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.
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.
Last season, the Brown men’s basketball team went 9-7 in nonconference action. The nine wins tied the program’s record for non-league victories with the 2001-02 and 2014-15 teams. The Bears’ 8-0 start at home was the best beginning since the 1934-35 squad. In league play, Brown appeared to get a boost of confidence from its nonconference schedule, dominating Penn and Cornell on the road and losing by one at home to Yale. With a 2-3 start in Ivy competition, the Bears were looking good for the fourth spot in the inaugural Ivy Tournament.
Unfortunately, Brown lost its next five matches, derailing its hopes for an upper division finish. Despite beating Dartmouth on the road to start the next to last weekend of the season, the loss to Harvard the following evening eliminated the Bears from postseason play. The team did bounce back in its penultimate game, beating Columbia by 20 and damaging the Lions’ hope for the league’s final four. A Senior Night loss to Cornell left the Bears with a 4-10 record (13-17 overall), tied for sixth in the Ancient Eight.
A number of Ivy Leaguers earned postseason award recognition. Penn’s Michelle Nwokedi was named to the ECAC first team, while Cornell’s Nia Marshall and Harvard’s Katie Benzan were named to the second team. Princeton’s Steven Cook was named to the NABC District 13 first team, while fellow Tigers Spencer Weisz and Devin Cannady, as well as Harvard’s Bryce Aiken, Brown’s Steven Spieth and Dartmouth’s Evan Boudreaux were selected for the second team. Aiken was also chosen for the ECAC second team. Cook was also named to the Allstate NABC Good Works team and CoSida Academic All-America. Weisz, the men’s Ivy League Player of the Year, was chosen an Honorable Mention All-America. Tigers’ coach Mitch Henderson was selected as the NABC District 13 Coach of the Year, as well as chosen as one of 20 finalists for the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year.
What a long, strange trip it’s been …
@IvyLeagueNet Thanks, Harvard was great in Shanghai
— Bill Walton (@BillWalton) November 14, 2016
This has been a crazy season for Ivy League basketball, all 16 weeks of it. From Harvard’s starting the season 14 hours away in Shanghai to Penn’s regular season-ending triumph over the Crimson Saturday night, this season has been full of surprises and unusual trends.
One impressive Ivy winning streak continued this weekend, while another very consequentially ended.
Princeton upped its consecutive win total to 15, effectively clinching the No. 1 seed in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, to be played March 11 and March 12 at the Palestra. The last four Tiger victories have been by double digits, and Princeton’s defense is shutting down opponent after opponent.
Penn, though, couldn’t escape the Empire State unscathed, suffering a crucial 70-67 defeat at Columbia that snapped both the Red and Blue’s five-game winning streak and the Lions’ five-game losing skid, keeping Columbia very much in the race for the inaugural Ivy League Tournament’s No. 4 seed.
But that race isn’t what most Ivy supporters thought it was as recently as this past weekend. On Sunday morning, in response to a question from Mike James (@ivybball), the Ivy League confirmed that second tiebreaker for the No. 4 seed doesn’t just take into account the No. 4 candidates’ records versus tournament qualifiers from No. 1 through No. 3, which is how most Ivy observers interpreted the tiebreaker (which can be read at the #IvyMadness site here). Instead, the tiebreaker would be the highest Ivy that one No. 4 candidate beat that other didn’t, even if that tiebreak goes as low as Brown or Cornell.
The Tigers dispatched the Brown Bears in Providence last night with a workman-like 66-51 effort to run their Ivy record to 10-0. The most noteworthy factor in this one was the reemergence of Pete Miller as a force at both ends of the court. The 6’10” senior saw his playing time decline precipitously in early February to single-digit minutes. Against the Bears, Miller was in the floor for 29 minutes while contributing 10 points and four rebounds.
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.
With the first full Ivy weekend in the books, the conference standings are rounding into shape. The current standings offer a clear top four building momentum toward the first ever Ivy men’s basketball tournament and a clear bottom four looking for a second wind.