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.
1. Princeton (12-6, 5-0)
The Tigers slipped out of Lavietes Pavilion with their first win there in seven seasons, a 57-56 squeaker that left Steven Cook in disbelief after he won the game with a putback off a Myles Stephens foul-line miss with 2.9 seconds left. That free throw line appearance was an and-one opportunity coming after Stephens passed up an open three-pointer with Princeton down 56-53 to drive toward the hoop and convert a bucket, drawing a foul from freshman guard Justin Bassey. Corey Johnson’s three-pointer in response rimmed out, and the Tigers attained a 5-0 mark in league play in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. Stephens’ decision to pass up a three-point attempt down three was rewarded unusually handsomely.
Princeton had held a 30-24 halftime lead and bolstered its lead up to 40-29 with 12:26 to go, with Cook contributing seven points, four rebounds and a steal in the 7:34 of the second stanza leading up to that point. Then the Crimson gradually came back, led by Siyani Chambers’ 10 points in the 9:54 leading up to the senior guard’s two free throws tying the game at 49-49 with 2:32 left. Harvard’s final seven points came from freshmen Bryce Aiken and Chris Lewis, but the Crimson ultimately couldn’t hang on after building a 54-50 lead with 79 seconds left.
Princeton committed just 10 turnovers, much fewer than Harvard usually forces at Lavietes. But the Tigers are 10th in the nation in turnover percentage, a major team strength to enjoy against a turnover-oriented defense like Harvard’s.
Cook further added to his first-team All-Ivy resume at Harvard with 8-for-12 shooting, including six of Princeton’s 12 two-pointers, as well as nine rebounds, five steals and three assists.
The most impressive thing about this Princeton team is that so many players are capable of giving that kind of performance. In Princeton’s 69-64 win at Dartmouth, senior guard Spencer Weisz notched a career-high 26 points to go along with eight rebounds. The Tigers will need to continue getting that variety of offensive contributions down the Ivy stretch, starting Tuesday at Penn.
2. Yale (13-6, 5-1)
Justin Sears told the On the Vine panel Thursday that the Columbia-Cornell road trip was the hardest for the Bulldogs during his time with the team. He never had to deal with a power outage that made the Elis have to stay overnight in Ithaca before playing their game.
But that’s what happened this weekend, with a power outage resulting in a suspension of the game with 18:31 left in the first half and Yale leading 2-0 after the arena lost power for the second time. Play started again at noon Sunday, and 18 lead changes followed en route to a 78-71 Elis win at Newman Arena. Yale won the especially tricky matchup by collecting 17 Cornell turnovers and going 23-for-28 from the free throw line, including another standout performance from freshman forward Miye Oni, who posted 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block. Yale coach James Jones’ bench was typically short, as Jones went only seven deep – but all seven Elis scored at least six points, and three of them made five free throws or more.
Oni also set the tone for Yale’s 87-78 win at Columbia Friday night with a three-pointer to open scoring 36 seconds into the game, one of 11 three-pointers the Bulldogs would hit on 27 attempts (40.7 percent).
It was with a three-pointer that Anthony Dallier started Yale’s 11-0 run with 12:23 left, turning a Columbia 56-51 lead into a 62-56 Yale advantage in 3:55. And Oni scored five points in Yale’s 11-0 run, going 9-for-9 from the free throw line in the final 11:43, further establishing him as one of the most clutch players in the Ivy League and a legitimate Ivy first-teamer as a freshman.
Yale is shooting a conference-best 80.4 percent from the foul line in league play, and it also enjoyed a 22-to-15 assist-to-turnover ratio against a Columbia defense that had been nabbing a lot of turnovers against Ivy competition in recent games going into their matchup Friday. In other words, Yale wins where games are won.
The Elis now get four straight home games as they look to cement their place as an upper-tier Ivy squad going into the conference tournament.
3. Columbia (10-9, 4-2)
It’s not so easy holding on amid furious opponent comebacks – just ask the Atlanta Falcons. But the Lions have managed that on back-to-back Saturday nights at Levien – first over Harvard, and then over Brown.
Columbia went on 29-8 run over 9:31 in first half that helped result in 47-28 halftime lead, its second straight Saturday night 19-point lead. And again, its opponent came back with a revitalized offensive effort in the second half, but the Lions hung on, 83-78. More on Brown later, though.
The Lions won because of their early cushion – they made seven of their first 10 three-pointers, ultimately shooting 30-for-54 (55.6 percent). Four Lions made at least two three-pointers, and five Lions notched at least four assists. Sometimes shooting is all it takes, and the Light Blue’s fluid ball movement helps is allowing Columbia to make hay in that department.
Sophomore guard Quinton Adlesh continues to impress, putting out 10 points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds in just 25 minutes off the bench. In fact, 41 of 83 Columbia’s points came from the bench, as did 19 of its 31 rebounds. What separates Columbia from other Ivies falling away in the Ivy race is that many of its players may excel on any given night. The Lions have options, none more impressive than senior forward Luke Petrasek, who should be a shoo-in for first-team All-Ivy. Petrasek garnered his seventh KenPom game MVP designation against Brown, registering 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.
