Ivy League men’s basketball preseason power rankings

Ivy Hoops Online’s writing staff voted on where all eight Ivy men’s and women’s basketball teams would end up for the 2019-20 season. Our projected order of finish for the men (and the women’s rankings here):

  1. Harvard (Last year: 19-12, 10-4 Ivy, advanced to second round of NIT)

Bryce Aiken lifted the Crimson to another level upon his long awaited return from injury in mid-January last season after missing the previous 25 games. But 2017-18 Ivy Player of the Year Seth Towns missed the entire season, an absence that likely robbed the Crimson of their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2015. Even so, Harvard won a share of the Ivy League title for a second straight season, its intense defense complemented by strong three-point shooting and offensive rebounding. If Harvard gets Towns back healthy and avoids further injuries, the talent is there for not only another Ivy League championship but favorable national ranking and NCAA Tournament seeding.

That’s the ceiling, anyway. Harvard’s roster is full of upperclassman blue-chip recruits who many expected would have already made multiple NCAA Tournament appearances by now. Season-ending injuries (to Aiken in 2017 and Towns in 2018), disadvantageous Ivy League Tournament locations (No. 1 Harvard couldn’t quite overcome No. 2 seeds Penn and Yale on the road in 2018 and 2019, respectively) and turnover proneness have contributed to that underachievement.

The latter problem has been persistent. Harvard has had the highest turnover percentage in Ivy play each of the last two years.

But any roster that has Aiken, Towns, 2018-19 Ivy Rookie of the Year Noah Kirkwood, glue guy Justin Bassey and rim protector Chris Lewis on it is dangerous at both ends of the floor. If Harvard can stand tall early in an Ivy slate that features five road games in its first six matchups, including consecutive trips to Penn, Princeton and Yale, the race for the Ivy League title could be over quickly. With the Ivy League Tournament at Lavietes Pavilion this year, it’s hard to envision any season looking so auspicious for any one team.

  1. Penn (last year: 19-12, 7-7)

Penn too got bit by the injury bug last season, most notably when Ryan Betley, the team’s leading scorer from 2017-18, went down in the season opener with a season-ending injury. Penn went 4-0 in Big 5 play for the first time in 17 years but found itself in a 0-3 hole in Ivy action for the second time in three seasons. As it did the previous time, Penn rebounded to make the Ivy League Tournament, playing tighter defense and shooting better from deep down the stretch.

Penn loses Antonio Woods and Max Rothschild, and Jelani Williams remarkably underwent his third ACL surgery since 2016 this summer. But Penn does gain a strong group of incoming rookies, featuring center Max Lorca-Lloyd, to add to a roster featuring Betley, the consistently stellar inside anchor AJ Brodeur, sparkplug Devon Goodman, sharpshooter Bryce Washington and intriguing offensive talent Michael Wang, who flashed great promise during the nonconference slate.

The Red & Blue’s free throw shooting woes are likely to continue, though, but Penn boasts a well-rounded roster. Deep shooting shouldn’t be an issue. Neither should rim protection. And unlike Harvard, Penn hasn’t struggled consistently with turnovers in recent years. Penn’s talent reservoir doesn’t appear to be quite as deep as Harvard’s, but Penn still seems to have enough veteran leadership and depth to pose a serious challenge to Harvard for Ivy supremacy this season.

  1. Princeton (last year: 16-12, 8-6)

If the Tigers pick up where they left off, they’ll be in great shape.

Although Princeton couldn’t quite complete a furious second-half comeback in the Ivy League Tournament semifinal against Yale at John J. Lee Amphitheater, the visitors stunned by outscoring a dynamic Yale squad 24-9 in the first 10 minutes of the second half, attaining a 69-62 lead with 5:07 to play that eventually slipped away.

Jaelin Llewellyn was the conduit for Princeton’s offense during its run, and Richmond Aririguzoh bludgeoned Yale inside over and over again. That duo combined for 41 points, including a career-high 24 from the latter to finish his junior campaign.

And Princeton made that run without Ryan Schwieger, who blossomed into a terrific scoring threat for the Tigers down the stretch of his sophomore year before sustaining a season-ending concussion.

Schwieger had hit 12 of 20 three-pointers in a four-game stretch prior to the concussion, remedying arguably the Tigers’ biggest bugaboo: poor outside shooting. Princeton was the worst three-point shooting Ivy in league play, and Princeton’s offense had the lowest adjusted efficiency in general according to KenPom, a shortcoming offset by Princeton’s stellar defense.

