Now that we’re at the point of the season where the conference standings really start to loom large, the IHO Power Poll goes away and we drill down each of the Ivies by their order in their standings.
First, though, some observations about an unusually exciting Ivy slate of games so far. The Ivy League, per KenPom, ranks first among all 32 Division I conferences in close game percentage, or percentage of games decided by fewer than four points or in overtime, with 11 of 23 games falling in that category. The Ivy League ranked 20th in that category last season, 25th in 2016 and next-to-last in 2015, so hope you’re enjoying the uptick in close contests.
This season’s Ivy slate has been unusually kind to the home teams so far too. The Ivy League also ranks first in Division I in home win percentage, as 18 of 23 hosts have been victorious so far. Interestingly, the league ranked last in Division I last season, when home teams went just 28-28 in conference play. The Ancient Eight ranked 15th in home win percentage in 2016 and 26th in 2015, so this season’s frequency of success for home teams has been unusual too. Since Penn and Princeton are going to be hitting the road down the stretch, the league’s home-win percentage could go back down some by the time the season is over.
1. Penn (15-6, 5-0)
Penn trailed Brown 82-76 with 3:09 to play in regulation but overcame 79.9 percent odds of losing at that point to force the extra period, courtesy of outstanding late defense that held the Bears scoreless during that span. All six of Penn’s points to achieve the 82-82 tie came from the free throw line, where Penn shot just 4-for-9 in the second half prior to the last 3:09 of regulation, a stretch during which the Red & Blue suddenly found their stroke to go a crucial 6-for-6, including 4-for-4 from Darnell Foreman.
At least Penn was shooting free throws, going 30-for-44 (68.2 percent) from the foul line to Brown’s 12-for-19 (63.2 percent). In doing so, Penn flipped Brown’s usual script of building an advantage over their opponents from the charity stripe.Penn has now won 11 of its last 13 regular season Ivy games, no small task for a program that won nine Ivy contests in the previous two seasons combined before coach Steve Donahue’s arrival in 2015. Penn’s two wins this weekend came in very different ways. Penn’s Friday night victory was a high-octane blast past Brown in overtime, 95-90, while the Saturday night win was a 59-50 grinder over Yale.
Max Rothschild’s offensive development has been fun to watch this season and came through big this weekend, most notably with a hook shot in the lane that turned out to be the game-winning field goal with 30.6 seconds left versus Brown. Rothschild’s defensive length and positioning has been prominently key for a while now, but he’s also a strong passer, posting four assists in both of Penn’s wins this weekend.
Caleb Wood had an even better weekend from an offensive standpoint, leading Penn in scoring in both victories, including a 22-point, 8-for-10 shooting performance against the Bears that yielded four three-pointers and a KenPom Game MVP award. The rhythm shooter has now scored in double figures in four straight games after doing so just eight times in his previous 37 contests since joining the program in 2016.
Penn’s defense is pretty much a constant, but the team’s change this season has been adding contributors so that the team isn’t unduly relying on AJ Brodeur, who scored just 11 points this weekend but notched 22 rebounds.
Penn’s last nine games have been played at the Palestra, and that homestand yielded a stellar 7-2 record for the hosts. Now the scene shifts elsewhere, with seven of Penn’s last nine games coming away from 33rd Street. Penn knows better than anyone from last season that it’s how it finishes the Ivy slate that really matters, so it must now fully embrace “being the villain,” as defined by Donahue in Philly.com’s recap of Penn’s defeat of Yale.
2. Harvard (10-11, 5-1)
Recent history held true during Harvard’s Empire State swing, as the Crimson lost at Levien Gym for the third straight season and fourth time in the past six years before leaving Newman Arena victorious for the third straight season and seventh time in the past eight years.
Harvard seemed to morph into a different team altogether at Columbia, suddenly getting hot from three-point range but shredded on defense, allowing 1.26 points per possession in the 83-76 loss. Seth Towns’s 31 points in New York were impressive, but Bryce Aiken’s absence from the 76-73 win at Cornell after what NYC Buckets reported as visible pain and a mild limp through the postgame handshake at Columbia following a knee grab isn’t all that reassuring.
Danilo Djuricic played a career-high 27 minutes at Cornell, pitching in 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting, three rebounds and two blocks following an efficient 10-point, 10-minute outing at Columbia. Djuricic provides offensive rebounding and three-point shooting, two areas of weakness for the Crimson.
Six of Harvard’s final games are at Lavietes Pavilion, although the two road contests are at Princeton and Penn. To have just one home conference matchup under your belt and still be 5-1 is excellent, and that’s the position Harvard has earned, persevering through Aiken’s injury and lineup changes to get there. But Princeton and Penn come to town next weekend, so we’ll learn more then.
