Ivy Hoops Online editor Mike Tony is joined by Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris and IHO writer George Clark for the season premiere of the Inside Ivy Hoops podcast.
Mike and George preview both the men’s and women’s Penn-Princeton tilts to come Saturday, making sense of the two very different trajectories that the Penn and Princeton men are on going into their matchup as well as what has changed and what hasn’t for the Penn and Princeton women, plus why the Penn-Princeton scheduling this season is particularly disappointing:
In past years, the Ivy League office organized a teleconference call for the men’s basketball coaches, a few days after the preseason media poll. At those events, the coaches would talk about their teams, as well as answer questions from the Ivy League moderator and a small number of reporters. In addition, Reggie Greenwood, the league’s Coordinator of Officials, would discuss any rule changes for the upcoming season. This year, the league decided to do away with the call in favor of having roundtable conversations with the men’s and women’s coaches.
The two 30-minute videos, which were shot in New Haven on Sept. 5 (women’s coaches) and Sept. 12 (men’s coaches), focused on the general improved state of Ivy recruiting, the difficulties in scheduling nonconference games as an improved mid-major conference, the unique challenges in playing back-to-back Ivy weekends, the importance of the Ivy Tournament for late-season competitiveness, and the significance of the league’s partnership with ESPN. What fans did not hear was anything related to the specific teams and players.
Some unexpected contributors carried their teams on their backs this weekend, yielding varied results.
In Harvard’s 66-51 win over Princeton Friday night, the Crimson offense flowed through sophomore guard Christian Juzang, who posted 20 points – 12 more than his career high up to that point – on 6-for-10 shooting alongside four assists. Columbia rookie guard Gabe Stefanini notched a career-high 20 points in just 27 minutes in the Lions’ wild overtime loss at Brown Saturday night, 17 of them coming in the second half or extra period. After scoring just 26 points in the previous five games, Yale freshman guard Azar Swain registered 25 this weekend, his 7-for-12 (58.3 percent) clip from deep lifting an Elis squad that had been hurting from three-point range.
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.”
The Tigers became the first team to qualify for the Ivy League Tournament by defeating Yale, 71-52, on Friday in New Haven. Princeton’s ninth straight Ivy win (and 12th straight overall) was the first for Tiger skipper Mitch Henderson in John J. Lee Amphitheater.
Ray Curren, writing for NYC Buckets, described the game as a “complete performance” by the visitors and, indeed, it was. Devin Cannady demonstrated why he is one of the deadliest “catch and shoot” guys in the country. He caught fire early and often. His 20 first-half points propelled the Tigers to a most unexpected nine-point cushion at the break, 38-29. For the evening, the Indiana sophomore tied his career high with 29, including a ridiculous 7-for-8 from long range.
As IHO writer Rob Browne pointed out to me Sunday night, this was a topsy-turvy weekend for Ivy hoops. Comebacks came and went, winning and losing streaks were snapped and the race for the league tournament No. 4 seed got muddled:
Yale’s only game this past week was a 90-59 home romp over Central Connecticut State, but it was emblematic of the unexpected division of labor that’s carried Yale to arguably the top slot in the Ivy League standings. Sophomore guard Alex Copeland went 9-for-11 from two-point range to contribute 23 points along with four assists in 30 minutes, while freshman guard Miye Oni lit up Payne Whitney Gym with 7-for-8 shooting from three-point range en route to 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists in just 26 minutes.
On October 1, eight members of the Yale men’s basketball teams of 1962, 1963 and 1964 met at Payne Whitney Gymnasium for a reunion dinner.
The author was lucky enough to be in attendance, having watched those teams play as a youth growing up in New Haven. Some of the team members present were All-American Rick Kaminsky, highly successful Ivy Funds originator Dennis Lynch and Connecticut resident and star guard Bob Trupin.
The evening was composed of a very well-done slide show and talks to the crowd by Kaminsky, 93-year-old former head coach Joe Vancisin and myself.
It would be easy to point back to last season’s heartbreaking collapse and say that this year’s title run started simmering from the moment Javier Duren’s runner rimmed out at the Palestra on March 14, 2015. Certainly, that would be a convenient starting point for this narrative of redemption that culminated in this year’s seeding upset of the Baylor Bears. But anyone who’s been following the Bulldogs knows that this journey towards a title to call our own started long before that.
How did we get here?
There have been countless close calls since James Jones took the reins back at the turn of the century: the three-way tiebreaker in ’02 with Penn and Princeton, the thrilling up-tempo ’07 squad led by Eric Flato and Casey Hughes that started 9-2, beating undefeated Penn and sparking the only (non-Princeton) court storming I’ve ever witnessed at John J. Lee, the dangerous Greg Mangano-Reggie Willhite-Austin Morgan trio that raced out to fast start in ’12. But it wasn’t until Justin Sears arrived in New Haven that following summer that Jones could finally build around a true superstar in blue. And while getting to the Promised Land required contributions from everyone on this year’s squad from Blake Reynolds to Khaliq Ghani to Makai Mason, this was clearly Sears’ team.
But first, let’s go back to where it all began, back to a time when Yale basketball conjured up images of January hope and February despair, not the March ecstasy that we’ve come to know.