IHO sizes up the Ivy League’s power rankings, along with some other 2015-16 nonconference highlights, now that the start of league play is just three days away.
- Yale (8-5): Offensive rebounding is Yale’s M.O. The Elis rank fifth in the country in offensive rebound percentage, which allows them to brutalize lesser opponents suffocated by Yale’s stout defense. Yale should be considered the favorite to win the league at this point because it enjoys the reigning Ivy Player of the Year (Justin Sears), the league’s best defense, the league’s most experienced frontcourt and Makai Mason, one of the league’s best ball distributors and fearless shooters. When Yale loses at least a couple of games in league play, it’ll be because of lack of backcourt depth and/or Sears foul trouble.
- Princeton (9-4): Not your father’s Tigers. This Princeton squad attacks the rim with more than just backdoor cuts, winning with athleticism and superior shot selection. Princeton ranks second in the nation in offensive rebound percentage on defense, meaning the Tigers don’t give up comparatively many offensive rebounds. They also don’t beat themselves, committing only 18 turnovers combined in losses to No. 3 Maryland and No. 12 Miami. Junior forward Henry Caruso is making a serious case for Ivy Player of the Year averaging 17.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 59.1 percent shooting from the field. Princeton has arguably never been more fun to watch.
- Harvard (6-8): Harvard put quite a scare into No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Oklahoma … so how did it lose to Vermont Sunday? The Catamounts double-teamed and trapped Zena Edosomwan into irrelevance, but more undersized Ivies won’t be able to match Vermont’s defensive physicality. They might not have to if Tommy McCarthy and Patrick Steeves remain sidelined. Tom Layman of the Boston Herald reported McCarthy (hyperextended right knee) and Steeves (leg) are both day-to-day, and their health is crucial. McCarthy extends defenses with his three-point shooting, and Steeves makes his mark by attacking off the dribble. Edosomwan benefits when defenses have to worry about perimeter players driving to the rim, and he won’t be benefiting much with those two out. In other business, Harvard’s defense is firing on all cylinders. Harvard ranks 30th in the country in defensive effective field goal percentage, 14th in defensive three-point field goal percentage and 43rd in defensive adjusted efficiency. Defense travels, especially in Ivy back-to-backs, and it’s why Harvard is in the conference title mix yet again, even in a “down year.”
- Columbia (10-6): The Lions led at Stony Brook Saturday, 42-25, 2:19 into the second half, before losing, 69-60, thanks to a 26-3 second-half spurt by the Seawolves. Of course, the Lions also collapsed after holding a 16-point lead visiting the Seawolves last season … but it’s not just a Stony Brook thing. Columbia’s second-half defense is atrocious. It gave up 26 points to Longwood in the final 10 minutes in a 70-69 loss to the Lancers (more on that later), 28 points in the final 10 minutes in an 80-78 loss to Saint Joseph’s and 23 points in the final 10 minutes in a 72-71 win over Manhattan. Why the Lions keep collapsing on defense late in games is unclear, but we know the defensive personnel simply isn’t there for coach Kyle Smith outside of Maodo Lo’s on-the-ball solidity and pocket-pilfering. He tried 7-foot-1 Conor Voss. He’s tried Alex Rosenberg with Luke Petrasek, Lukas Meisner with Luke Petrasek, and Jeff Coby with both Lukas and Luke. But Rosenberg is a liability at that end of the floor, and Petrasek is better on offense as well (more on that later too). Maybe Meisner will help, but Columbia’s offensive bona fides aren’t even worth mentioning if the defense doesn’t turn around.
- Dartmouth (4-8): I like Dartmouth. The Big Green defense is characteristically solid, hanging its hat on steals. Paul Cormier’s squad ranks first in the league in turnover margin, and Ivy Rookie of the Year candidate Evan Boudreaux is only going to get better as the season progresses, already averaging 14.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest. He also ranks 42nd in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, so watch how often Boudreaux gets to the line come Ivy play. The Big Green’s methodical approach should serve them well against bottom-tier Ivies.
