2017-18 Ivy League team-by-team season preview, part 2

This is part 2 of IHO’s 2017-18 Ivy League team-by-team season preview. Read part 1 here.

5. Columbia

Columbia’s season went south quickly after a 4-2 start in Ivy play, as the Lions fell out of conference tournament contention with a 1-7 finish in Ancient Eight action. What could push Columbia even farther south this season is the loss of Luke Petrsasek, who is was as versatile as players come. Petrasek ranked in the league’s top 10 in scoring, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, steals and blocks. So that’ll be hard to replace, especially since Columbia was so pedestrian in effective field-goal percentage at both ends of the floor in 2016-17.

Mitigating the loss of Petrasek will be the exciting Mike Smith, who had a usage rate of 20 percent of possessions in 23 of 27 games as a rookie last season. Smith’s stepback three late in Columbia’s win over Penn was one of the most thrilling moments of last season’s Ivy action, and the 5-foot-11, 196-pound guard placed seventh in the conference in scoring, fifth in assists, sixth in free throw percentage, 12th in steals and three-point performance, and most impressively for a freshman, fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio: the only underclassman in the top seven.

 Smith should be shouldering even more of a usage burden now that Petrasek is gone. Perhaps frosh and fellow Illinois native Tai Bibbs can give him a break from time to time.
Establishing an inside scoring presence will be crucial for Columbia, whose offense ranked worst in the Ivy League a year ago in adjusted efficiency, effective field goal percentage and two-point percentage.
Freshman forward Jaron Faulds could help there. The McDonald’s All-America Team nominee should play an immediate rim protector role for a team that ranked last in defensive two-point percentage in league play as well. AJ Brodeur made all the difference for Penn last year as a freshman frontcourt standout, and Faulds can do the same for Columbia, with junior forward Lukas Meisner adding offensive efficiency and defensive rebounding if he can stay healthy this year.
Senior guard Nate Hickman, one of most athletic players in the league, showed what he can do in November last season, averaging 19 points per game in six contests that month and peaking with a 30-point performance in a home loss to Army. Fellow senior guard Kyle Castlin is back after missing last season with a toe injury and shone in 2014-15, scoring in double figures 16 times as a rookie. Junior guard Quinton Adlesh led Columbia in steals and three-point percentage, an aggressive player at both ends of the floor who will hopefully lift Columbia to a higher percentage of three-point attempts among its field goal attempts, a category in which the Lions finished last among Ivies in Jim Engles’ first season as coach.
Columbia may have faded after a 4-2 start to Ivy play last season, but it could enjoy the opposite trajectory this year. The Light Blue open their Ivy slate at Princeton and Penn, places where wins have been scarce for the Lions in recent years, and six of Columbia’s eight league games in February are at home, a stretch during which the Lions can hit their stride. It isn’t likely, but the Lions can crack the league’s top four if this squad rises above becoming the Mike Smith Show and proves it can win in the paint at both ends of the floor.

