1. Yale (13-5, 4-0 Ivy)
The Elis have been getting everything they want lately. Brandon Sherrod’s perfect streak from the floor has been well-documented, but what makes Yale so dangerous is that the production can come from anywhere. Nick Victor, the quiet glue of the team, is capable of providing critical points as he has against Princeton and Brown so far in league play, and Sam Downey ranks fifth in the nation in individual offensive rating. To beat Yale, you have to spread the Bulldogs out defensively and hope they’re not too hot on the other end of the floor. Columbia can do that, and Princeton did do that, but Yale just wasn’t cool enough to lose to the Tigers. Like last season, Yale’s biggest games down the stretch will come on the road, with six of its last eight games away from New Haven, including a season-ending showdown at Levien on Mar. 5. The time to build a cushion is now.
2. Columbia (15-6, 4-0)
Guess who ranks first in the Ivy League in scoring defense in conference play? The Lions have as good a shot as anybody to win their first league title since 1968 because they’ve getting it done defensively, as I observed in more depth in our Ivy Saturday roundup. Columbia shook the Crimson monkey off its back while scoring just 0.92 points per possession, and its sweep of Cornell suddenly looks a lot more impressive. The win over Harvard was no defensive fluke, either, as the Light Blue rank first in conference-only overall defense and second in defensive turnover and steal percentage. Guys like Maodo Lo, Grant Mullins, Chris McComber, Jeff Coby and John Sica can play really disruptive defense and need to keep doing so down the stretch to complement the high offensive ceiling that this team will always have with this season’s personnel.
Best of all, Columbia’s schedule is highly favorable (more so than Yale’s), with six of the Lions’ final eight games coming at home, including that season finale hosting the Elis in what could be the de facto Ivy title game.
3. Princeton (12-5, 2-1)
Mitch Henderson is very good at getting the matchups he wants, which he did at Yale by drawing the Bulldogs into a small-ball contest that the Elis won only because they shot with more consistency. (Junior guard Anthony Dallier played just one less minute than Sherrod.) The Tigers’ depth and accuracy makes their upcoming home matchups with Harvard and Dartmouth very favorable. Princeton also has to be pleased with freshman Devin Cannady, whose 11 points in the second half allowed the Tigers to catch some fire and outscore Yale in that stanza, 43-41. On the other hand, so much of Princeton’s balanced offense relies on ball control, and it’s no accident that the Tigers came into the weekend with the top two players in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, Spencer Weisz and Amir Bell. But Bell committed eight turnovers at Yale, and Weisz had three. If the Tiger backcourt can achieve greater ball discipline against Yale at Jadwin later this month, Princeton stands a solid chance of winning.
4. Cornell (9-9, 2-2)
Live fast, fly young. It’s Cornell’s motto, and it’s why, as of right now, Cornell is an upper-tier Ivy team. (Not bad for a squad picked to finish a decisive last in the conference preseason.) Cornell is winning by riding Matt Morgan and pushing tempo. The Big Red rank 17th in the country in average possession length and 10th in adjusted tempo. By playing fast, Cornell is able to reduce the importance of rebounding and halfcourt interior defense. Finally, with Morgan and Robert Hatter (who should be back from injury this weekend), Bill Courtney’s got the backcourt to match his frenetic style of play. For more on Cornell, check out Rob Browne’s fantastic in-depth piece assessing the Big Red’s road sweep.
5. Dartmouth (7-11, 1-3)
STOP FOULING. The Big Green have committed a staggering 76 fouls in their last three games, including 20 fouls in the second half alone in their loss to Cornell, the main reason they lost that game. Also, Dartmouth ranks last among all Ivies in conference-play field-goal percentage. The Big Green need more efficient play out of their backcourt and have to practice better positioning defensively, especially when the zebras are calling so much.
6. Harvard (9-11, 1-3)
The Crimson really need to figure out how to counter pressure defense. It got ‘em three games in a row, and the blueprint is out there now. After years and years of winning seemingly all the close contests, Harvard is now built to lose games that go down to the wire. Worst in the country in free-throw percentage. Tenth-worst in turnover percentage. Eighteenth-worst in steal percentage. Here’s a telling paragraph from David Tannenwald’s piece on the Crimson for Harvard Magazine:
“Early in the season, (Corey) Johnson had torched opponents with three-pointers, including six against Boston University—but in the contests against Dartmouth, he scored just seven points total. Harvard coaches, recognizing that rival teams had become more familiar with his long-range marksmanship and were now guarding him more closely, told him to read the defense, be aggressive, and drive toward the basket to create opportunities off the dribble. This past weekend, Johnson did that repeatedly and tallied 22 points combined in the two games.”
The same could be said for too many Harvard players: The Crimson torched opponents with threes early this season before getting smothered by defenses who caught on. Now Harvard as a team needs to fashion a new attack geared toward dribble-driving and a more post-mobile Zena Edosomwan. Whether the Crimson can pull it off will determine whether they can finish above .500 in league play.
7. Brown (6-12, 1-3)
There’s not a great deal Brown does particularly well. The Bears don’t rebound, they don’t force turnovers, they don’t have a deep bench they can rely on and they’re too dependent on three-point shooting. This was always going to be something of a transitional year after Leland King left, but with Cedric Kuakumensah on his final tour of action, Brown has many holes to fill.
8. Penn (6-11, 0-3)
Through just three games, the Quakers interestingly rank second in the league in conference-only offense. Too bad they also rank last in conference-only defense. The Quakers rank sixth-to-last in the nation in free throw percentage and just 322nd in three-point percentage. They don’t have enough players who are experienced enough to create their own offense off the dribble, and now that Darien Nelson-Henry is plagued with a sprained ankle, there’s even more pressure on a green backcourt to produce. That being said, Penn’s performed much better at the Palestra than on the road this season, and to leave Penn fans a hopeful taste in their mouths, the Red and Blue will have to keep up that elevated play at home down the stretch.