This one Ivy League season has been worthy of a shrug. The funk began when Yale junior guard and Ivy Player of the Year candidate Makai Mason was declared out for the season due to injury, and it deepened when it became obvious that Harvard coach Tommy Amaker had more tinkering than expected to do with his impact freshman-heavy roster. Preseason favorite Princeton, meanwhile, got clipped at Lehigh and is 0-3 against higher-ranked teams in KenPom. And league losses to Binghamton (Cornell), Army (Columbia), Longwood (Dartmouth), Navy (Penn) and Bryant (Yale) have suggested that the league has a lot of room for improvement. As a result, the Ivy League has fallen from 14th in KenPom’s preseason Division I conference rankings to 18th in just three weeks.
Even so, the slate is wiped clean come conference play, and before that comes Princeton-Cal (in Honolulu), Penn-UCF, Yale-Temple and Harvard-Houston, opportunities for the Ivies to notch a quality out-of-conference win or two besides Yale’s season-opening win at Washington. Seeing how young, high-variance teams like Yale, Harvard and Penn get better as the season rolls on should be its own reward, as will tracking Princeton’s quest to shake off a rocky start and capitalize on the league’s most seasoned roster with what would be its first Ivy championship since 2011.
In other words, it’s about the journey, not the snapshot.
1. Princeton (2-3)
Princeton’s only game this week found the Tigers traveling south to VCU, and that game went south for Princeton in disappointing fashion. The Tigers built a 16-0 lead in the first 5:50 before the Rams charged back to tie the game 39-39 at halftime and ended the game on a tear to get the 81-70 victory. Princeton registered 19 turnovers to go with just 10 assists and scored just 0.99 points per possession, suggesting that Princeton’s surprising offensive issues continue.
That being said, VCU’s defense is one of the best in the nation and if Princeton can have a successful trip to Honolulu against Cal and Hawaii, the Tigers will be sitting pretty again. Amir Bell-Henry Caruso-Spencer Weisz-Steven Cook-Hans Brase is still a formidable lineup, and if Princeton’s three-point shooting upticks as one would expect, the Tigers should be okay.
2. Yale (3-4)
Last year, Yale beat Bryant by 39 points. On Wednesday, Yale lost at Bryant, 79-70, with Bryant posting 16 offensive boards to Yale’s seven. Sophomore guard Alex Copeland, though, is reason for hope in New Haven, with posting 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting (including 3-for-5 from long range) in just 20 minutes in Yale’s Saturday win over Albany. The Elis surged late to claim the home win over Yale coach James Jones’ alma mater, giving them their 16th straight win at home dating back to February 2015. It was Copeland who hit a three-pointer to tie the game amid Yale’s comeback, and it was a dunk from preseason Ivy Rookie of the Year candidate Jordan Bruner that gave the Bulldogs a 56-53 lead with 1:14 remaining, a much needed cushion. It may have been Bruner’s only points of the game, but so far, Copeland, senior guard Anthony Dallier and freshman forward Miye Oni have been enough of a nucleus to provide Yale with improved three-point and free throw shooting from last season, even if the team’s offensive rebounding and defensive acumen have taken a predictable nosedive.
3. Harvard (2-4)
Harvard’s offensive approach is becoming clearer. Let senior guard Siyani Chambers facilitate and the freshmen will capitalize. In the Crimson’s 77-74 home loss to George Washington, frosh Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken easily led the team in usage, combining for 34 points on 11-for-25 shooting, including a 3-for-8 performance from Aiken from deep. Aiken again led the team in usage and scoring in Harvard’s home win over Fordham Saturday, while Chambers dished 18 assists and committed just five turnovers in the two games.
The problem from an efficiency perspective is the rest of the offense, which has committed 27 turnovers vs. just 18 assists in those two games. Harvard is 11th-worst in the nation in turnover percentage, and that’s coming from the freshmen too (Aiken’s five turnovers against Fordham and Towns’ six turnovers against GW, for example). So with any high-usage frosh, you take the good with the bad and fill the rest of the lineup with role players that also happen to be sharpshooters, like Corey Johnson and Corbin Miller.