In Columbia’s loss to Yale, the Lions gave up 49 second-half points but got bench contributions that should bode well for any tourney appearance that might be in store for them. Adlesh scored eight points on 3-for-4 shooting in 25 minutes, and sophomore guard C.J. Davis put up 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting in just 14 minutes, easily his best game of the season.
Most importantly, Columbia seized control in the race for the No. 4 seed in the league tourney, although Brown is not out of that race yet by any means. Still, the Brown-Columbia game had a weekend-high 62.5 playoff swing factor according to Yale Sports Analytics (more than six times as important than Princeton-Harvard).
4. Harvard (12-7, 4-2)
The Crimson had the Tigers by the tail and let them go by way of 17 turnovers and some questionable end-game strategy.
Now Harvard faces a daunting road trip – at Brown and Yale respectively. Those are two teams who can make the Crimson pay for their pressure defense and exploit Harvard’s propensity for turnovers, so Harvard needs to watch out.
Harvard’s defense – the one that held Penn to six points in the final 6:50 Friday and collected 19 turnovers in the Crimson’s 69-59 win – looks like it will be the team’s calling card the rest of the season. It likely won’t be enough to win the Ivy tourney, though, if Crimson not named Corey Johnson can’t get into a rhythm from long range.
5. Brown (11-11, 2-4)
Brown’s 16-9 run down the stretch at Columbia starting with 5:26 left was engineered by Steven Spieth, who contributed seven points, three rebounds and a block during that run. But it was also Spieth who had three turnovers in the first 6:22, contributing to Brown’s 18 turnovers on the night. Brown’s defense remains the worst in Ivy play, while the team also ranks next to last in the league in two-point percentage on offense. The Bears get gouged inside at one end and can’t press an advantage there at the other, and that’s an issue.
But that’s nitpicking focused on a team that is now to be judged on how it compares with the league’s top tier. In its 81-70 win at Cornell Friday, Brown scored 1.16 points per possession and had five players in double figures. The Bears’ two team strengths – free-throw shooting and three-point shooting – were the difference against Cornell, since both teams made 27 field goals with nearly identical percentages (27-for-55 Cornell, 27-for-56 Brown). Five other players besides Spieth made a three-pointer, showing the offensive versatility that makes this team a surprise contender for the Ivy tourney.
6. Cornell (6-15, 2-4)
The Big Red got swept this weekend and continue to struggle with offensive rebounding, outside shooting and turnovers. They gave Yale a rough go before bowing to the Bulldogs late, bolstered by Stone Gettings’ 28 points, eight rebounds and four steals in 34 minutes. Brown’s high-powered offense forces you to keep up, so Cornell’s 6-for-21 (28.6 percent) performance from downtown wasn’t enough Friday night either. On the plus side, junior guard Wil Bathurst scored in double figures for the fourth straight game and sixth time in past eight games Friday night after not doing so previously all season. (He posted five points and four fouls in 18 minutes against Yale.)
7. Dartmouth (4-15, 1-5)
Coach David McLaughlin got the first Ivy win of his career Saturday night to the tune of 74-71 over Penn, benefiting from the usual Evan Boudreaux/Miles Wright/Guilien Smith trio. Dartmouth held off a Penn comeback effort late and scored 1.17 points per possession, an impressive showing against a stout Penn defense that has admittedly faltered in league play.
Dartmouth also hung tough at home against Princeton Friday, shooting 18-for-33 (54.5 percent) from two-point range to offset its uncharacteristically sporadic presence at the free throw line. Four of Dartmouth’s final six games are at home, allowing the Big Green to get some momentum going into next season.
8. Penn (7-11, 0-5)
How did Penn get here? Penn remains the fourth-best team in the conference by a comfortable margin according to KenPom (180th compared to 229th for Columbia and 238th for Brown). And even though Penn’s roster wasn’t any more accomplished than Columbia’s going into this season, the Red and Blue’s nonconference performance was clearly upper-tier material, featuring wins at KenPom No. 75 UCF and No. 116 La Salle (the program’s first road Big 5 win since 2007), as well as spirited efforts at Miami and Temple.
And yet Penn is 0-5 in league play. This makes more sense when you follow one of the most prominent through-lines of Penn’s season – weak outside shooting. Penn’s roster is full of designated sharpshooters and coach Steve Donahue philosophically prizes the three-ball if teams take the inside away. But Penn is nevertheless failing miserably at giving opposing defenses a reason to do anything else but key incessantly on freshman A.J. Brodeur, who has been held to single digits in four of the last seven games after scoring in double figures in 10 of his first 11 games this season.
Steve Donahue’s squad’s effective field goal percentage is 50.3 on the entire season but has slumped dramatically to a league-worst 46.8 in conference play. The Quakers’ percentage of points scored at the three-point line for the entire season is 36.4, 39th in the country. But Penn ranks next to lowest in that category in league competition: a substantially lower 30.8. Penn is scoring more from the free throw line relative comparatively, but not enough.
Perhaps Penn will get going against Princeton Tuesday night, when the school will celebrate the Palestra’s 90th year. Penn students may pre-purchase game tickets for 55 cents, which was the price of a ticket to that original Penn-Yale game in 1927.