Some observations about an Ivy weekend that featured an unusually intense marquee matchup, an expected tossup game that played out as such and a consequential upset:
Princeton beats Yale – still means a great deal, though not as much as before
That marquee matchup, of course, was Princeton’s 65-58 win over Yale at Jadwin Gym Saturday night. As our Toothless Tiger noted in his game recap, both teams left it all on the floor in what quickly evolved into a back-and-forth affair. Princeton took away Yale’s two greatest team strengths – offensive rebounding and three-point shooting, as the Tigers snared four more offensive boards than Yale and constructed a solid defensive front that contributed to the Elis’ 5-for-20 shooting performance from deep. Sophomore guard Myles Stephens deserves Ivy Player of the Week honors for not one but two outstanding games this weekend, most notably his clutch shooting and defensive intensity down the stretch Saturday night. Junior guard Amir Bell has enjoyed a strong conference start, making crucial shots in all of Princeton’s three league wins so far. But Yale acquitted itself well at Jadwin for such a young squad, and sophomore guard Alex Copeland stood out in particular. Playing 38 minutes, Copeland notched 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting and committed zero turnovers, picking up the slack as his fellow backcourt teammates struggled offensively. Princeton’s small-ball approach ultimately worked against the bigger Bulldogs, but Yale’s underclassmen – Copeland and freshman forward Jordan Bruner combined for 36 of the Elis’ 58 points – are the real deal and fully prepared to win the Ivy League championship.
About that Ivy championship, though – its existence meant Saturday night’s Yale-Princeton matchup wasn’t nearly as meaningful as it would have been pre-league tournament. Both teams are locks for the conference tourney, so the importance of regular-season games has been shifted downward from upper-tier to middle-tier squads. The league has billed the tourney as the league’s season-ending pinnacle with the league’s #PathToThePalestra social media hashtag. Thus the league is suggesting we should care principally about who completes that path to the Palestra. So this weekend’s Columbia-Cornell and Brown-Penn tilts were more vital from a perspective of positioning. When the Ivy League’s best teams (Princeton and Yale) are playing together in the least vital game of the weekend, that’s a problem.
Columbia managed to hold off Cornell down the stretch at Newman Arena, winning what was basically a tossup game. Luke Petrasek notched 31 points, including a three-point play that broke a 67-67 tie with 3:01 left and gave the Lions the lead for good. Ultimately keeping the Big Red at bay during crunchtime on the road was an impressive feat for the Lions, who have a five-game Ivy home stand coming up and are now the favorite to nab the No. 4 seed in the Ivy tournament because …
Red and Blue, what are you going to do?
Penn is sinking fast, now 0-3 in league play and on the outside looking in in the race for the No. 4 seed. The Red and Blue got completely stymied by Yale in the second half at the Palestra and then got upset, 82-70, by Brown at home. Surprisingly for a Steve Donahue-coached team, it’s Penn’s offense that is holding it back. Penn managed just 1.00 point per possession against Brown’s worst-in-the-league defense and couldn’t get much going offensively for long stretches against the admittedly stingy Bulldogs. Penn went 11-for-46 (23.9 percent) from three-point range over the weekend, meaning Donahue’s squad isn’t excelling from deep the way Donahue has designed this roster to. Freshman phenom A.J. Brodeur has rightfully become the focal point for every opposing defense, and Penn just doesn’t have the outside shooting touch to punish defenses for keying on him. Brodeur has struggled with cheap fouls but was still a force at both ends this weekend. Penn must use its upcoming Big 5 matchups with Saint Joseph’s and La Salle to somehow find itself on offense.
Bears breaking boffo
Kudos to Brown for rebounding after a 97-66 shellacking at Princeton with its upset victory over Penn. The Bears characteristically made hay at the foul line, making 24 of 26 free throw attempts and enjoying stat-stuffing performances from all-Ivy first-team contender Steven Spieth and 21 points in just 25 minutes from freshman guard Brandon Anderson. Now comes the two-weekend tango with travel partner Yale, starting in New Haven next week. Brown has actually fared better against Yale at Payne Whitney Gym than at the Pizzatola Sports Center, although it hasn’t beaten the Elis since 2014. If Brown can continue forcing its uptempo modus operandi on opponents and excelling at the free throw line, it can absolutely make a surprise run at the Ivy tournament courtesy of an accomplished backcourt and Spieth’s well-rounded contribution.