That defense will no longer have stalwart Myles Stephens, but Princeton still has the personnel to pose problems for opposing offenses as well as a balanced offensive attack with Llewellyn, Aririguzoh and Schwieger leading the way at the other end of the floor.

  1. Yale (last year: 22-8, 10-4, lost to LSU in NCAA Tournament Round of 64)

Yale is coming off an offseason in which it became the first Ivy in 24 years to have a player selected in the NBA Draft. That player, Miye Oni, was the driving force behind Yale enjoying the highest ranking in adjusted offensive efficiency for any Ivy since the 2013-14 Harvard Crimson, and also gone is offensive weapon Alex Copeland. So too is defensive stalwart Trey Phills, so Bulldog fans should brace for a step back this year. Although a second straight Ivy League championship isn’t likely, look for Jordan Bruner and Paul Atkinson to more than hold their own against opposing Ivy frontcourts and Azar Swain to keep opposing defenses honest from the perimeter. That should be enough for a 20th straight finish in the top half of the league under James Jones.

  1. Brown (20-12, 7-7, lost to Loyola Marymount in second round of CBI)

Brown made history last season. Now there’s more work to do.

Mike Martin’s Bears are coming off their first 20-win season in program history, securing that milestone in the CBI immediately after the previous season’s unanimous Ivy Rookie of the Year Desmond Cambridge abruptly left the program.

But the bigger loss is that of Obi Okolie, who was one of the Ivy’s best all-around players as a senior, leading the Bears both offensively and defensively. Returning are Tamenang Choh, one of the league’s best passers and rebounders, as well as master foul-drawer Brandon Anderson and other versatile contributors like Joshua Howard and Zach Hunsaker.

If Brown can manage to defend the three-point line and force turnovers close to the high frequency it achieved last season, the Bears will overcome losing the offensive talents of Okolie and Cambridge and stand a very good chance at crashing the Ivy League Tournament for the first time.

  1. Columbia (10-18, 5-9)

Columbia finished 5-9 in Ivy play for the third time in three years under Jim Engles last season, hindered by the loss of offensive juggernaut Mike Smith to season-ending injury. But the Lion who stepped up most in Smith’s absence, Gabe Stefanini, is out indefinitely due to an injury of his own, leaving the Lions again much more offensively depleted than expected. Stefanini led the league in assists, ranked third in steals and eighth in scoring during his breakout season as a sophomore, production that is difficult to replace. Quinton Adlesh was a graduate transfer and now plays for Southern California, meaning his scoring acumen is gone too. Still around for one more season is Patrick Tape and the inside offense and rim protection he provides. Whether Columbia can sneak into the Ivy League Tournament for the first time will depend on how last season’s role players progress and how much their defense, long an issue for the Lions, improves.

  1. Dartmouth (11-19, 2-12)

Dartmouth’s defense was the Ivy’s worst in league play a season ago, and senior guard and longtime standout Brendan Barry was declared out for the season last month (while Adrease Jackson transferred to Northern Arizona and Will Emery has left the team to focus on academics).Aaryn Rai came on strong at the end of his sophomore campaign last year and could continue to be a double-double machine if he picks up where he left off. James Foye and Ian Sistare will have to step up as seniors in Barry’s absence and have certainly have the means to do so offensively. Of course, Chris Knight returns and will likely be one of the league’s most talented inside anchors at both ends again as a junior. If the Big Green can substantially improve at both defending the three-point line and scoring from behind it in league play, they will be well-positioned for a run at their first Ivy League Tournament appearance.

  1. Cornell (last season: 15-16, 7-7, lost to Robert Morris in first round of CIT)

No Ivy has lost someone who meant more to its program over the years than Cornell with Matt Morgan, who finished his Ancient Eight career with the second-highest point total in conference history. Perhaps no Ivy loses a defender better than Steven Julian either. But the Big Red always seem to overachieve under Brian Earl and this year Earl’s got promising scoring options in Jimmy Boeheim, who finished his sophomore campaign with a 31-point outburst in Cornell’s CIT appearance, and Josh Warren, who ranked seventh in the league in effective field goal percentage as a junior according to KenPom. This roster is full of largely unproven talent, though.

1 thought on “Ivy League men’s basketball preseason power rankings”

  1. Kenpom projects Harvard at #1, Penn at #2, Brown, Columbia and Yale tied at 7-7, Princeton at #6 (6-8). Interesting that only 2 teams projected to have winning league records. Suggests that the race will remain unsettled into the final weekend.

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