Aiken, and Yale’s two-headed monster of Paul Atkinson and Jordan Bruner have left for bigger programs, really shaking things up at the top.
Princeton finished behind those two during 2019-20 season and was heating up at the right time. Star guard Jaelin Llewellyn finished his sophomore year with a career-high 30 points against Cornell. He has not played an organized game since and has been three states away in Virginia.
“I’ve just been in the gym as much as I can,” Llewellyn said. “I haven’t stopped [thinking about the Cornell game]. I feel like we were going in the right direction for the tournament, and for me as well. I’m just ready to jump right back.”
During his sophomore season, Llewellyn was one of the most important players in the whole league. He finished the season ranked in the top 10 of seven KenPom categories, including percentage of shots and possessions taken.
In honour of the NCAA basketball starting up, here’s some clips from one of the dopest hoopers from Mississauga...Jaelin Llewellyn, a bucket, high IQ PG. — Thenorthway (@TheNorthWay) November 25, 2020
Don’t be surprised if you see him in the league a couple years from now..
#thenorthway #canadabaskerball #saugacity pic.twitter.com/6dFghPaYtp
Along with a great offensive effort, Llewellyn showed some promise on the boards. To open Ivy League play against arch-rival Penn, he had a double-double with 18 points and 14 defensive rebounds. That was the first and only double-double of his career. He has also developed a great stroke at the charity stripe, shooting 86.3% in Ivy League play.
To accompany him down low, British big man Tosan Evbuomwan has shown signs of being another star big man in the league.
His best game came against Yale, when he scored a career-high 11 points.
He was one of a couple Tigers who were able to practice on campus in January. He has spent most of the remaining time at home in England, where he just finished a 3x3 camp for his country, making the national team. Along with that, he also made the Under-23 team.
“Under 23 is terrific at his age to represent your country,” Henderson said.
Big man moves from Tosan Evbuomwan at the Team England 3x3 camp today #3x3 #TeamEngland #TogetherWeAreBasketbALL @Tosan_Evb pic.twitter.com/pZnBjtMtrq— Basketball England (@bballengland) June 5, 2021
Along with those two, Coach Henderson returns arguably the most underrated player in the league, Drew Friberg. Friberg ended Ivy League play ranked first in steal percentage and second in both turnover rate and offensive rating.
In the Tigers' early-season battle at Indiana, Friberg picked up a career-high four steals. In a 22-point victory over Dartmouth to end January, he had a career-high offensive rating of 209. In an overtime victory over Iona in mid-December, Friberg scored a career-high 22 points on a career-high six trees.
It is not like he is taking plenty of shots either. The kid from Happy Valley had a true shooting percentage of 60.6% in Ivy League play, good for fifth in the league. He was also fourth in the league with a 59% effective field goal percentage.
9:53 1st | Princeton 19, Penn 17@drewfriberg knocks down the three-pointer and we now lead Penn!#MakeShots pic.twitter.com/fFbDwYJgGK— Princeton Men’s Basketball (@PrincetonMBB) January 10, 2020
Another big piece in the starting lineup, Ethan Wright, is returning. Wright started all but one Ivy League matchup, also ranking in the top ten of effective field goal percentage at 54.8%.
Wright scored 21 in a February victory against Brown, where he made every shot inside of the arc. Later in the month, he picked up his first double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds at Yale.
14:48 1st | Hofstra 15, Princeton 12@Ryan_Langborg kicks it out to @ewright3862 who knocks down the three-pointer!#MakeShots pic.twitter.com/f5LeX8VorK— Princeton Men’s Basketball (@PrincetonMBB) December 20, 2019
Ryan Langborg rounds out the big returners. He started nine of 12 non-conference games and showed some bright signs early in his freshman season, scoring 13 points against Indiana. He ended the season with an offensive rating of 242 against Cornell.
Unlike many of the other teams in the league, Princeton’s roster saw little turnover. Along with that, the Tigers are only bringing in five newcomers, none of whichHenderson expects to take a huge roll heading into the start of the season.
“As much as I like the young guys, [Evebuomwan and Lllewlyn] and the rest of the guys coming back is going to be who we are,” Henderson said.
Nothing is set for the Tigers' non-conference schedule yet, but they expect to play two high-major games to begin the season. Following that, they are expected to play a couple of games in New York City, along with a few against local New Jersey and Pennsylvania mid-major schools.
But whatever the schedule looks like, it’ll feature 14 Ivy League games — something we haven’t seen in a while — and it’ll give Princeton a shot at its first NCAA Tournament since 2017.