A closer look at the strength of the Ivy League this season

Maybe I and others overrated the Ivy a tad bit before this season started. I actually said that it might be a two-bid league come NCAA Tournament time. Now it appears that there will be an automatic NCAA bid and perhaps no NIT bid.

The Ivy League is currently ranked 17th among 32 Division I conferences according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, the lowest the Ivy has been ranked since the 2011-12 season, when it was also ranked 17th. The Ivy hasn’t been ranked lower than that since 2009-10, when it was slotted 22nd by KenPom.   (The rankings are based on the average adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies of teams within each conference.)

Why is the Ivy’s arrow pointed slightly down at the moment?
Yale, the best team in the league so far, had a close loss at powerful No. 18 SMU and trailed No. 7 Duke by only two at the half, but the Elis also fell mightily at KenPom No. 92 Albany. Yale’s RPI leads the league but it sits at 138. Last year, they were in double digits.

Columbia lost in overtime to a very good Northwestern team but has a plethora of awful losses, such as KenPom No. 210 Fairfield.

Penn’s signature win was vs. La Salle, but even the Explorers are 4-4, with the 15th-weakest schedule in the nation according to KenPom.

Harvard played Kansas close in Lawrence but has lost to Holy Cross and a weak BC team, two sub-200 squads.

Cornell surprised Siena at home but has little else to show for the wear and tear.

Princeton had a chance to redeem the league Saturday, playing Maryland in Baltimore, but the Tigers lost by 21 after taking an early lead on the No. 6 Terps.

Ivy upset opportunities in the nonconference schedule are running out. Harvard plays a top-70 BYU squad in Hawaii Tuesday, Cornell faces off with casino online KenPom No. 54 Monmouth, Penn has Big 5 showdowns with Villanova and Saint Joseph’s, and Princeton travels to KenPom No. 11 Miami on Dec. 29.

What explains the nonconference struggles up to this point, though? One perennial disadvantage for Ivy teams is that they have to go on the road to play tougher opponents. Getting two-for-ones or competition in a neutral setting is infrequent, especially against the likes of Kansas, Maryland and Duke. Give the Ivies credit for playing those teams.

It now appears that last year”s Yale and Harvard teams were superior to any Ivy group this year. Last season, Harvard beat decent UMass, Northeastern and Houston teams and Yale had two veteran pieces in Armani Cotton and especially Javier Duren, who came up big in quality wins over Kent State, Vermont and then-defending national champion UConn.

Only time will tell if the 2015-16 postseason can vindicate the Ivies and keep up the momentum the league has built in terms of relative conference strength in recent seasons.

8 thoughts on “A closer look at the strength of the Ivy League this season

  1. Columbia lost by only 2 to a relatively high rated St. Joseph and still has a Jan. 2 game against a rising Stony Brook team. It can still prove itself and is now on a four game winning streak which includes a win against NJIT who was rated ,I believe in the 120’s. I disagree that they have a plethora of awful losses.The Fairfield loss was not that bad and the only other bad loss was to Longwood, which admittedly counts as a bad loss. There is parity among the top three, or if you include unlucky Harvard, four teams in the league. The flip side of that parity is that anyone of those teams is capable of running the table in the league- because none of their opponents will be unbeatable- like Cornell was at the peak of their run.

  2. Straw man argument, Mr. Kent. The Ivy League needs no “vindication.” The League’s kenpom ranking does not appear on the championship banner. What matters most is what happens in the 14 Game Tournament that will play out from January to March. And/or the 2 game tourney after this year!! The slide to 17 is unfortunate, I acknowledge. It is difficult to measure the impact of the loss of players by reasons other than graduation. Shonn Miller, Denton Koon, and Alex Mitola will be key performers this season: for UConn, Hofstra and GWU. Chambers and Brase went down before the season. All 5 of these players might have been among the top 10 in the League. Perfect storm, it seems to me. I am with DANIEL on this one: parity is a huge plus, especially for fan sites such as IHO….

  3. I would put Yale third behind Columbia and Princeton. No depth and some mediocre outings. C and P are much, much deeper. Columbia has underachieved and has a hire ceiling if starts playing on all cylinders.

  4. The five missing players TT mentioned would make a decent starting lineup if you didn’t mind having two short guards. Brase and Miller could go hi-lo while vacuuming up the boards, with Koon slashing and shooting threes. That would be a tough front line on both ends of the floor. Play Mitola at the point, let Chambers play off the ball some but still penetrate and deal at the end of the shot clock.

  5. Richard, Good article. Penn is also taking a big hit because Tony Hicks (Penn’s wild card whose unique scoring ability could keep it in the game against top 150 teams) decided to not play during his senior year. Instead, he will continue working toward his Penn degree, and then presumably play next year as a graduate student for a big-time D-1 team. The real story here is the NCAA ‘s creation of a perverse rule that calls out some of the Ivy’s best players (who are not allowed to play as grad students in the Ivy League) to jump ship for greener (pun intended) pastures at the expense of their teammates, their schools, and the alumni who were counting on them. The fault lies not with with seduced 20 year olds so much it does with the NCAA. EMK

  6. Cornell’s win over Siena is looking better and better right now– Saints just beat St Bona and have a win over America East favorite Albany. They’ll have another chance to get another quality win when Monmouth (KenPom 54 and wins over Notre Dame, USC, UCLA, Georgetown and Rutgers) comes to Ithaca tomorrow night. Big Red have been great at home, and if Robert Hatter has another 30 point game I’d pick CU in a heartbeat.

    Ivy League is weak this year, but Harvard just got a quality win over BYU and will have an opportunity for another one when they face Auburn tomorrow. Columbia is incredibly dangerous on any given night with all their shooters. Princeton is doing Princeton things. Penn can’t be overlooked now that they have Donahue’s offensive system which gives them a chance to win on any given night. Yale still has Justin Sears and played USC close out on the west coast last weekend. As for Cornell, they shoot so many threes, and that along with the constant threat of another Robert Hatter Explosion will keep them in just about every game. I don’t think anyone wants to face them and their trap defense on the second night of an Ivy back-to-back.

    So while the league might be weak, this is probably the most closely contested it’s been since 2002. It definitely won’t be a two horse race this year. Try a 5 or 6 horse race. Also, lots of young teams this year. Cornell is the youngest team in Division 1 (tied with UTEP) and Harvard is not close behind. No Chambers, Mitola, Koon, Maia, or Shonn Miller this year. And let’s not forget Leland King.

    The league might not be at its strongest ever, but it’s going to be fun. A lot of close games and typical Ivy League Saturday night chaos. Let’s enjoy the closest and most fun 14 Game Tournament in years, and then next year the league will get stronger again. Harvard brings in their ridiculous recruiting class and we might get to see a conference tournament.

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