3. Princeton (11-9, 3-2)
Princeton had a long weekend at home. It turned out to be historic for the wrong reasons.
First came a 76-73 overtime triumph over Yale during which the Tigers had trailed by double digits with 12:22 left to play and by five with 3:11 to go. Then came an eye-popping 102-100 overtime defeat to Brown in a game that the Tigers had led for most of, having held an 85-78 lead with 4:02 to play in regulation and an 89-85 advantage with 36 seconds left before the extra period.
In their win over Yale, the Tigers went back to relying heavily on the “big three” of Myles Stephens, Amir Bell and Devin Cannady, who pitched in 18, 16 and 16 points respectively, supplemented by Aaron Young’s three three-pointers and three assists in his career-high 32 minutes off the bench.
But the loss to Brown, the highest-scoring game in Princeton history, snapped Princeton’s 19-game Ivy home winning streak at Jadwin Gym. It was the first time in Princeton program history that both teams scored 100 points in a game and surpassed Princeton’s 118-82 win over Wichita State in the 1965 NCAA third-place game for the highest combined score in a Princeton game.
Brown and Princeton combined to shoot 24-for-43 (55.8 percent) from deep, notching a blistering 1.38 and 1.35 points per possession respectively.
I don’t think there’s anything too negative to be gleaned from Princeton’s loss from Brown, other than that the Tigers’ defense, ranked 220th in adjusted defensive efficiency, isn’t on a par with Penn’s or Harvard’s, both of which contained Brown just enough to win. But we knew that already. The Tigers just happened to run into a buzzsaw named Desmond Cambridge and now have six of their next nine games away from Jadwin Gym.
4. Brown (10-9, 3-3)
In the final 25 seconds of regulation, Desmond Cambridge made a well-contested three-pointer to cut Princeton’s lead to 89-88, made two free throws with six seconds left to tie the game at 90-90 and blocked Stephens’s shot in the paint in the final seconds, averting what could have been a buzzer-beater.
Then Cambridge somehow drilled a deep, off-balance three-pointer amid a busted offensive play that gave Brown a 101-100 lead with 4.2 seconds left and turned out to be the game-winning shot after Mike LeBlanc turned possession back over to Brown by heaving the ensuing inbound pass to the opposite baseline and out of bounds.
Saturday night marked Cambridge’s first game at Jadwin Gym as a Brown Bear but wasn’t his first outing there. Cambridge played a postgraduate season at the Hun School of Princeton last year and played pickup games at Jadwin once Princeton began showing interest in him, the Trentonian reported.
“I got a feel for it, but I didn’t really like at first, the gym, because it’s kind of a weird funky gym,” Cambridge said after the game, per the Trentonian. “I got accustomed to it. I came in hot this game and it paid off.”
Cambridge was indeed hot, having posted 29 points in 42 minutes before fouling out in Brown’s loss at Penn the night before. But Cambridge had missed two free throws at the Palestra with Brown down 92-90 with 15 seconds left in overtime, so he apparently felt he had something to prove.
“It was basically the same situation and I missed the game-tying free throws (on Friday), so today I had the chip on my shoulder,” Cambridge said.
Cambridge ended up with 32 points Saturday night, the most by any player against Princeton since Maodo Lo scored 37 in 2015. He seems to be a lock for Ivy Rookie of the Year, ranking fourth in the league in scoring, sixth in free throw percentage, third in three-pointers made and sixth in blocks.
But Brown is more than just Cambridge. Sophomore guard Brandon Anderson notched 25 points and three assists at Princeton, sinking 12 free throws for the fifth (!) time this season. Anderson ranks second in the league in scoring, third in assists, first in free throw percentage, first in steals, sixth in assist-turnover ratio and seventh in minutes played. Junior college transfer and sharpshooter Zach Hunsaker is doing what Brown wants him to do, going 9-for-19 (47.4 percent) from three-point range in the past four games.
Put it all together and you’ve got an entertaining bunch that is visibly getting more self-confident as the season goes on. It’s imperative that Brown sweeps Cornell and Columbia at home next weekend, as four of the Bears’ final six games are road matchups, with Princeton and Penn visiting to close out the regular season.
4. Columbia (6-13, 3-3)
Columbia had a good weekend, sweeping Harvard and Dartmouth to remain very much in the thick of the Ivy League Tournament race. The Lions have blown a lot of leads this season, so on Friday night, they thrived in the comeback role instead, overcoming a 28-13 deficit with 9:15 to go in the first half to nab the win. The Lions had five players in double figures, led by junior guard Quinton Adlesh’s 20 points, in addition to four assists, three steals and three rebounds.
