1. Yale (2-1)
Who outside of New Haven expected Yale to have this kind of start when then-Ivy Player of the Year candidate Makai Mason was declared out for this season with a foot injury?
And who expected Yale to gel so quickly after Ivy Rookie of the Year candidate Jordan Bruner reportedly suffered an ACL sprain earlier this month?
Yet in spite of missing their anticipated top two offensive producers this season, the Bulldogs have established themselves as the hottest team in the Ivy League once again. They reeled off 98 points 3,000 miles from New Haven in a shocking eight-point victory over Washington, shook off an 91.2 percent chance of defeat with 2:41 remaining (per KenPom) to notch an overtime win against Lehigh and stuck within at least two possessions for the first 25 minutes of their game at No. 7 Virginia (which eventually stymied the Elis, 62-38).
So how did Yale get here? By reloading. After graduating two-time Ivy Player of the Year Justin Sears and 2015-16 All-Ivy first-teamer Brandon Sherrod in addition to losing Mason and Bruner, Yale simply turned to freshman guard Miye Oni, who notched 24 points (including four three-pointers), six rebounds and three assists versus just one turnover at Washington. Sophomore guard Alex Copeland, expected to play a backup role behind Mason before the latter’s injury, stepped up to provide 20 points, six turnovers and zero turnovers against Lehigh, posting an offensive rating of 155 (making him KenPom’s game MVP) and turning in a game-tying layup with 26.6 seconds left in regulation. And senior guard Anthony Dallier has become an effective conduit for Yale’s offense now that his minutes have been increased, registering 13 assists combined against Washington and Lehigh versus just two turnovers.
Notice that turnovers, or lack thereof, keep coming up. Through three games, Yale enjoys the 30th-best turnover percentage out of 351 Division I teams despite consisting of such a comparatively inexperienced roster (225th in the nation in experience per KenPom). That’s a testament to coach James Jones and the senior leadership on this squad. Senior forward Sam Downey has excelled as an offensive focal point, going 17-for-32 from the floor in games one and two. (Nobody excelled offensively at Virginia – few teams do – although Blake Reynolds got into double figures on the heels of his crucial five points in the waning minutes of regulation versus the Mountain Hawks.)
The Bulldogs aren’t deep and don’t like to push tempo very much. Like the last couple of seasons. But they’ve got a dynamic backcourt and are above average at collecting offensive rebounds. Like the last couple of seasons.
And once Bruner returns, they could easily wind up cohering further into a roster that is capable of winning an Ivy championship. Like the last couple of seasons.
2. Princeton (0-2)
Yale’s got it together in spite of an unproven roster. Princeton doesn’t have it together in spite of a proven one.
The Tigers lost at Lehigh just three days after the Mountain Hawks fell to Yale, and they’re not sure why, particularly when factoring in a season-opening loss at BYU in which Princeton sometimes looked discombobulated and even desperate on offense.
“You can’t go on the road and beat a team like Lehigh playing the way we played,” said coach Mitch Henderson after the Lehigh loss, per the Trentonian. “Our practices, frankly, haven’t been very good and with a senior group we got to figure that out.”
“I thought we just weren’t ready to play today with the way that we came out,” Steven Cook added. “That’s got to change, especially from an experienced group and we’ve got to change that quickly.”
Sometimes, it just happens like that. Lehigh shot 10-for-16 from beyond the arc against Princeton, and even though the Tigers could have perhaps closed out better defensively, if shots fall, they fall.
But there’s more to it than that, and that’s why the Tigers are looking for the reset button. Senior forward Hans Brase hasn’t been particularly effective offensively since coming back from the torn ACL that kept him from playing last season, scoring 18 points on 6-for-16 shooting combined in games one and two.
Sophomore spark plug Devin Cannady scored just five points in 28 minutes at Lehigh, and junior guard Amir Bell hasn’t been able to get going, limited to nine points so far this season.
Princeton’s offensive rebounding has even more underwhelming than last season, and its effective field-goal percentage has plummeted from last season, reflecting a team that has admitted it’s trying to sort itself out. It’s still early days, but Princeton’s vaunted offense needs to live up to its billing. The team is 16-for-53 from long range so far, and the Tigers seemed rejuvenated on the offensive end when they started driving to the hoop in the second half at BYU. Here’s hoping – and expecting – this senior-laden team will adjust successfully under Henderson’s auspices.
3. Harvard (1-1)
Any time you open your season in Shanghai with Bill Walton calling the game, that’s a win. Harvard may have lost an opportunity to upend a high major in a foreign land by losing 80-70 to Stanford on Nov. 11, but it had to be a generally encouraging outing for Crimson fans.
