After losing eight players from the 2016-2017 season (13-17 overall, 4-10 Ivy), including first team All-Ivy Steven Spieth, four-year starting point guard Tavon Blackmon, and three-point specialist JR Hobbie, the Brown men’s basketball team was picked last in the 2017-18 Ivy League preseason media poll. With underclassmen filling out almost 64 percent of the roster and playing 74 percent of the team’s minutes, the Bears finished last year at 11-16 with a second straight 4-10 mark in the Ancient Eight. While the record was not impressive, Brown did take Providence to overtime, defeat Princeton on the road for the first time since 2010, and have a third place 4-4 record halfway through the conference schedule. After gaining a year of experience leading the program, the talented young core will attempt to move Brown beyond four straight seventh-place league finishes and make a push for a first-ever spot in the Ivy Tournament.
Our Ivy weekend roundup focuses on a really entertaining club, clutch three-point shooting, a chalk result, some turned tables in a rivalry game, a dry spell, the youngsters taking over and #PathToThePalestra.
Cornell 57, Harvard 49
Well, then. The Big Red raced to a 22-21 halftime lead and out-Crimsoned the Crimson in the second half, pulling away with stout defense and efficient shooting. Shonn Miller fired on all cylinders to the tune of 24 points, 15 boards and three blocks. In a season in which Miller has consistently struggled beyond the arc, a pair of Miller treys midway through the second stanza signaled this wasn’t Harvard’s night. The Big Red’s win snaps their nine-game losing streak against Harvard as well as the Crimson’s 12-game win streak in Ivy road games, dropping Harvard to 4-7 at home this season. Most importantly, the loss drops the Crimson to 9-2 in Ivy play.
Yale 81, Princeton 60
The Justin Sears Show (feat. Javier Duren) overpowered Princeton’s ensemble performance down the stretch and the Bulldogs ended the game on a 42-13 run to tie Harvard atop the league standings at 9-2. Sears notched 12 rebounds and 28 points, giving him 53 in two wins over Princeton this season. Princeton was randomly led in scoring this evening by Steven Cook (12) and Clay Wilson (11), marking the first time that pair led the Tigers in scoring since Mitch Henderson’s squad trumped Stony Brook in December.
Brown 75, Penn 69
Brown completed its second consecutive season sweep of Penn thanks to a 21-point, 6-for-9 shooting (all beyond the arc) performance from J.R. Hobbie, who shredded Penn’s perimeter defense for a second time this season after having also scored 21 at Penn earlier this month, both season highs. Penn’s Tony Hicks returned from a two-game suspension for poor sportsmanship in a loss to Brown and in his failed attempt to exact revenge on the Bears notched 23 points, five rebounds and four steals. Penn has now lost six straight.
Dartmouth 84, Columbia 71
Dartmouth pulled off a season sweep of its own against the Lions, pulling away in the second half on the strength of Alex Mitola’s 18 points and five other players in double figures. The Big Green shot 60 percent from the floor while Columbia made only nine of 34 three-point attempts, knocking Columbia down to 5-6 and a tie with Cornell for fourth place in Ivy play.
It was a ‘meh’ Valentine’s Day for Ivy basketball, with all four games being decided by eight points or more and no massive upsets:
Harvard 61, Cornell 40
The Crimson, previously on the wrong end of a 26-2 run against Dartmouth earlier this season, reeled off a 22-2 run of their own to shake off the Big Red. Senior guard Wesley Saunders somehow compiled eight rebounds but zero points in the first half, but steady efforts from senior forward Steve Moundou-Missi and sophomore guard Corbin Miller allowed Harvard to win with comfort. Cornell’s got an amply stout defense, but no offense when Shonn Miller isn’t clicking (and he didn’t at Lavietes, going 1-for-10 from the field).
1. Harvard (5-1)
Harvard’s still the class of the conference. The Crimson held Yale to 11 points in the entire first half at Payne Whitney Gym to tie Yale atop the Ivy standings at 5-1 in league play. Wesley Saunders’ career-high 33 points did Brown in in overtime the night before. Reports of the Crimson’s demise were clearly premature. Harvard hosts Columbia and Cornell at home, two more solid defensive squads that will not be easy outs at Lavietes. The thing about Harvard is that the Crimson win the close ones – they’re 8-1 in overtime games since 2010. I have a feeling that that stat will be coming into play at least one more time down the stretch.
2. Yale (5-1)
The Bulldogs responded to the biggest game for their program in quite some time by going 3-for-22 in the first half. Harvard’s defense is awesome, but the Elis were visibly a little tense in the early going too. Still, Yale is 5-1 and tied for the conference lead with its greatest rival and another shot at that rival at Lavietes, the same place Yale trumped Harvard last season. All is not lost for the Elis, but it was disconcerting to see them abandon Justin Sears in the second half.
More importantly, the Whiffenpoofs are full steam ahead.
The week that was in Ivy roundball, rankings included:
8. Penn (3-5)
Three wins in a row vs. teams whose KenPom rankings add up to 970 (Navy: 322, Binghamton: 340, Marist: 308)
7. Dartmouth (3-5)
Nice 21-point win at UMass-Lowell, but Dartmouth really has become Gabas Maldunas, Alex Mitola, Connor Boehm and a bunch of guys. That trio accounted for 50 of the Big Green’s 67 points in a loss at Jacksonville St.
6. Princeton (3-8)
More losses than any other Ivy. Princeton lost by 14 to St. Peter’s, which Brown beat by 12 in the Bears’ season opener, so the Tigers fall below Brown here. Still, an outstanding first half at Cal showed that the Tigers are capable of much more. Untapped upside still looms large for Princeton.
So what’s up with Brown?
The Bears have always been a solid defensive unit under coach Mike Martin. They boast a frontcourt that features two-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Cedric Kuakumensah and fellow defensive stalwart Rafa Maia. Sophomore guard Steven Spieth also came into this season with a bit of a reputation as a strong backcourt defender as well.
And yet the Bears also have what is comfortably the worst defense in the conference statistically at this early stage of the season. They can’t defend in transition at all.
The week that was in Ivy roundball, power rankings included:
8. Penn (0-5)
Sigh. More on Penn here, but suffice it to say that the Quakers’ loss to Wagner made their tangible improvements against Lafayette and Temple look like a mirage.
7. Dartmouth (1-3)
Meh. The Big Green let a four-point lead with 7:04 left slip away at home to New Hampshire, which trumped Dartmouth, 65-63, via a game-winning bucket by Daniel Dion with four seconds left. Dartmouth beat IPFW, 68-67, earlier in the week but entered the New Hampshire game with the lowest-scoring offense in the conference and second to last in turnover margin. This offense just isn’t very good and somebody besides Alex Mitola needs to step up as a consistent weapon. Prior to New Hampshire, Connor Boehm was shooting just 43.8 percent from the field, and his scoring was down to 6.7 points per game from 10.9 last season. Boehm was the Big Green’s leading scorer against the Wildcats and will have to be even more impactful going forward for this offense to lift itself up.
I’m bullish on the Bears.
Yes, All-Everything Sean McGonagill is gone, and so is his ball distribution, three-point shooting, offensive potency from anywhere on the court and, well, everything! But the Bears will be better than last year because they’ll be more well-rounded in 2014-15 from inside out, the single-most underrated team in the Ivy League.