Noah Savage (@yoitsthesav), comedian, broadcaster and color commentator for the Princeton men’s basketball team, previews the conference slate and how the Ivies stack up halfway through the first full Ivy weekend of 2014-15:
The men’s Ivy League basketball teams are already half way through their schedule and you haven’t paid any attention at all. But don’t worry. There’s still time to catch up since the preconference schedule is almost completely irrelevant in the Ivy League where the regular season champion receives a bid to the NCAA tournament. Now that we’re still just halfway through the first full Ivy weekend of the season, here’s a quick cheat sheet for each team – plus a few of my own predictions – to help you catch up:
Despite a recent loss to Dartmouth, The Crimson return almost every player from last year’s tourney team. Their backcourt has to be the best in the league with the relentless Siyani Chambers who controls the tempo and plays with a kind of controlled rage that intimidates the other team while energizing his own.
Wesley Saunders, last year’s POY, is a big guard who scores easily and plays Mardy Collins-esque old man game. Then there’s Steve Moundou-Missi, who is built like David Robinson, patrols the paint rebounding, blocks shots and then makes the rim his own personal Nerf hoop.
They will miss the best shooter in their program’s history Laurent Rivard who had in-the-gym range, but they still have more than enough talent and experience to win the league again this season and potentially win another NCAA tournament game.
Prediction: Harvard will win at least a share of the league title.
Yale has every bit as much talent as Harvard does.
Having watched Justin Sears drop 29 in the Nike Pro Summer league in NYC against bona fide adult professional men, I can say, with confidence, he is the best big and probably the best overall player, in The Ivy League. Part Jason Thompson, part Hakim Warrick, he also can extend to 17 feet with a consistent jumper. His unorthodox body maneuvering and ability to slinky himself in tight spaces leads to a ton of free throws. In fact, he went to the line 19 times last week against Brown on his way to 27 points and nine rebounds. You heard it here first: He’s an NBA player.
Javier Duren is no slouch either. The lefty is quick, big, can light it up from downtown and even get his teammates involved. His pick and pop game with Sears is nearly unstoppable and Armani Cotton has the best motor in the league. Oh, and they beat UCONN: a feat that would make alum George W. Bush proud.
Prediction: Yale will tie Harvard and the birth in the NCAA tournament will come down to a playoff.
If Princeton could play the entire Ivy League schedule at home, where they are 7-2, it’d probably feel pretty good about their chances. Games away from Jadwin, however, have been another story for the Tigers who are 0-6 away and 1-2 on neutral courts this season. Still, Princeton is a threat to the rest of the league because they force turnovers and make more threes per game and shoot them at a higher percentage than any other team in the league.
Hans Brase has embraced his role as a big player who toggles between forward and center. He remains crucial to Princeton’s offense in many ways facilitating from the high post and launches threes at will. Spencer Weisz is second in the league in three-point percentage, tenth in assists and ninth in scoring.
Prediction: There will be a three-way tie for Ivy League Champ, something that hasn’t happened since 2002.
This is the least sexy team in the league and it doesn’t care. Kyle Smith has the Lions running the 1975 version of the Princeton offense. Columbia lost first-team All-Ivy performer Alex Rosenberg to a foot injury this year, and now, the Lions must now rely heavily on Maodo Lo, who plays 33 minutes a game and leads Columbia in scoring at just under 16 per contest.
The Princeton-style offense may hurt the Lions as they could be better served running a more pick-and-roll heavy offense, letting Lo, perhaps the fastest player in the league, to orchestrate rather than pick his spots in an equal-opportunity attack. However, the Lions’ methodical play makes them a threat to beat anyone.
Prediction: Columbia will beat Harvard, Princeton or Yale but will not win the league.
Shonn Miller is a bouncy 6-7 player who leads the league in scoring and rebounding, is third in blocks and ninth in steals. He is at his best in the post or slashing but he has been trying to prove he can be a stretch four although he is shooting just 26 percent from three-point land.
Robert Hatter and Devin Cherry are each averaging in double figures as well for Cornell whose offense struggles at times, as they have the lowest field-goal percentage in the league.
Cornell is 9-9 and split two games with Columbia but has challenged itself with its preconference schedule, dropping close games to Drexel and Penn State as well as playing at Syracuse. The Big Red’s play has been inconsistent early but with one great player and plenty of good players to help him out, they could be a surprise for some teams this year if they let their guard down.
Prediction: While Cornell will likely end up fifth in the league, Shonn Miller will be named Ivy League Player of the year.
Another team that struggles on the road: Brown is 6-3 at home versus just 2-7 away this season.
The Bears will bang you down low with the rebounding and shot-blocking of Kuakumensah and Maia who each hit the glass hard and can score in the post. Plus, the Bears’ interior defense has held its own as the Bears are third in the league in blocks.
Still, Brown might not have enough guard play to hang with the rest of a very deep Ivy League this year as they average sixteen turnovers against just eleven assists per game this season. They have already dropped two to their travel partner Yale, and scoring leader Leland King left the program earlier this week. Bad news, Bears.
Prediction: Brown will have at least one big win at home against Harvard, Yale or Princeton, having a huge impact on the eventual winner.
If you gave Penn the eye test, there’s no way you would think that they could be 6-10. Darien Nelson-Henry is a legit 6-11 center who can score in the post and rebound. Tony Hicks looks like one of the best athletes in the league and is averaging 14 points per game.
The Quakers, however, have struggled to get stops this year as their scoring defense is second to last in the league, giving up 67.5 points per game. Look for this to be another struggle for the Quakers but nobody should take them lightly in the Palestra, still a very hard place to win.
Prediction: Penn will continue to struggle this season.
THEY BEAT HARVARD! However, that might be the highlight of the Big Green’s season.
Alex Mitola leads the way for Dartmouth and he’s already made 48 three pointers. Gabas Maldunas and Connor Boehm provide the inside play for the Big Green. Pre-injury, Maldunas showed as much skill and strength in the post as any big man and Boehm is a refrigerator who can post up.
The league might just be too deep and difficult for the Big Green, which should finish toward the bottom of the league. Don’t tell them that though … they still beat Harvard.
Prediction: Dartmouth will finish in last place.