6.  Cornell

The Brian Earl effect was gradual but noticeable in the Princeton alum’s first season as coach in Ithaca. Earl’s implementation of a more methodical Princeton Offense-inspired system resulted in Cornell leading the Ivy League in two-point percentage, after it ranked just sixth in 2015-16. The Big Red rebounded the ball better as a result as well, and forward Josh Warren ranked fifth in the league in offensive rebounding percentage as a year ago. Cornell still had the third-fastest average offensive possession length in year one under Earl, a number that should drop as his tenure continues.
Cornell’s Matt Morgan experienced no dropoff in his elite production levels as a sophomore, again leading the conference in scoring. Morgan’s 34 points in Cornell’s comeback win over Northeastern and 28 points in the Big Red’s victory at Dartmouth (that makes 60 points for Morgan in two career games at Leede Arena) gave us some of the most memorable moments of any Ivy in 2016-17. What’s great about Morgan is that he just keeps getting better the more Cornell leans on him. As Kevin Whitaker of NYC Buckets noted in his Cornell season preview, Morgan has an offensive rating of 110 over seven games with usage at or exceeding 35 percent. In other words, Morgan gets more efficient as he factors more heavily into the offense, not less, which is highly unusual.
Stone Gettings emerged as a crucially terrific point forward in Earl’s system, scoring in double figures in nine of the first 11 games of last season after doing so just once as a rookie in 2015-16. Gettings was just one of three players to finish in the league’s top 10 in both rebounds and assists (joining Steven Spieth and Miye Oni), and the only player to finish in the league’s top 10 in rebounds, assists and blocks.
Cornell loses Robert Hatter’s instant offense but gains freshman forward Jimmy Boeheim, who despite being recruited to Ithaca by a former Princeton coach is totally not related to John Thompson III. Boeheim looks like he’ll be a game-ready, Earl-friendly threat from the get-go, as does JUCO transfer Steve Julian.
Senior guard Wil Bathurst’s rebounding improved as last season went on, with Bathurst logging more minutes as well. Bathurst isn’t a three-point shooter but can hurt teams from inside the arc, as can Warren. Cornell gets senior forward Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof back after he missed the 2016-17 campaign following off-season surgery, and his leadership should be key this year.
All in all, Cornell’s a squad that still a ways to go at both ends. The Big Red are ranked 214th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 218th in adjusted defensive efficiency, so they don’t have any gaping deficiencies or prominent strengths apart from Morgan. Cornell’s interior defense isn’t built to turn back opposing teams, as the Big Red roster doesn’t feature any players taller than 6-foot-8. Expect Cornell to get still more efficient on offense and continue to struggle in the turnover department at both ends of the floor.
7. Dartmouth 
Year one under coach David McLaughlin started the season with a nine-game losing streak, and the Big Green opened conference play with five more defeats.
The defense just didn’t hold up, dropping from 186th in the nation in 2015-16 to 309th, worst in the Ivy League in turnover rate as well – a product of the team playing too conservatively on defense. Turning teams over and making them play in transition masked interior defense deficiencies under previous coach Paul Cormier, but those deficiencies really got exposed last season. Dartmouth’s defense was noticeably less aggressive in McLaughlin’s first year at the helm. The team’s interior defense didn’t appear promising heading into the McLaughlin era, but the Big Green’s percentage of defensive possessions resulting in a turnover plummeted from 30th in the nation in Paul Cormier’s final season as coach in 2015-16 to 318th nationally last year. This roster isn’t teeming with rim protectors, so more defensive aggression around the perimeter might be the way to go this season, even if it results in more fouls registered in a relatively deep backcourt.
The newcomers in the frontcourt are rookies Adrease Jackson and Chris Knight. Knight has an opening to make an immediate impact as a combo forward who will be asked to protect the rim.  Dartmouth ranked next to last among Ivies in defensive rebounding last year, so maybe Jackson can help with that.
Evan Boudreaux as a sophomore last year ranked second in the Ivy League in scoring, first in rebounding and second in minutes played. That tells you all you need to know about how absolutely vital Boudreaux is, the obvious focal point of the program. Boudreaux’s defense has been criticized elsewhere in the past, but he more than held his own in Dartmouth’s late-season win over Penn at the Palestra, neutralizing AJ Brodeur in the paint and showing what he can do as a rim protector.
The offense’s most frequent ball distributor a season ago, Mike Fleming, is gone now, but Guilien Smith returns after having proven an effective conduit as well, posting five assists in each of Dartmouth’s wins over Penn plus its win at Brown. The Big Green posted a 4-1 record last season when Smith notched at least four assists, scoring well into the 70s and scoring 86 points in that one loss (to Yale). Smith did commit at least four turnovers in seven games last season, so will have to improve a smidgen in that category. But Smith ranked eighth in the league in fouls drawn per 40 minutes played and can hit the long ball too.