Freshman guard Bryce Aiken established himself as a long-range threat with 21 points, including three three-pointers, and senior guard Siyani Chambers returned from the torn ACL that forced him to withdraw from school last season with a 12-point performance, although he was in street clothes for Harvard’s 78-51 win over Fisher on Thursday. The only real disappointment in Shanghai was that senior center Zena Edosomwan couldn’t showcase his game, posting just three points and four fouls in 12 minutes.
But the Crimson showed flashes of brilliance and potential to settle into quite an offensive unit, especially when considering freshman Henry Welsh’s 11-point debut in the frontcourt.
Harvard’s trip to UMass to take on the Minutemen Saturday should be very telling. KenPom gives the Minutemen a (probably too high) 62 percent shot at winning, but it’s a prime opportunity for the young Crimson to get that much more seasoned in a regional rivalry matchup.
4. Penn (1-1)
The Quakers’ defense wasn’t supposed to be their calling card in year two under coach Steve Donahue, but that’s been the case in Penn’s first two games of the season. Penn held Robert Morris to 50 points on 17-for-58 shooting and held Miami to 28 points in the first half before the Hurricanes got hot in the second half. Penn’s done a good job so far of defending the three-point line and notching steals. (Senior forward Matt Howard and sophomore guard Jackson Donahue each have four steals through two games.)
And Penn has benefited greatly from the emergence of freshman center A.J. Brodeur, who is averaging 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest in his first two collegiate games, providing instant offense in the paint whenever he gets the ball. Transfer Caleb Wood nailed three treys in four long-range attempts at Miami, delivering on the preseason expectation that he, along with fellow transfer Matt MacDonald, would make this team more capable of sharpshooting at will, a shortcoming last season. But Wood also had six turnovers at Miami, hinting toward a team-wide problem so far. Penn ranks 18th-worst in the nation in turnovers so far per KenPom in addition to 15th-worst in free throw percentage, two areas that will cost the Red and Blue in close contests if they continue to be negatives.
5. Columbia (1-1)
The Lions notched a nice 73-66 road win at Stony Brook before falling 85-65 to Saint Joseph’s, a game in which freshman forward Jake Killingsworth established himself as a Lion to watch with 17 points in just 20 minutes. Indeed, Killingsworth’s offensive usage rate is surpassed on Columbia’s roster only by senior forward Luke Petrasek, who struggled against the Hawks but led the Lions to their victory over the Seawolves with 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting.
Much was made about how the Lions’ tempo would change from old coach Kyle Smith to new coach Jim Engles. Last year, Columbia ranked 272nd in average possession length. This year through two games … still 272nd.
Junior guard Nate Hickman has come into his own so far with 27 points on the year, including a 4-for-7 performance from deep at Hagan Arena. He’ll tip the balance in Columbia’s favor in a few Ivy games this year for sure.
6. Cornell (1-3)
Cornell finally got on the board with a win at Lafayette following losses at Binghamton and Siena and at home to Colgate. Much like Columbia, Cornell’s been bad at collecting turnovers, and offensive rebounding remains an issue. It was sophomore forward Donovan Wright who exploded for 26 points in 28 minutes at Lafayette to hand Brian Earl his first win as Cornell coach in Wright’s hometown of Easton.
Usage rates for Matt Morgan and especially Robert Hatter are down so far, as expected. Cornell’s offense has benefited from getting names like Wright and Stone Gettings more involved.
7. Brown (1-4)
Brown’s loss to Marist at Mohegan Sun Arena was disappointing, but less disappointing has been senior forward Steven Spieth, who is on pace for first-team All-Ivy status after scoring at least 21 points in each of Brown’s past four games, including a 19-for-22 performance from the foul line en route to 22 points in Brown’s win over Niagara.
The Bears are favored by KenPom to win nine of their next 10 games through the rest of calendar year 2016 in a very favorable schedule, so they’ll need to follow through on doing pretty much just that to build maximum confidence heading into the Ivy slate.
8. Dartmouth (0-2)
Dartmouth needs to defeat Marist and Longwood in its next two games to prove it’s got any sort of solid base to build on in year one under David McLaughlin. The Big Green’s offense is turnover-prone and lacks any outside shooting presence. It’s actually junior guard Taylor Johnson, not sophomore forward and defending Ivy Rookie of the Year Evan Boudreaux, who leads the team in usage, and Johnson has been inefficient and turnover-prone himself thus far.