Team preview: Princeton

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Carnegie Mellon is home to one of the 10 best undergraduate business programs in America, according to rankings by U.S. News and World Report. Its engineering curriculum rates among the nation's elite, and Newsweek dubbed the Pittsburgh school a "new Ivy" in terms of academic rigor.

What Carnegie Mellon does not have is a Division I basketball team. The Tartans are Division III, a concept that mattered not a whit when CMU sauntered into Jadwin Gym and sank an "old Ivy" to a new nadir.

By succumbing to CMU, 51-46, last Dec. 28, the Princeton Tigers, Ivy League champions just two years previous, had lost to a D-III opponent for the first time in 28 attempts. If there is a better adjective than "humiliating" for such a defeat, you can bet someone at Princeton -- the nation's top university according to the same U.S. News rankings -- conjured one up.

"It couldn't be any worse," head coach Joe Scott told the Daily Princetonian afterward. "I'm a realist. We have a real good understanding of what's going on."

The writing was on the wall for Carnegie Mellon's hostile takeover weeks in advance. The Tigers matched an unseemly NCAA Division I record for fewest points in the shot-clock era when they lost at home to Monmouth, 41-21, on Dec. 14. Scott's squad put up only 34 points in a loss to Stanford a week later.

The vaunted "Princeton offense" of yore seemed merely offensive.

As the Ivy League schedule unfolded, no one came to Jadwin to praise Princeton. Amazingly, though, no one could bury the Tigers, either. Sparked by senior guard Scott Greenman's return from a faulty back and the insertion of a never-used 6-4 sophomore at center, they clawed back to respectability, going 10-4 in the Ivy and handing eventual champ Penn a 60-59 overtime defeat in the regular-season finale for both clubs.

"Early on we were still trying to see, is this guy going to help us, what can this guy do, what can that guy do," Scott said. "We had no senior leadership and we were still in the process of getting better at what we do, establishing what we do and finding out who in our program can do those things."

When Scott finally discovered the right mix -- and rolled out a healthy Greenman -- the Tigers were 180 degrees removed from Carnegie Mellon. They shared the ball better, cut to the basket harder and defended more voraciously on the perimeter.

Princeton's shooting never fully redeemed itself -- the Tigers' 41.3 percent field-goal percentage was 279th among 326 D-I teams -- but at least they had dragged the opposition down to their level. Princeton's foes averaged just 55.6 points, the second-lowest rate in the country.

"What was more important to me was we started to play the way we wanted to play," Scott said. "We started to get better at the things we want to be staples of our program."