1. Penn (12-6, 3-0 Ivy)
It says a great deal that, in just his third season at the helm on 33rd Street, that Steve Donahue has turned Penn around to the point that it’s No. 1 in the Ivy Power Poll during league play.
Donahue’s predecessor’s predecessor’s predecessor Fran Dunphy and the Temple Owls still dealt Penn the 11th consecutive loss in the teams’ series Saturday, overcoming a 51-48 deficit with 4:02 to play at the Palestra. Penn went ice cold from deep (8-for-31, 25.8 percent) and notched just 0.81 points per possession against Temple’s stout defense.
More importantly, though, Penn proved its league play-opening win over Princeton was no fluke with a pair of victories over Cornell and Columbia the previous weekend, and how the Red and Blue got it done was impressive. Those two wins came courtesy of back-to-back KenPom game MVP performances from AJ Brodeur, who posted 30 points in 36 minutes against Columbia (including 6-for-12 shooting from beyond three-point range) and nine rebounds as well as six assists to go along with 18 points in Penn’s win over Cornell. Brodeur is a way more than a back-to-the-basket post grinder now, with floor vision and perimeter shooting that is giving opposing Ivy defenses fits. Brodeur’s offensive production cooled off in league play last season after stealing the show for Penn during nonconference action. This year, the trajectory’s been flipped, with Brodeur scoring 72 points the past four games after registering only 22 in the three previous games before Penn’s win over Princeton (including just seven in Penn’s 105-52 cheeseteak deluxe romp over Delaware State).
Perhaps the biggest turnaround in the Donahue era and this season in particular has been discipline and decision-making at the offensive end of the floor. Penn ranks 57th in the country in turnover percentage, a huge jump up from 212th last season and 259th in 2015-16. In the final years of the Jerome Allen era, Penn ranked 343rd (out of 351 Division I teams) in 2014-15, 343rd in 2013-14 and 329th in 2012-13. This year’s Penn squad boasts easily the best turnover percentage of the KenPom era dating back to 2001-02 so far. (Boston College twice finished in the top 50 in turnover percentage during Donahue’s four years in charge there from 2010 to 2014, so it’s clear that Penn’s progress in that category is no coincidence.)
2. Princeton (9-8, 2-1)
Princeton responded to its first loss to Penn since Jan. 2014 by blasting Columbia and Cornell at Jadwin Gym, at various points building 27- and 38-point leads over them respectively en route to 72-56 and then 91-54 victories.
Freshman Jerome Desrosiers scored 26 points in the two games combined last weekend, going 4-for-5 from three-point range in both contests. That’s an outstanding leap forward for the rookie, who had scored in double figures just once all season before accomplishing that against both Empire State Ivies.
Devin Cannady has been KenPom game MVP in three of Princeton’s last four contests, proving just as productive from two-point range as he is from three-point land. More importantly, in Princeton’s first Ivy back-to-back, Cannady’s production didn’t dip even though his minutes did. Cannady averaged just 29.5 minutes per game last weekend after playing fewer than 34 minutes just twice all season leading up to the weekend.
And so much for the Big Three of Cannady, Myles Stephens and Amir Bell. Rookie Sebastian Much scored more (13 points) and was more efficient than either Stephens or Bell in Princeton’s win over Columbia. Much and Desrosiers are coming into their own now, which is bad news for the rest of the league.
3. Harvard (7-10, 2-0)
The Crimson withstood a remarkable 24-5 run by Dartmouth in the second half to force an overtime period that they dominated en route to a 62-57 win at Leede Arena Saturday night.
That run was remarkable because Dartmouth had only scored 24 points in the first 27:29 of the entire game before registering another 24 in the final 12:31 to take a 48-46 lead with under three seconds to go in regulation. But Chris Knight couldn’t corral a loose ball that Christian Juzang instead fired to Seth Towns, who was fouled and sank two free throws (two of his game-high 26 points) to tie the game at 48-48 before Harvard took over in the extra session.
Harvard smothered Dartmouth defensively for most of the game, collecting 17 Big Green turnovers and holding Dartmouth to a paltry 10-for-36 (27.6 percent) shooting clip from two-point range. The Crimson’s defensive prowess is keeping them afloat right now.
Because little else is working. Harvard, sans Bryce Aiken, went characteristically cold again from long range, committed 16 turnovers of its own and couldn’t gouge Dartmouth inside either, with Chris Lewis and Seth Towns struggling inside in a paint patrolled diligently by Dartmouth rookie Chris Knight in his first career start.