- Penn (6-7): In his first year as a head coach in Philly, Steve Donahue has emphasized three-point shooting if no layups are available. It helps if you can actually shoot threes. So far, only sophomore forward Sam Jones can, and Penn ranks last among all Ivies in three-point shooting despite ranking fourth in the conference in treys attempted. Penn went cold during a seven-game stretch in which it went 1-6 before blowing out Binghamton, scoring under 60 points four times and beating Division III Ursinus, Donahue’s alma mater, by just seven. The Quakers’ defense has actually outshined their offense recently, a surprising development given Donahue’s offensive pedigree. But Penn just doesn’t have the firepower on that side of the ball yet. In time, Penn will can threes and have an offensive adjusted efficiency higher than 262nd. Maybe not this year, though.
- Cornell (7-7): The Big Red work largely in isolation on offense and are horrible at both getting and allowing offensive rebounds. So Cornell suffers a lot of one-and-done possessions on one end of the floor while surrendering second-chance points at the other. Cornell junior guard Robert Hatter is easily leading the Ivy League in scoring at 19.3 points per game, but he also ranks fifth in the nation in percentage of possessions used and ninth in percentage of shots taken. He is the offense, along with Ivy Rookie of the Year candidate Matt Morgan, who should figure in a conference upset or two come league play. Cornell remains a lower-tier team, though, because of its undersized, underperforming frontcourt, and its perennial defensive shortcomings.
- Brown (4-9): Since losing Justin Massey back to Florida Atlantic in mid-December, Brown has suffered bad losses to Marist and Maine, thanks in large part due to a low-efficiency offense that always seems to be in too much of a hurry. Brown’s defense is the worst in the conference, and the Bears rank second-to-last in rebounding margin. Outside of two-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Cedric Kuakumensah, this is a team that gets outmuscled a lot, and unfortunately, Tavon Blackmon can’t run the entire offense himself, even if he does lead the league in assists. Brown’s conference-opening home-and-home with Yale will tell all.
All-Ivy First Team: Yale senior forward Justin Sears, Princeton junior forward Henry Caruso, Harvard junior center Zena Edosomwan, Cornell junior guard Robert Hatter, Columbia senior guard Maodo Lo
All-Ivy Second Team: Yale sophomore guard Makai Mason, Columbia junior forward Luke Petrasek, Brown senior center Cedric Kuakumensah, Dartmouth sophomore guard Miles Wright, Penn senior center Darien Nelson-Henry
Player of the Year: Senior forward Justin Sears, Yale – Sears is still Sears, ranking third in the league in scoring, ninth in rebounding, seventh in field goal percentage, third in blocks and seventh in minutes played. He also ranks first in the league in offensive rebounding on the team that ranks first in the league in the same category. He’s consistently dialed in and ready to defend his Ivy Player of the Year award.
Rookie of the Year: Forward Evan Boudreaux, Dartmouth – Boudreaux has recorded three double-doubles in his first 11 collegiate games, leading the Big Green in scoring, rebounding, blocking and minutes. The Big Green looked like his team from his very first game, a 25-point coming-out party at Seton Hall. Cornell guard Matt Morgan could easily steal this category by season’s end, though.
Best performance in a game: Dartmouth sophomore guard Miles Wright lit up LIU Brooklyn for 39 points, three steals, one block and just two turnovers in a 79-56 win on Nov. 29, after scoring nine points in the first two games of the season combined.
Best win: Harvard 85, BYU 82 (OT) – Anchored by Zena Edosomwan’s 23-point, 17-rebound, two-block performance, the Crimson won the day in Honolulu in the Diamond Head Classic quarterfinal.
Worst loss: Longwood 70, Columbia 69 – Columbia led until 2:55 remained in the game, when KenPom No. 325 Longwood inexplicably took over. For more, read IHO’s instant game recap and in-depth examination of Columbia’s defense after the loss.