1. Harvard (3-4)
The Crimson did something on Friday that Princeton couldn’t do last Saturday: beat St. Joseph’s. Sans Seth Towns and Corey Johnson due to food poisoning, Harvard raced out to a 23-9 lead in the first 10 minutes and got a boost from sophomore guard Bryce Aiken’s 8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is impressive considering he had 13 turnovers in the first three games of the season (seven at Holy Cross). Sophomore frontcourt stalwart Robert Baker notched 14 points, 11 boards and three blocks against the Hawks in the Wooden Legacy Tournament. Harvard may have gotten blown out early versus St. Mary’s in the same tourney on Thursday, but Harvard’s 4-for-21 (19 percent) three-point shooting performance seems like an aberration.
Sunday night brought a 70-61 win for Cal State Fullerton over Harvard, a game in which the Titans attempted nearly three times as many free throws (30) as the Crimson (11). The Crimson’s interior defense got gouged at Titan Gym.
The Crimson’s defense is noticeably less effective than last season so far, but it’s still forcing teams away from the three-point line and limiting offensive boards, cornerstones that will serve well come Ivy play. Baker ranks ninth in the country in defensive rebounding percentage and Justin Bassey is still Justin Bassey.
Harvard will be fine, at least from an Ivy standpoint.
2. Princeton (2-3)
The Tigers built a 49-22 lead in the first half at Fairleigh Dickinson and hung on for an 83-76 victory made possible by a 9-for-16 (56.2 percent) performance from beyond the arc that made up for Princeton’s 17 turnovers. Myles Stephens went 9-for-10 from two-point range at FDU and Devin Cannady went 6-for-6 from three-point range, a good combination. Cannady is a scorching hot 16-for-23 (69.6 percent) from deep in Princeton’s last three games, and he’s really emerged as an every-game primary scoring threat, eliminating any preseason doubt there might have been about whether he could do so.
Princeton’s production beyond its big three (Cannady, Stephens and Amir Bell) remains a bit of a mystery, but Sebastian Much’s 19 points the past two games (including 8-for-11 shooting in that stretch) are promising. Coach Mitch Henderson elected to start sophomore Richmond Aririguzoh in the frontcourt instead of senior Alec Brennan, and Aririguzoh notched eight points and two assists. Freshman Jerome Desrosiers’s minutes have gone down ever since he did little in 13 minutes in Princeton’s season-opening loss at Butler as well. It’s clear that Henderson hasn’t settled on a starting five yet. What bodes well for the Tigers are their offensive three-point percentage (38th in the country), defensive three-point percentage (90th) and measure of three-pointers attempted among all field goals (28th). Princeton wins the three-point line, even beyond just Cannady. Much, junior Mike LeBlanc and Bell are a combined 13-for-37 (35.1 percent) from beyond the arc. Of course, Princeton got off 58 three-pointers against Harvard’s trey-averse defense but made just 17 in two wins, so the three-point line isn’t everything.
3. Yale (3-4)
Yale’s bench is deeper than usual under James Jones, as the Elis went with a nine-man rotation in a 79-73 home loss to Vermont, including frosh Azar Swain and Wyatt Yess. Swain even ranks 12th nationally in turnover rate. But although Miye Oni remains his stat-stuffing self (pitching in 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists and two steals against the Catamounts), Yale has shot up from 216th in the nation in 3PA/FGA last season to 10th this season, indicating a greater reliance on deep shooting despite having a roster not teeming with outside shooters.
4. Penn (5-3)
No Ivy has as many wins as Penn so far, and the Red and Blue are coming off a 101-96 quadruple overtime victory at Monmouth, outlasting both the Hawks and the ESPN3 broadcast of the nearly four-hour game. Penn got that historic win (its only other quadruple overtime game was a win over Princeton in 1920) pretty much without AJ Brodeur, who got into foul trouble and scored just four points in 19 minutes. Freshman forward Eddie Scott, on the other hand, played 36 minutes and notched 21 points and 13 rebounds, turning in multiple show-stopping, post-regulation dunks that provide a tantalizing taste of the future for the rookie.
In a game in which Penn and Monmouth combined to shoot 101 free throws, Penn actually won the game at the foul line, shooting 30-for-50 (60 percent) to Monmouth’s paltry 24-for-51 (47.1 percent). But Penn still ranks a dangerously low 339th in the nation in free-throw percentage, and that’s something that isn’t likely to get much better as the season goes on. Remember when Penn had a chance to put Princeton away in the Ivy League Tournament at the foul line and failed? Don’t be surprised if something similar to that happens again this March.
5. Columbia (1-4)
The Lions’ lone win so far is against lowly Longwood, as they lost to Colgate Saturday for the first time in seven matchups, 77-71, never quite digging their way out of a 28-6 hole created in the first 10 minutes. It was a positive for Columbia that sophomore guard Mike Smith’s usage decreased against Colgate, though, allowing Lukas Meisner to shine with 18 points in just 26 minutes. It’s clear from the early going that senior guard Nate Hickman remains one of the most well-rounded players in the league. But Columbia’s interior defense still leaves something to be desired, and the Lions could yet benefit from greater offensive balance.
6. Cornell (2-3)
The Big Red registered an impressive 80-77 home win over Toledo Friday, courtesy of Stone Gettings’s 21 points, five assists and five boards in 26 minutes and Matt Morgan’s 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting. That win followed a 98-78 loss at UMass-Lowell in which the Big Red allowed 1.29 points per possession. Cornell’s offensive rebounding has improved from last season, and as expected, the Big Red are slowing things down a little more when they have the ball than they did in year one under Brian Earl, a good fit for a team that likes to shoot it from deep.
7. Brown (4-2)
Brown has found someone special in frosh forward Desmond Cambridge, who has scored in double figures in all but one game this season. Cambridge ranks seventh in the country in turnover rate – impressive for a rookie – and has established a strong rebounder and shot-blocker as well. Brandon Anderson has taken over the role of ball distributor with great success, posting 25 assists through six games. But what’s most remarkable about Anderson is his ability to live at the free throw line. Anderson is averaging 12 free throw attempts per game, and he’s made 63 of 72 foul shots this season. Anderson, only a sophomore, seems to be an All-Ivy first-teamer so far. JUCO transfer Zach Hunsaker was brought in to shoot threes, and he did that successfully in Brown’s 81-67 win at Bryant Sunday, going 5-for-10 from deep. Despite losing a lot of offensive talent from last year’s squad, the Bears remain a fast-paced team that thrives at the free throw line. But its defense is substantially improved so far (albeit against an admittedly weak schedule), blocking more shots largely courtesy of Cambridge, allowing a much lower offensive rebounding percentage and allowing opponents to get to the foul line less.
8. Dartmouth (1-2)
The Big Green have played the fewest games among Ivies so far, so the sample size is small. But three games in, Dartmouth is turning the ball over much less than last season, shooting the ball substantially better from deep and, in related news, boasting a significantly higher effective field-goal percentage. Miles Wright has averaged 15.5 shots per game in the team’s two games versus Division I competition, taking on more of the offensive workload as expected with Evan Boudreaux permanently out of the picture. In the frontcourt, rookie Chris Knight is making a huge impact, seeing his minutes tick up to 25 in Dartmouth’s 91-73 loss to still-undefeated Albany Wednesday. (Up next for Albany is Monmouth, fresh off that four-overtime defeat versus Penn.) Knight ranks 17th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage and has five blocks in three games, presenting himself as a rim protector that Dartmouth has so desperately needed.