Adlesh has quietly pitched in a stellar season for the Lions, ranking in the top 15 league-wide in scoring, field-goal percentage, assists, steals, three-point percentage and three-pointers made. Adlesh went 11-for-19 from deep this weekend, and the Lions are 3-0 in league play when Adlesh makes at least four triples in a game.
But of course, Columbia is 0-3 when he doesn’t. Three-pointers are fickle, so what’s most encouraging about this weekend is the Lions’ role players stepping up with continued consistency. Lukas Meisner scored 16 points and posted double-doubles in both games, not seeming to mind playing 74 minutes on the weekend. Kyle Castlin finally looks like his freshman self again, also posting 16 points in both games. Castlin’s play made up for Mike Smith having to sit for much of the first half against Harvard due to foul trouble, and his block on a Brendan Barry three-point attempt as time expired off a deliberate free-throw miss from Adrease Jackson clinched a 77-74 Lions victory.
Since Columbia has let a lot of leads go this season and Dartmouth has made a lot of comebacks after sluggish starts, it’s no surprise that Columbia’s 15-point second-half lead turned into a Big Green 67-66 advantage with 4:05 left Saturday night. But the Lions took control and wouldn’t trail again.
It was Castlin who the Lions leaned on late, as the senior from Marietta, Ga. scored eight of Columbia’s final 11 points after the Big Green took the 67-66 lead.
Columbia’s offensive rebounding percentage has shot up in league play, and Patrick Tape has had a lot to do with that. Tape has 18 offensive boards in six Ivy games so far, including five Saturday against Dartmouth, one of which came with 11 seconds left off an Adlesh miss that forced Dartmouth, down 75-74, to foul Smith instead of taking back possession.
Columbia’s three-point shooting and rebounding prowess should serve it well down the Ivy stretch.
6. Cornell (8-11, 2-4)
Cornell eked out an 86-85 win over Dartmouth at Newman Arena Friday night, overcoming an 84-79 hole in the final minute courtesy of a Matt Morgan jumper and three-pointer, plus two clutch, game-winning free throws from Joel Davis with 25 seconds left. Morgan scored 17 of his 28 points in the final 8:23 to keep Cornell in the Ivy League Tournament discussion.
Stone Gettings gave a 32-point, 10-rebound performance in Cornell’s 76-73 loss to Harvard, a game that the Big Red let get away late.
The Big Red’s defense is either last or next-to-last in the league in nearly every defensive statistical category, and they simply haven’t shown they have the defensive or three-point shooting chops as a team to rise above the fray in the race for an Ivy tourney berth. If not for two one-point victories, Cornell could be 0-6 in league play right now.
6. Yale (9-13, 2-4)
Yale never started worse than 3-3 in its first six Ivy games in coach James Jones’s previous 18 seasons at Yale, so this is foreign territory for the Elis under Jones. Thinking of how much Yale lost when Jordan Bruner suffered a season-ending torn meniscus and Makai Mason sustained a stress fracture before the start of the season, it’s easy to see why Yale doesn’t look like Ivy title material – yet.
Mason could still make a long awaited return to game action this month. He’s much needed either way. Yale’s adjusted offensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage and three-point percentage all rank last in league play so far.
Miye Oni struggled with foul trouble at Princeton and scored just six games in each of Yale’s games this weekend as opposing defenses continue to focus on him. Oni has yet to post an offensive rating of 100 or higher in Ivy play, according to KenPom.
Trey Phills has stepped up tremendously on offense in Ivy play, but his grit and Alex Copeland’s rainbow jumpers aren’t quite enough to get Yale where it wants to go right now.
8. Dartmouth (4-15, 0-6)
Dartmouth has now lost Ivy games in which it had 96 and 93 percent win probabilities in the final minute (vs. Harvard and at Cornell), and that’s not including getting beat by a buzzer-beater at Brown last Friday or having a comeback effort thwarted in the final seconds at Columbia.
The Big Green have been down 15, down 17, down 13, down 10 and down 15 early in the second half in five of their six Ivy games so far. If they could have first halves of as strong as their second halves, they’d be dangerous. But Dartmouth’s three-point and two-point shooting have both gone on a downturn in league play.
Coach David McLaughlin made a move that paid off at Columbia, though: starting rookie Adrease Jackson for the first time. Jackson responded with his first career double-double to the tune of 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Sans rookie Chris Knight but with Jackson in tow, Dartmouth’s interior defense didn’t fare too badly, but the Big Green have to learn to start fast and finish strong.