Breaking down why Harvard is still the class of the Ivy League

As a Harvard optimist, I was unfazed by the Crimson’s lackluster performance against Virginia on Dec. 21. I concede that Harvard is not on the Cavaliers’ level. This past Sunday, the Crimson needed a strong bounce-back performance versus a more suitable opponent, Arizona State, but once again, Harvard could not establish the upper hand in a 56-46 loss to a tough Sun Devils team. Three obvious takeaways from this game are:

  • Harvard’s defense continues to be top-notch.
  • Harvard’s offense continues to sputter.
  • Playing away from its home court at Lavietes Pavilion is tough for the Crimson.

So the real question is, can Harvard escape the Ivy League gauntlet with a stingy defense and an offense that’s weaker than last year’s? To examine this question, I decided to take a closer look at how Harvard and the other Ivy League teams have fared against “Ivy League-caliber” competition.

It’s not that that Harvard’s performance versus Virginia or Yale’s performance against UConn is irrelevant, but the best indicator of how a team will do during the Ivy League “tournament” is past performance against teams of similar ability to the teams they’ll square off against come January and February. With this in mind, I compiled each team’s points scored per game and points allowed per game, excluding their games against teams with a KenPom ranking of 48 or better (Harvard is ranked 49th, best in the Ivy League), or 254 or worse (Penn is ranked 253rd, worst in the Ivy League). The telling results are as follows:

Team Points scored/game vs. all teams Points allowed/game vs. all teams Ivy-caliber adjusted points scored/game Ivy-caliber adjusted points allowed/game
Harvard 62.7 58.1 65.9 56.6
Yale 66.5 61.5 67.4 61.3
Columbia 61.4 57.0 62.5 54.0
Cornell 63.8 62.8 65.0 63.3
Brown 67.7 70.4 64.7 68.5
Princeton 65.8 65.8 62.1 67.9
Dartmouth 63.0 62.6 57.6 59.6
Penn 64.7 67.8 65.2 77.6

*Includes games final by 12/30/14, 12:00 pm EST

Games not included: MIT (not Division I), Virginia (2 KenPom), Grand Canyon (285 KenPom).


Games not included: Newbury (not Division I), University of Chicago Illinois (315 KenPom), Providence (48 KenPom), UConn (32 KenPom), Florida (14 KenPom).


Games not included: Wagner (296 KenPom), Fairleigh Dickinson (291 KenPom), Loyola MD (309 KenPom), Kentucky (1 KenPom), UConn (32 KenPom).


Games not included: Loyola MD (309 KenPom), South Carolina (33 KenPom), Binghamton (340 KenPom), UMass Lowell (305 KenPom).


Games not included: Indiana St. (262 KenPom), Illinois (44 KenPom), Austin Peay (286 KenPom), Prairie View A&M (323 KenPom), Johnson and Wales (not Division I), Providence (48 KenPom), Central Connecticut (319 KenPom).


Games not included: San Jose St. (342 KenPom), Fairleigh Dickinson (291 KenPom), Lipscomb (256 KenPom), Liberty (311 KenPom).


Games not included: Longwood (339 KenPom), Maine (335 KenPom), UMass Lowell (305 KenPom), Jacksonville St. (299 KenPom).


Games not included: Wagner (300 KenPom), Navy (321 KenPom), Binghamton (340 KenPom), Marist (322 KenPom).

To see sortable, conventional Ivy League team stats see here.

Ivy-Caliber Adjusted Points Scored/Game Rankings

1. Yale 67.4 pts/g
2. Harvard 65.9 pts/g
3. Penn 65.2 pts/g
4. Cornell 65.0 pts/g
5. Brown 64.7 pts/g
6. Columbia 62.5 pts/g
7. Princeton 62.1 pts/g
8. Dartmouth 57.6 pts/g


Ivy-Caliber Adjusted Points Allowed/Game Rankings

1. Columbia 54.0 pts/g
2. Harvard 56.6 pts.g
3. Dartmouth 59.6 pts/g
4. Yale 61.3 pts/g
5. Cornell 63.3 pts/g
6. Princeton 67.9 pts/g
7. Brown 68.5 pts.g
8. Penn 77.6 pts/g


Ivy-Caliber Adjusted Average Point Differential

1. Harvard +9.3 pts/g
2. Yale +6.3 pts/g
3. Columbia +8.5 pts/g
4. Cornell +1.7 pts/g
5. Brown -3.8 pts/g
6. Princeton -5.8 pts/g
7. Dartmouth -2.0 pts/g
8. Penn -12.4 pts/g

So what does all of this information mean for Harvard? Come Ivy time (the only time that really matters), Harvard’s offense will reestablish its status as one of the conference’s best, and their defense will continue to shut down opposing offenses. And let’s not forget that Tommy Amaker will, no doubt, make offensive adjustments to improve his team’s play as the Ivy season quickly approaches. Don’t let two bad games against high quality competition fool you: Harvard is still the class of the Ivy League.

Finally, let’s look at the issue of playing on the road. It’s simple: Harvard is 6-0 when it plays in the friendly confines of Lavietes Pavilion, and it’s 1-3 in hostile or neutral buildings. While it’s true that the Crimson have played their two toughest opponents on the road (Virginia and Arizona State), they also lost to Holy Cross at TD Garden and needed double-overtime to achieve their sole road victory against UVM in Burlington. Harvard’s road woes are definitely a cause for concern; however, the Crimson’s utter dominance at home balances out this equation. If Harvard goes undefeated at Lavietes Pavilion in the 2015 Ivy League “tournament” (which is no easy feat), then the Crimson can afford to lose a few on the road. This is especially true in a year of relative parity among the best teams in the Ivy League – a year when 11 wins may be enough to capture the Ivy crown (or at least a share).

So Harvard’s offense isn’t as weak as it appears, Harvard’s defense is very strong, and Harvard’s poor road performances have been and will be balanced out by their dominance at home. Of these statements, I am certain. And yet I’m even more certain that, this being the Ivy League, where any member of the Ancient Eight can win on any given night, there will be shockers in January and February that go against every aforementioned number. Indeed, even if Harvard were undefeated right now, I would remind all fans that the Ivy League schedule is a journey where “the unexpected becomes the ordinary.”

The Ivy season gets underway for the Crimson on the road (of course) against Dartmouth on Jan. 10. The best part of the college basketball season – of the whole year – is almost upon us. Get ready, because the 2015 edition of “the chase for the Ivy League crown” is shaping up to be a classic.

6 thoughts on “Breaking down why Harvard is still the class of the Ivy League”

  1. Love the stats! Very interesting. Many threatening teams in the Ivies this year. Who wants it most? Who’s got the mojo? In the end, these factors will bend the stats…. great stuff C.C!

  2. I would summarize these statistics as follows: With Harvard’s overwhelming advantage in athletic talent, if the Crimson do not win the Ivy title, Coach Amaker should be run out of town. It shouldn’t even be a close race.

  3. Good stuff. Fun for speculation. Crimson a somewhat vulnerable with a big target on the backs of their jerseys.
    Good luck tonight against Grand Canyon. GRAND CANYON?? They just got into Div. 1. Should be a Crimson wipeout.
    Good luck!
    The Old Man – JWC

  4. Why is the point differential table screwed up? Can’t make an easy ranking in correct order? Columbia should be 2nd and Dartmouth should be 5th. Simple, right?

    • Boston Lion is right….. Teams in final table are in wrong order…. unless there’s another reason to put the teams in that order (current record?). If table is in correct order (by point differential), it’s a more useful tool.


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