4. Penn (2-3)
A.J. Brodeur is a fascinating player. The freshman phenom doesn’t specialize in posterizing too much, but he practices superior positioning around the rim and makes being a freshman look easy. Temple noticed this trend, doubling Brodeur in the post down the stretch as Penn (and Brodeur) kept chipping away at Temple’s lead before the host Owls hung on Saturday. If Temple has to double Brodeur, so will many Ivies, opening up the uber-athletic senior guard Matt Howard and sharpshooter Caleb Wood to let fly. Matt MacDonald, Sam Jones and Jackson Donahue haven’t been too imposing from long range yet this year, but even one of them can get hot in addition to Wood, you’ve got a potent inside-out combination going.
Penn also bowed to national champion Villanova at the Palestra Tuesday night, leaving us this tweet to ponder:
Can’t stop thinking about how great it would be to have last night’s atmosphere for every game. Our @Penn students can make that happen!!
— Steve Donahue (@Coach_Donahue) November 30, 2016
5. Columbia (3-4)
First came the comeback that fell short. Columbia trailed Hofstra 83-72 with 5:02 left but dug in to take an 86-85 lead in just 2:56, a run capped by Luke Petrasek’s three. But the host Lions didn’t score again and the Pride iced the game from the foul line from there.
Then came the blowout, with Columbia falling 95-71 at Seton Hall, with freshman guard Mike Smith leading the way for the Lions with 23 points in 35 minutes, proving he can pop off at any time. Smith’s performance followed Nate Hickman shaking off first-half foul trouble against Hofstra to score 21 points in 20 minutes, taking the game over for a stretch in the second half while Petrasek poured in 27 points on 11-for-16 shooting.
So Columbia’s got ample offensive personnel, but the problem is at the other end of the floor. Columbia’s opponents went 21-for-47 (44.7 percent) from long range this week. That’s a lot of points to be giving up from deep. At this point last season, Columbia’s primary concern was interior defense. Now it’s perimeter defense.
6. Brown (5-4)
Brown had by far the best week in the Ivies, going 3-0 with home wins over Bryant (note to Yale) and St. Francis (NY), and a road victory at Central Connecticut State (by only five points fewer than Penn’s win there earlier in November). None of these were upsets, but taking care of business against nonconference competition isn’t easy, as the rest of the league has demonstrated this season.
And Brown’s been rewarded with the only winning record in the conference, an irony for the team projected to bring up the rear in the league in the preseason media poll. It was freshman guard Joshua Howard (son of Juwan Howard) who led the Bears’ effort over the Terriers with 19 points, six rebounds and three steals in just 24 minutes, a welcome weapon to go alongside Tavon Blackmon and Steven Spieth, who have been their usually stat sheet-stuffing selves as of late. Brown shot 45 free throws against the Terriers, a result of a roster chock full of individual players that know how to draw fouls. Brown’s offense is measurably better than it was a year ago, and that will have to continue for the Bears to atone for their underwhelming interior defense. Looking ahead, the Bears’ stretch against Quinnipiac, Stony Brook and NJIT to wrap up nonconference play should be very telling.
7. Cornell (2-5)
Following its 83-53 loss at Houston Saturday, Cornell bounced back well with a win over Northeastern at Newman Arena Wednesday, as the Big Red overcame a 71-65 deficit with 5:41 left to pull out an 80-77 victory. After scoring just five points in 30 minutes in a loss at Monmouth, sophomore guard Matt Morgan has gone back to filling the net with 23 points at Houston and 34 points against Northeastern, going 12-for-26 from beyond the arc in those two games. And characteristically for this season, Josh Warren and Stone Gettings still got slightly more usage than Morgan versus the Huskies, hinting toward a Cornell offense in which Morgan can dominate while others stay heavily involved.
8. Dartmouth (0-5)
A particularly rough week here. The first of three defeats came at KenPom No. 339 Longwood as the Lancers’ usually anemic offense exploded for 12 three-pointers and 1.18 points per possession in Dartmouth’s 86-80 loss. Then Dartmouth went 8-for-23 from two-point range at Old Dominion en route to a 59-47 loss, followed by giving up 1.19 points per possession in an 88-70 loss at Boston College, which shot 11-for-21 from beyond the arc.
So Dartmouth is getting gouged from long range, short range and everywhere in between, missing any sort of rim protection. At the other end of the floor, Dartmouth is turnover-prone and inefficient. The Big Green’s best shot at a win prior to league play is hosting Maine on Saturday, and it’s got a good shot at beating Hartford on the road next Tuesday. Getting the first win of the David McLaughlin era out of the way would probably be quite a load off the Big Green’s shoulders at this point.