On Saturday, it will be exactly five years since one of the toughest nights in recent Yale men’s basketball history. Leading by five points in the final minute against a Dartmouth team that was playing just for pride, the Bulldogs lost in perhaps the most excruciating manner possible: a buzzer-beater by Gabas Maldunas off an inbound play. The Ivy League title trophy – set to be awarded to Yale – was quickly covered and hustled out of Leede Arena and Hanover.
After losing a tiebreaker to Harvard the following week, their NCAA Tournament drought reached 53 years, and – having graduated four contributing seniors – who knew when they would get another chance the way Harvard and Princeton were trending?
No team in the Ivy is playing even close to the level of Yale and that was exemplified on Friday night before a huge throng at John J. Lee Amphitheater. The Bulldogs played their patented suffocating defense and defeated a talented Brown squad, 70-56.
1. Harvard (3-4)
The Crimson did something on Friday that Princeton couldn’t do last Saturday: beat St. Joseph’s. Sans Seth Towns and Corey Johnson due to food poisoning, Harvard raced out to a 23-9 lead in the first 10 minutes and got a boost from sophomore guard Bryce Aiken’s 8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is impressive considering he had 13 turnovers in the first three games of the season (seven at Holy Cross). Sophomore frontcourt stalwart Robert Baker notched 14 points, 11 boards and three blocks against the Hawks in the Wooden Legacy Tournament. Harvard may have gotten blown out early versus St. Mary’s in the same tourney on Thursday, but Harvard’s 4-for-21 (19 percent) three-point shooting performance seems like an aberration.
Sunday night brought a 70-61 win for Cal State Fullerton over Harvard, a game in which the Titans attempted nearly three times as many free throws (30) as the Crimson (11). The Crimson’s interior defense got gouged at Titan Gym.
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.