Senior guard Miles Wright should continue to start at small forward, but the 2014-15 Ivy Rookie of the Year’s offensive output trailed off at the end of last season, seeing a slight usage decline and being held scoreless from the floor in three of the season’s final six games, with Dartmouth losing each game that Wright was held off the board (including narrow home defeats to Cornell and Brown, the kind of games Dartmouth must win if it wants to be an upper-tier Ivy).
Sophomore guard Brendan Barry had the third-highest offensive rating in league play last year because he was efficient from deep, and in an elevated role this season, Barry could keep defenses keying on Boudreaux honest. Senior guard Taylor Johnson played a combined three minutes during Dartmouth’s three-game win streak in December following its 0-9 start, but he got back into the rotation and asserted himself with a crucially strong performance in the team’s overtime win over Columbia (18 points and three assists in 18 minutes, including 4-for-6 from deep). Johnson is a deep-shooting threat but has also gotten to the line frequently on occasion too.
Dartmouth’s offense has a lot going for it – an inside presence and primary option (Boudreaux), outside shooters (Johnson, Barry, Smith, Wright) and returning depth (three of the league’s top 23 scorers from a season ago returning, something no other Ivy can claim). But turnovers will likely continue to be a problem for Dartmouth on offense while its defense falters again as well. If Dartmouth can shore up its defensive issues, it can make a serious run at the top half of the league, since its offense has more firepower than Cornell and arguably Columbia. But a finish more towards the bottom of the league is more likely. Dartmouth and Cornell both have windows attached to their respective standard-bearers (Boudreaux and Morgan) in which to make the conference tournament. Those windows are already halfway shut and closing.
8. Brown
It’s hard to picture Brown making a serious run at the top half of the league anytime soon, particularly with all-everything Steven Spieth exiting.
Brown had the worst two-point percentage defense in the entire country last year, getting gouged at the rim and in transition with regularity. The Bears were the second-shortest team in the Ivy League a year ago, and it showed. There could be modest improvement on this end of the floor due to Brown losing stalwarts like Spieth, Tavon Blackmon and Corey Daugherty this season, simply it can’t get any worse.
Sophomore guard Brandon Anderson is expected to take over at the point from Blackmon with Corey Daugherty no longer on the team. Anderson scored a season-high 21 points in Brown’s win at Penn and posted 12 assists in the final weekend of the season, including seven dishes to go along with 16 points in an 88-68 win over Columbia with Blackmon out.
Junior guard Obi Okolie will miss time to begin the regular season with a foot injury, coach Mike Martin said during the preseason teleconference, which is something to keep posted on since Brown is counting on Okolie for shooting and defense on the wing.
The Bears’ top four three-point shooters from a year ago (JR Hobbie, Spieth, Blackmon and Daugherty) are all gone, so JUCO transfer Zach Hunsaker will be called upon to score from deep. “He is going to have a chance to make a large and immediate impact on our team, Martin told Brown Athletics, “as he can really score the basketball and also is very comfortable running a team.” Hunsaker went 100-for-220 (45.5 percent) from long range in National Junior College Athletic Association play a year ago, which isn’t a bad clip.
Junior forward Travis Fuller ranked 23rd nationally and first among Ivies in defensive rebounding rate last year, so that’s something to build on. Sophomore forward Josh Howard had a great November offensively but cooled off in Ivy play, notching double figures in four of his first eight games and five of the last seven, but just three of the 16 games in the middle of the season. Howard will be a more consistent scorer as sophomore, but he and Anderson will have to be more reliable outside shooters since that’s what Martin’s motion offense relies on.
Brown is 11-31 in Ivy play under Martin the past three seasons after two 7-7 finishes in his first two seasons in Providence. For greater context, the Bears have garnered double-digit wins in league play just once since 2004, besting only Dartmouth in that time frame. Last season’s defense was Brown’s worst in adjusted efficiency of the KenPom era (dating back to 2001-02). If defense wins championships, then Brown’s got a long way to go.

1 thought on “2017-18 Ivy League team-by-team season preview, part 2”

  1. Excellent analysis of the league! Re Browns record of having only one double digit win year in the Ivy League since 2004 and exceeding only Dartmouth in that respect- True but unfortunately , I believe, Columbia is tied with Brown with only having one double digit win year (2015-2016) in the Ivy league since 2004. With Mike Smith of Columbia having worked out with JImmy Butler and another pro in the offseason, he may be the surprise of the league, even with his having had a very good year in 2016-2017.

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