Despite having ups and downs during its non-conference schedule, the Harvard men’s basketball team (18-14 overall, 12-2 Ivy) played consistently great defense (Adjusted Efficiency of 98.3; 55th in the nation). In conference action, the team was able to solidify its rotation, improve its outside shooting (three-point percentage increased from 30.0 to 42.2 percent), and weather a major injury to its leading player to win a share of the regular season title and claim the league’s top seed heading into the Ivy Tournament. A road game with co-champion Penn and an injury to the Ivy Player of the Year late in the second half may have been the only things keeping the Crimson from winning Ivy Madness. With a healthier 2018-19, Harvard will look to stay on top of the Ancient Eight and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.
With a fourth place finish, an appearance in the inaugural Ivy Tournament, and a postseason win in the first round of the 2017 Women’s Basketball Invitational, things looked bright for the Brown women’s team heading into 2017-2018. The Bears, which did not lose a single member of the previous year’s squad, were picked fourth in the league’s preseason poll and there was talk among Ivy fans that this group could be the first since 2011-2012 to break the Harvard-Penn-Princeton stranglehold on the conference’s top three spots.
A 9-1 start, including Tournament titles at the University of Pacific and the Ocean State Tip-Off, added to the program’s confidence as it returned from finals to visit Boston University on December 22nd. Up 28 points with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter, starting three-guard Taylor Will came off the court with a knee injury and did not return to action for the rest of the year. While Brown defeated the Terriers, Howard University and Johnson & Wales to complete its non-conference scheduled with a program-best 12-1 record, the Bears aura of invincibility had been shattered.
Heading into the last weekend of conference play in each of the last two seasons, the Columbia men’s basketball team held the advantage for the final spot in the Ivy Tournament. Sweeps on the road by Brown and Yale in 2017, as well as losses to Dartmouth and Harvard this past March, kept the Lions away from the league’s postseason both years. Coach Jim Engles, heading into his third year as head coach in Morningside Heights, will look to change his team’s fortunes in 2018-2019 as Columbia seeks its first visit to Ivy Madness.
The Lions finished last season 8-19 with a 5-9 fifth place record in the Ivy League. In conference play, they were 5-2 at Levien Gymnasium, but winless away from home. The bright spots for Columbia were a 16 made three pointer performance against Cornell, a 83-76 win over eventual co-champion Harvard and a 25 point win over Princeton. The Lions averaged 76.4 points and 10 made threes a game overall, as well as 77.8 points and 9.4 made threes in the Ancient Eight. Their opponents, however, scored 77.2 points and 10 made threes overall, while conference foes put up 78.1 points and 10.9 made threes a game. Looking towards 2018-2019, Columbia will need to keep its offense intact, while improving its three point defense (38.4 percent in Division 1 games and 39.8 percent in Ivy League) if it wants to move into the league’s upper division.
The Harvard women’s basketball team (18-11 overall, 10-4 Ivy) used a 12-0 record at the renovated Lavietes Pavilion, including a late season sweep of Penn and Princeton, to claim third place in the Ivy League. In addition to attending the Ivy Tournament for the second time, the Crimson completed the season with its 15th straight year in the league’s top three and its 14th postseason appearance.
Harvard was led by sophomore guard Katie Benzan, who was selected to the All-Ivy first team for the second time and was the only player chosen unanimously. Benzan was eighth in the conference with 13.5 points and fifth with 3.5 assists per game. Her 3.41 made threes per contest and three point shooting rate of 45.0 percent not only led the Ancient Eight, but were 12th and sixth in the nation, respectively. Jeannie Boehm, a sophomore forward, was named second-team All-Ivy after averaging 9.5 points (on 50.4 percent shooting), 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game.
The Princeton women’s team finished the 2017-2018 season 24-6 overall and 12-2 in the Ivy League. They opened up conference play with a 70-55 victory at the Palestra over two-time defending champion Penn and never looked back on their way to the regular season title. They dominated Yale and Penn in the Ivy Tournament to claim the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, their seventh appearance in the last nine years. Their magical season ended in a first round loss to the University of Maryland, the nation’s #16 team.
