After an impressive showing in the tourney so far, many believe that it’s time to move on from the No. 15 seeded Princeton Tigers, marking the Creighton Bluejays as the obvious Elite Eight matchup for the winner of San Diego State-Alabama. But, maybe, people should think before they pull out a Sharpie to mark them out.
A spectacular run by the Tigers should not be condensed to an easy write off.
“They have a lot of pieces, so do we,” senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan said about his team’s chances against Creighton.
The incredible trip taken by the squad coached by Mitch Henderson was not always paved with favor. Just 12 days ago, Princeton was simply fighting for another chance to beat conference opponent Yale after the Bulldogs beat them twice before in the regular season.
The Tigers’ journey started in the semifinals of the Ivy League tournament, where Princeton’s team almost ended their run before it even started. Third-seeded Penn caused seven second-half lead changes before the Tigers were able to finish them off 77-70.
Onto the finals, Princeton forced top-seeded Yale to commit 10 turnovers on their way to a comfortable, 74-65, win to secure the auto bid to the tourney, where juggernaut Arizona was waiting.
“Three weeks ago we were fighting for our life to make the Ivy League Tournament,” Henderson said in the presser. “So, just appreciating being present here is really special.”
But the Tigers are not just ready to call it a season. They have a chance to continue their historic run if they can carry over their play from the first two rounds into this win-or-go-home situation against Ryan Kalkbrenner and the Bluejays.
On the offensive side of the ball, senior guard Ryan Langborg gives the Tigers a big scoring threat who has proven that big stages don’t bother him, scoring 22 on Missouri last week. Evbuomwan can also put up points, scoring 15 against Arizona’s star-studded frontcourt in the first round and dropping 21 on Yale in the Ivy League championship.
“Kalkbrenner is a very difficult kid in his own right, but Tosan is like Grant Hill. He faces the rim, really good in space. We won’t see a passer like him at Princeton for a really long time after this. He is really, I think, a modern-day Princeton center,” Henderson said about the uniqueness of Evbuomwan.
Their perimeter defense has headlined their miraculous run, holding teams to an atrocious 9 of 38 (23.7%) from downtown to combat their similarly poor shooting from there.
Princeton isn’t your typical Cinderella team. They are in the bottom half in 3-point percentage among the field of 68, only sinking 8 of their 29 shots from beyond the arc (27.6%) in the tourney.
Against Arizona, the Tigers went just 4 of 25 (16.8%) from distance range, instead going inside at larger defenders in Ąžuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo. In their win over Missouri, Princeton dominated the boards, out rebounding the Tigers 44-30, characterizing themselves as a team that plays inside-out against the taller, longer and more athletic defenders of the power five.
This Ivy League Cinderella squad has shown the credentials of a serious contender in the South Region through their past two games, and another game as a 10-point underdogs is not enough to count them out. The Princeton Tigers have a legitimate case to etch their name with Saint Peter’s as one of only two 15-seeds to ever make the Elite Eight.