Columbia hadn’t won an Ivy road game since its very first under Jim Engles at Cornell on Jan. 14, 2017: 17 such games ago. The Lions were 3-8 in games decided by one possession this season, including a 72-70 loss to Penn at Levien Gym three weeks prior, and were 4-20 in games decided by six points or fewer dating back to the start of last season. So when Maka Ellis’s stunningly easy layup off an inbound pass went in with 0.4 seconds left in overtime to clinch the 79-77 win for the Lions at the Palestra, it was a long overdue coup de grâce for a program that had long been far more competitive under Engles than its win-loss column showed. Kudos to Gabe Stefanini for coming up just two rebounds shy of a triple-double (20 points, 10 assists, eight boards) and Ellis for pitching in five of his 14 points in the final 1:24 in overtime as a rookie on the road to erase Penn’s 77-72 lead at that point.
After Penn let Temple slip away at the Palestra last weekend, it got Big 5 revenge Saturday with a 67-56 win over St. Joseph’s, displaying a stout defense that had Steve Donahue singing its praises after the game.
“The story of our team, and our season, is our defense,” Donahue said according to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “Playing two bigs, with the defensive numbers we have right now … we’re way different than last year, and way ahead.”
Some quick hitters around the league as the week between conference openers drags along:
Top 5 Wins for the Ivy League this Year
The Ivy non-conference slate ended up producing some memorable moments. Though there are still a couple big non-conference games remaining (Harvard at Memphis, Penn vs St. Joe”s and Temple, etc.), here is a list of the league”s best wins by Pomeroy rating:
Princeton 79, (42) Bucknell 67- A turning point for the Tigers as Hummer”s supporting cast showed up to take down Muscala and the Bison.
Brown 69, (67) Providence 68- Style points for the thrilling finish, the national TV audience, and the local rivalry.
Harvard 67, (70) California 62- Statement game on the road for the Crimson. Saunders, Rivard, Chambers.
Columbia 75, (87) Villanova 57- Shocking scoreline on the road. Lions showed depth as Rosenberg, Frankoski, and Mullins led the way.
Princeton 62, (119) Kent State 50- Big road win as Bray started to shake off his slump and the Tigers held the Golden Flashes to 0.78 points per possession.
Okay Brown fans, I have avoided this for too long. I tried to hold off writing about the Bears until there was something encouraging to say. It’s certainly been a tough opening month in Providence after boundless optimism ran wild this summer. This seemed like it would be the season Coach Jesse Agel’s squad turned the corner and challenged for the top half of the league with highly touted Brazilian recruit Rafael Maia taking over the frontcourt and a young, talented team growing a year older. With McGonagill commanding the point, sharpshooting Toledo transfer Stephen Albrecht finally getting on the court and knockdown shooter Matt Sullivan sharing minutes, the backcourt was supposed to be able to challenge anyone’s. Tucker Halpern was going to pick up exactly where he left off on the wing, looking to consistently replicate the 29 points he dropped on Harvard last year. Maia and Dockery Walker/Andrew McCarthy were going to fill up the paint with their length and bring a focus on defense back to the Pizzitola.
Unfortunately, things haven’t gone the way Brown had hoped.
The Brown basketball team showed last year that it was talented enough to beat anyone in the league when it knocked off tournament-bound Princeton and held double-digit leads twice against co-champion Harvard. Harnessing that talent and executing a game plan for a full forty minutes is the next step for a young Bears squad that looks to leap into the top half this season. Brown is a dangerous offensive team with proven weapons in the backcourt and on the wing, not to mention the help arriving on the interior. Last year though, the Bears struggled on the defensive end, ranking last in the league in adjusted defensive efficiency, giving up 1.09 points per possession (adjusted for opponent). On several occasions, the Bears failed to generate stops in key situations, including a 46-point half surrendered to Harvard in a head-scratching game at Lavietes. This season, the Bears will look to buckle down and get serious about defending their bucket.
Rivals.com (Yahoo Sports) ranked the Ivy League 20th in their countdown of college basketball”s 32 conferences. The first half of the article consists of the usual praise for Cornell and Princeton”s recent postseason performance. The author, David Fox, seems to suggest that Harvard, this year”s prohibitive favorite, may have a different competitor to deal with at the top of the standings with Princeton losing Maddox and Mavraides. He cites Penn and Yale as the two squads with which the Crimson may have to contend, while suggesting Brown may make a leap from the bottom behind the youth movement led by McGonagill and Rafael Maia.
The rankings below the article though, at times, seem to be disconnected from the analysis. Princeton is left in the #2 spot, ahead of Penn and Yale even though Fox claimed Harvard would have different competition for the title. Additionally, Ian Hummer is given a spot on the league”s second team. If Hummer carries the Tigers to a second place finish this year after losing Maddox and Mavraides, I have to like his chances to make the first team.
The projected standings also show Brown staying put in the #7 slot despite the aforementioned praise and the prediction that Maia will be the league”s Rookie of the Year. While there are certainly minutes for Maia in the Bears” frontcourt that other freshmen may not see, a ROY season combined with last year”s ROY in the backcourt in McGonagill as well as All-Ivy Honorable Mention Tucker Halpern on the wing, who shot 40% from distance last year, and it seems like the Bears should be able to finish higher than 7th.
Other choices that deserve further examination include “Best frontcourt: Harvard,” which could also have been awarded to the Yale Bulldogs with the duo of Mangano and Kreisberg (with freshmen Sherrod and Childs-Klein coming off the bench). Best backcourt was given to Penn, though Brandyn Curry, Christian Webster, Oliver McNally, and Laurent Rivard may have something to say about that up in Cambridge.
Interestingly, in the “Coach on the hot seat” category, Rivals chose “None.” But if, as they predicted, the Bears fail to move up from the bottom this year, you have to think that things are going to get uncomfortably warm for Coach Agel in Providence.