But as long as Harvard plays lockdown defense, has Towns able to go to town from deep and gets Aiken back (which it is expected to at Yale Friday, per NYC Buckets), it’ll be fine. The panic button should be far away for Crimson fans.
4. Yale (8-10, 1-1)
Makai Mason is expected to return at some point for Yale, but the timing is less clear. Yale failed to sweep Brown for the first time since 2014, bowing 81-80 at Brown after narrowly escaping with a 78-72 win over the Bears in New Haven the week before. Miye Oni struggled from the floor in both games, shooting a combined 10-for-32 (31.3 percent), with Alex Copeland picking up the slack in Yale’s loss in Providence with 26 points in just 24 minutes.
Trey Phills scored more points during Yale’s back-to-back with Brown (42) than he did in Yale’s previous seven games combined (39), including 23 in Yale’s win over Brown on the 18th anniversary of the death of his father, former NBA guard Bobby Phills.
Yale’s ceiling won’t be that high so long as it continues to struggle with three-point shooting, but Yale remains the premier top-four candidate even without Mason, a team that operates very efficiently within the three-point line and has four of its next conference matchups at home, including Harvard and Dartmouth next weekend.
5. Brown (8-7, 1-1)
It took an ensemble effort for Brown to eke past Yale, getting more than the standard standout performances from Desmond Cambridge and Brandon Anderson. Freshman Tamenang Choh chipped in prominently with 12 points, five rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal in just 29 minutes, the second time this season that Choh scored in double figures. But those two 10-plus-point performances came in the last three games, and Choh continuing to emerge would be huge for a squad that must be considered a threat to sneak into the Ivy League Tournament due to its moderately improved defense and characteristic ability to gouge teams at the free throw line. As they proved in the Yale win, Obi Okolie, Joshua Howard and even rookie Matt DeWolf are able to pitch in as well.
Brown gets Dartmouth and Harvard at home next, a golden opportunity to stack wins before a challenging Penn-Princeton road trip the following weekend.
6. Columbia (4-12, 1-2)
Columbia followed up getting blown out at Princeton and falling short at Penn with a dominant 88-62 romp over Cornell at Levien Gym, with five Lions scoring in double figures, led by Lukas Meisner at 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including four of Columbia’s eye-popping 16 three-pointers on 28 attempts. The Lions’ three-point shooting touch eluded them at both Princeton and Penn, but they are a top-100 three-point shooting team, which should serve them well in league play against Ivies that aren’t as strong as defending the three-point line as Princeton and especially Penn.
7. Dartmouth (4-11, 0-2)
Dartmouth showed a lot of moxie in overcoming a 41-24 deficit midway through the second half to claim a 48-46 lead late before Towns’ two clutch, game-tying foul shots. As mentioned before, Knight impressed well at both ends in his first ever start, with Taylor Johnson, Brendan Barry and Knight bringing the Big Green back largely from the free throw line down the stretch.
Chris Knight played 34 minutes against Harvard, 22 more than he played against the Crimson in Dartmouth’s previous matchup with Harvard on Jan. 6 and five more than in any other game all season. Dartmouth fans have to hope that more minutes for Knight means an interior defense with more teeth, since the Big Green rank 332nd in the nation in defensive two-point percentage and 323rd in effective field goal percentage.
But even though the Big Green lost, they inspired too:
2/ I’m not easily inspired these days, but @DartmouthMBK inspired me today.
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) January 21, 2018
8. Cornell (6-10, 0-3)
During his appearance on IHO’s Inside Ivy Hoops podcast this week, Cornell coach Brian Earl repeatedly alluded to the importance of his team’s defense tightening up.
That didn’t happen at Columbia Saturday night. Early on, Cornell’s defense looked lost, leaving Lions open under the basket and giving up 1.22 points per possession for the game. Cornell has now given up 179 points in its last two games, 37- and 26-point losses to Princeton and Columbia respectively. Cornell’s adjusted defensive efficiency so far is the worst it’s been since the 2013-14 edition of the Big Red that went 2-26.
Matt Morgan scored 20 points on 5-for-9 shooting at Columbia despite a slow start but was the only Big Red player to score in double figures.
Cornell’s return date with Columbia at Newman Arena should be revealing: Can Cornell best the Lions if they’re not as hot from beyond the arc? The Big Red have Dartmouth and Harvard at home after Columbia, so this is Cornell’s best shot at staying in Ivy League Tournament contention.