Ivy weekend roundup: Jan. 13-14, 2017

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.

Lions roaring

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.

7 thoughts on “Ivy weekend roundup: Jan. 13-14, 2017

  1. Thank you for noting the depressing impact of the Ivy tourney on the importance of the Princeton-Yale game. We now have a situation where the best teams will be under the least pressure throughout the season, and some of them may even sit guys if they are sure of getting in, thereby affecting the chances for the teams fighting for fourth place. It is quite sad.

  2. Kevin Whitaker states that Princeton played it’s best basketball of the season in the first half against Yale. Interesting since the Tigers scored a mere 24 points. KW may be right since the Tigers yielded but 22. Defense shows up every night, even when you shoot 1-15 from 3 point territory.

  3. I think we have to wait and see what impact the Ivy Tournament is going to have on league play. Maybe I’m just being nostalgic, but I’m already missing the uniqueness of the “14 Game Tournament.” We’re still the only conference that plays back-to-backs on weekends (in recognition of actual student athletes). But how long will that last?

  4. I’ve never supported an Ivy tournament but to make winning the #14GameTournament more meaningful, they should play the thing on the home court of the league winner like some other conferences do. I’m rooting against Penn even more than usual this year–I’d hate to see them pull off the #4 spot and gain home court advantage. #JughandleToJadwin

  5. I’m personally a fan of the conference tournament – as a fan of a Brown team that has failed to really challenge for a title the past few years, it allows me to justify watching the Bears play every weekend in February to friends and family. Maybe my bias is showing, but I noticed something interesting at the end of “the least vital game of the weekend.” With just over a minute to go in regulation, Spencer Weisz sends his defender flying by with a well-executed pump fake before draining a clutch three. As he runs back down the court, he yells and pumps his fist a couple times for good measure before setting up the defense. Weisz has made bigger shots in his career and will probably make a more memorable play this season. But you wouldn’t have known based on that series of events. Or maybe you would have, I don’t watch Weisz on a regular basis, so I couldn’t say.

    Is the tournament a good thing? To echo Jim, only time will tell. But what is evident, at least to this point and granted the season is young, is that the passion of the players and the quality of play still seems to be there. Again, maybe I’m being idealistic here, but I’d like to think that’s what counts.

  6. The logic to holding the inaugural tournament at The Palestra is that it’s the largest Ivy facility and is an historical icon. But long term, holding the tournament at one team’s home is a problem. If a #4 seed Penn were to spring an upset tournament win in March, there will be tremendous pressure not to hold next year’s event there.

    I hope that this season, the fans of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and Penn have the time of their lives cheering on their teams in the last few games of the regular season, fighting for a place in the tournament. Their fun and excitement over the last two weekends was the rationale to hold the tournament. It had better be worth it because it comes at the cost of devaluing everything else in the regular season.

    The top teams will still want to be named champion during the regular season. Thank goodness we kept that. But the holy grail has always been the ticket to the NCAA tournament. Nobody has any delusions about that.

  7. The best players for Columbia last year in the CIT final against Cal Irvine were Mullins, Petrasek and Coby, not Rosenberg and Lo. That excellent performance of these three players is now showing up for these three players at a critical juncture in league games. Unfortunately, for Columbia fans, Mullins performance is showing up in the wrong league. Nevertheless, I think Columbia’s experience in knowing how to win will carry through the Ivy league regular season and put them in the thick of the race for the top three spots. None of the other schools had more than 2 do or die games.Columbia had four and won all of them, although obviously against lower ranked teams.

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