Some Ivy updates before heading into Final Four weekends in Tampa and Minneapolis:
No. 6 Harvard registered the first win for an Ivy League team in the NIT in 17 years courtesy of a balanced scoring effort, turning in a 71-68 win at Georgetown.
Despite trailing 54-49 with 11:52 to play, the Crimson (19-11) fought back, overcoming a 5-for-24 (20.8 percent) shooting effort from deep at McDonough Arena for their postseason win since 2014, when the Crimson upset Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament.
Last season, Harvard lost to Yale in heartbreaking fashion in the first round of the inaugural Ivy League Tournament. The Crimson graduated Siyani Chambers and Zena Edosomwan, both of whom made indelible impacts on the program. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a successful Harvard season without Siyani Chambers. And yet, the Crimson comes into the 2017-18 season as the preseason favorite, according to the Ivy Preseason Media Poll. While the poll predicted an incredibly close race between Harvard and familiar foes Yale and Princeton, the sentiment of the voters is clear: No one expects Harvard to take a step back this year. Here are the details on how Harvard hopes to turn high expectations on paper into actual success on the court:
Two games will likely define Harvard’s season. The narrative surrounding this team — whether Harvard is back as a mainstay in the Big Dance as one of the top mid-major programs in the country, or if they were just too young — will be decided by two games. Two 40-minute games for all the marbles, because 14 is so “last year.” Like it or not, the Ivy League Tournament is here, it’s here to stay … and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Here’s what to watch for from Harvard’s perspective.
This was a momentous weekend for Ivy League basketball. First-place Princeton ran its winning streak to 13 games (10 in Ivy competition) in dominant fashion. Penn, meanwhile, snagged the No. 4 slot in the Ivy standings, erasing a Columbia four-game lead over the Red and Blue in the standings in just nine days courtesy of an equally dominant road sweep of Brown and Yale, a watermark back-to-back sequence for a long dormant program.
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:
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.
For the first time since 2009, Harvard is 1-3 in Ivy play. It’s an unusual sight for most Harvard fans, and as Alex Rosenberg’s game-winner swished through the net on Saturday to down the Crimson, I couldn’t help but remember the three buzzer-beating wins Harvard had last year in Ivy play (one to send the game to overtime – an eventual win – and two pure game-winners). For five straight years, the ball always seemed to bounce Harvard’s way. But on both Friday and Saturday night, the Crimson were a step behind the competition, getting swept on their home court. So let’s look back on the underlying issues of this sweep, explore how the Crimson can improve and discuss what lies ahead for the reeling Crimson.
With the Ivy season under a month away, the Crimson’s performance has been all over the map. At times, they show signs that this is just a rebuilding year, while at other times, they show great promise for current-year success. Regardless, coming off three consecutive well-played games, Harvard is indisputably a team that has improved significantly since the start of the season.
In my last article, I stated that Harvard’s success would be largely dependent on the success and maturation of freshman point guard Tommy McCarthy. Here’s some evidence that McCarthy has been key in Harvard’s recent streak of good games. In McCarthy’s first three Division I games, all games in which Harvard underachieved, McCarthy shot an abysmal 18 percent from the floor (6-for-34) and had 14 turnovers and only eight assists (.57 assist/turnover ratio). In his last three games, which have included a win over Boston University, a close loss at Northeastern, and a six-point loss at No. 4 Kansas, McCarthy has shot 40 percent from the floor (including 42 percent from beyond the arc) and posted 19 assists to eight turnovers (2.4 assist/turnover ratio).
Now that we’re well into nonconference season, we’ve got a bead on how the Ivies are coming along so far. Our Richard Kent breaks down his Ivy power rankings. What are yours?
1. Yale (5-3) The best team by far thus far. Makai Mason is making an early case for Ivy Player of the Year, coming up big against top competition (37 points and 15 assists against SMU and Duke combined). Justin Sears is, well, Justin Sears (and the reigning Ivy POY, who has to like his chances of doing major damage to the Tigers, who he scored 53 points against in two games a year ago) after Stony Brook forward Jameel Warney dominated the Tigers in the frontcourt last week. Brandon Sherrod is a specimen after taking a year off. Should have beaten the Mustangs and were competitive at Cameron Indoor for a half.