The Tigers had the Ivy League Player of the Year in sophomore forward Bella Alarie, who averaged 13.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 2.3 assists per game. Alarie, the league’s Rookie of the Year and a first team All-Ivy member in 2016-2017, was joined on this year’s first team by senior forward Leslie Robinson. Robinson, who was selected to last year’s second team All-Ivy, finished the season averaging 10.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per contest.
Courtney Banghart was named the Ivy League Coach of the Year for the second time in her career and the first time since she led the school to an undefeated 30-0 regular season record in 2014-2015. The former two-time first team All-Ivy Dartmouth guard completed this year with her sixth regular season Ivy championship, eighth 20-plus win season and eighth 11-plus conference win season in her 11th year at Old Nassau.
The Dartmouth women’s basketball team rebounded from a disappointing ‘16-’17 season (8-19 overall, 3-11 Ivy) to go 15-12 overall and 7-7 in the conference in ‘17-’18, missing the Ivy Tournament by one game. The Big Green lose three important players to graduation, guard Kate Letkiewicz, forward Andi Norman, and center Olivia Smith. Letkiewicz, a second team All-Ivy selection, started all 27 games, averaging 14.0 points, 2.7 three pointers, 6.0 rebounds, and 36.9 minutes per contest. Norman started 25 games with 5.8 points, 1.6 made threes, and 2.9 rebounds in 21.2 minutes per game. Smith, who averaged 7.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 20.3 minutes per game, started 8 of 21 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Princeton on Feb. 10.
On Thursday, Coach Belle Koclanes announced the program’s five new members of the Class of 2022, who will attempt to help the team replenish its losses, build upon last year’s successes and, hopefully, move into the Ivy League’s upper division throughout the next several years.
This is part 2 of IHO’s 2017-18 Ivy League team-by-team season preview. Read part 1 here.
Columbia’s season went south quickly after a 4-2 start in Ivy play, as the Lions fell out of conference tournament contention with a 1-7 finish in Ancient Eight action. What could push Columbia even farther south this season is the loss of Luke Petrsasek, who is was as versatile as players come. Petrasek ranked in the league’s top 10 in scoring, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, steals and blocks. So that’ll be hard to replace, especially since Columbia was so pedestrian in effective field-goal percentage at both ends of the floor in 2016-17.
What happened last year (22-7, 12-2): With Yale’s performance declining mid-slate and Jack Montague’s departure via expulsion, Princeton looked to be closing in on at least forcing an Ivy playoff game, and during Yale’s overtime win over Dartmouth, it looked like Princeton would clinch outright. But then it was the Tigers who stumbled, thanks to Patrick Steeves’ career game on the final Friday night of conference play. Then came an 86-81 NIT loss at Virginia Tech.
What’s new: Not much, and that’s just the way Tigers fans want it. Hans Brase returns after having a torn ACL last year, bringing with him a strong rebounding presence (particularly on the defensive end), an ability to get to the foul line, and a knack for stretching a defense with three-point shooting. All other major contributors from last season return.
When Harvard lost six out of its first seven games against Division I opponents last season, you could hear them. When Harvard started out Ivy play 2-7, you could hear them. When Harvard finished the season 14-16 with a 6-8 record in the Ivy League, you could really hear them.
Maybe you even started hearing them last August when it was announced that Siyani Chambers had torn his ACL, and that he would miss the entire 2015-16 season. Or maybe they became audible on Jan. 18, 2015, when Harvard landed Chris Lewis, the first of seven recruits who, on paper, comprise the best recruiting class on paper in Ivy League history. Or maybe they started five years ago when current Harvard senior Zena Edosomwan became the first ever top-100 recruit to commit to an Ivy League school.
What happened last year (23-7, 13-1): Nothing to see here, just the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 54 years and a thrilling NCAA first-round win over Baylor. Now graduated forward Justin Sears picked up a second straight Ivy Player of the Year award and now-junior guard Makai Mason established himself as a potential Ivy Player of the Year in future seasons with his clutch play all year, including a 31-point performance against Baylor.
For a deeper look back at Yale’s banner year, read our Ian Halpern’s comprehensive chronicle from April of the Bulldogs’ rise to championship history.