Another college basketball season is upon us. So what can we expect from the Ancient Eight this season coming off a down year for the league overall?
With so much returning talent across the conference, anticipate higher quality of play from both the Ivies who make the conference tournament and those who don’t.
The Crimson missed their two highest-usage players on offense down the stretch of the Ivy League Tournament final versus Penn at the Palestra: Bryce Aiken, who suffered a knee injury and missed 18 of the final 22 games of the season, and Seth Towns, who suffered a knee injury with around eight minutes left and did not return. Of course, Penn edged out Harvard in the end, the Crimson coming up just short in the face of the Red and Blue’s home-court advantage even without the 2017-18 Ivy Player of the Year (Towns) and 2016-17 Rookie of the Year (Aiken).
Harvard would have likely punched a NCAA Tournament ticket if it had those two standouts in tow, and they’ll probably do the same if they have them in tow this season.
The Yale men’s basketball team finished 2016-17 third in the Ivy League regular season, but a semifinal upset of rival Harvard propelled them into a runner-up spot in the inaugural Ivy Tournament. With the expected return of 2015-16 first team All-Ivy point guard Makai Mason from a major foot injury, the Bulldogs were expected to be in the thick of last year’s race. While the team was chosen second to the Crimson by only three points in the preseason media poll, Yale actually had two more first-place votes. Unfortunately, Mason and forward Jordan Bruner both sustained injuries in the preseason that effectively kept them on the bench for the entirety of the 2017-18 campaign.
Despite those major blows and a 2-4 start to league play, coach James Jones was able to rally his Elis (16-15 overall, 9-5 Ivy) to a second consecutive third-place showing. While Yale defeated co-champion Penn by one point in New Haven on the regular season’s penultimate evening, the Quakers ended the Bulldogs season with a 80-57 victory at the Palestra in the Ivy Tournament semifinal. For 2018-19, Yale will add a class of five first-years to a squad that will return its entire starting lineup and Bruner (8.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 22.4 minutes per game in ’16-’17). Even if the team cannot stay healthy, their depth allows them to be a good bet to stay in the conference’s upper division for the 19th straight season. If the coach can get his squad to avoid the injury bug (maybe skip the scrimmage against brother Joe Jones’ Boston University, where Mason and Bruner were both injured in successive seasons), a regular season and postseason title should be within their grasp.
What a wild and crazy Ivy season the 2017-18 campaign turned out to be.
The Ivy League finished first among all 32 Division I conferences with a whopping 39.3 percent of conference games being decided by four points or less or in overtime, a record for any conference in the KenPom era dating back to 2001-02, per Kevin Whitaker of NYC Buckets.
Every Ivy squad played in at least one league game that went to overtime, and the extra periods helped define at least two squads’ seasons in-conference: Harvard went 3-0 in such contests en route to a shared Ivy League championship, while Princeton went 1-4 to seal its first finish outside the league’s top four in 10 years.
Ivies went 39-17 at home in conference play, tops in Division I a season after they went just 28-28, worst in Division I in 2017.
Record: 8-9 Overall and 1-0 Ivy (4-2 Home; 4-7 Away)
Rankings: KenPom #196; Bart Torvik #212; TeamRankings #152
Sharing the Rock, Defensive Rebounding and Two-Point Shooting
Over the previous three seasons, Yale has been in the top 100 for assists. After the first half of the 2017-18 campaign, the Bulldogs are tops in the conference averaging 18.4 assists a game and their 67.2 percent rate is second in the country.
The Elis have a defensive rebounding rate of 73.0 percent, which is fourth in the Ivy League and top 90 nationally. While it may not be as high as the program’s 75.7 percent rate in its historic ‘15-‘16 season (top 10 nationally), it is on pace to be the second-best performance in the last 10 years.
As first reported by NBC Sports, Yale has lost sophomore forward Jordan Bruner and Yale senior guard Makai Mason to injury, Bruner for the entire season and Mason for up to two months.
Mason is reportedly dealing with a stress fracture in his right foot, the same foot that was broken in a scrimmage against Boston University before the start of the 2016-17 campaign, causing him to miss the entire season.
Mason was wearing a device in his shoe to take pressure off the area that he hurt last year, the New Haven Register reported, adding that he likely wound up putting more pressure on the rest of his foot, where he developed the stress fracture.
This is part 1 of IHO’s 2017-18 Ivy League team-by-team season preview. Read part 2 here.
The rise of the Ivy League is projected to continue.
The Ancient Eight is slated by KenPom as the 13th-best conference in Division I this season, just seven years after it placed 26th. That’s a quantum leap, a product of the league’s bolstered recruiting in that time frame. The Ivy hoops status quo now consists of top-25 recruiting classes, Nike Skills Academy members and expectations of NCAA Tournament success.
There’s a three-way cluster between Harvard, Princeton and Yale projected to top the league. In the Ivy Preseason Media Poll, Yale received the most first-place votes (eight) but Harvard garnered the most points overall. Without a clear conference favorite, it’s quite likely that the regular season champion will not also be the conference tournament winner, with Bart Torvik’s Ivy Tourney Simulator tabbing Penn as the favorite in an Ivy tourney as a No. 4 seed.
Yale’s Blue Madness scrimmage on Thursday night was a fun and loose affair for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Unlike the Cornell Red-White Scrimmage earlier in the week, there was little chance for anyone to get injured.
After introductions of both squads, the two teams held a three-point shooting contest, with Blake Reynolds defeating Jen Berkowitz in the finals. In the slam dunk contest, Trey Phills captured his second team title, defeating Jordan Bruner in the finals with a 360-degree jam.
Defense and offensive rebounding have been the calling cards for Yale head basketball coach James Jones ever since his arrival in New Haven in 1999. Right now, he sits as the dean of Ivy basketball coaches, the winningest Yale coach in history and the only Yale coach to guide the Elis to an NCAA win, a victory over favored Baylor in Providence in 2016.
Last year, Yale finished at 18-11 and 9-5 in the Ivies and just a game away from another NCAA tourney. In the first season of the Ivy postseason tourney, the Elis won a thrilling game over Harvard before falling by 12 to Princeton at the Palestra as the Tigers capped a 16-0 run through Ivy competition.