2017-18 Ivy women’s basketball preview, part 3

This is part 3 of our 2017-18 Ivy women’s basketball preview. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

4. Brown Bears (‘16-’17 record: 17-13, 7-7 Ivy; tied for fourth; Ivy Tournament semifinalist; lost in second Round of WBI)

Coach Sarah Behn (fourth season; 19th season overall)

Captains: Megan Reilly (senior guard) and Erika Steeves (junior forward)

Key Returning Players:
Justine Gaziano (sophomore guard) – 22 starts, 16.5 ppg, 47.5 percent field-goal percentage, 80 percent free-throw percentage, 35 made three-pointers
Shayna Mehta (junior guard) – 30 starts, 15.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 39.2 percent three-point percentage, 62 made three-pointers, 58 steals

Key Losses:
Abby O’Keefe (Guard) – five starts, 17.7 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 19 made three-pointers

Key Additions:
McKenna Dale (guard) – Connecticut Gatorade POY; 1,792 points, 747 rebounds, 264 steals, 162 blocks in career
Dominique Leonidas (Guard) – first team all-state (Ga.); 1,000-plus career points

IHO Brown schedule breakdown here

Gaziano and Mehta were both in the top five in scoring and named members of the All-Ivy second team. In her rookie season, Gaziano was in the top 10 of five offensive categories, while Mehta, the 2015-16 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, was in the top 15 for eight offensive and defensive statistics.  Steeves, the league’s top total rebounder, was in the conference’s top 15 for six offensive and defensive categories. Will was in the top 10 for five statistics.

The Bears had the league’s most potent offense, at or near the top for points, total field goals, two-pointers, three-pointers, free throws and assists.  Their defense did struggle being at or near the bottom in points allowed, two-point shooting, and three-point shooting, as well as offensive and defensive rebounding percentages.

With just about everyone returning, including four starters that were in the top 11 in scoring, there does not appear to be any drop-off in Brown’s high power offense.  A healthy Bears team should be in the hunt for one of the four coveted Ivy Tournament spots.  If the Bears can improve their shooting defense and rebounding, they stand a good chance at moving into the top three, fighting for the tournament title and earning a spot in a more prestigious postseason tournament.

3. Harvard Crimson (‘16-’17 record: 21-9, 8-6 Ivy; third Place; Ivy Tournament semifinalist; lost second round of NIT)

Coach: Kathy Delaney-Smith (36th season)

Captains: Kirby Porter (senior guard) and Madeline Raster (junior guard)

Key Returning Players:
Katie Benzan (sophomore guard) – 29 starts, 34.6 mpg, 13.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.2 apg, 83 made three-pointers

Jeannie Boehm (sophomore forward) – 30 starts, 27.9 mpg, 7.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 74 blocks, 45.9 percent field-goal percentage

Key Losses:
Destiny Nunley (forward) – 30 starts, 11.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 47 blocks

Key Additions:
Jadyn Bush (forward) – AP Washington State: Co-Player of the Year
Rachel Levy (guard/forward) – Sun Sentinel (Fla.) and Palm Beach Post (Fla.) POY (‘15-’16  and ‘16-’17)

IHO Harvard schedule breakdown here 

Benzan, an All-Ivy first-team member, was first in the league in assists, three-pointers and free-throw percentage (94.1 percent).  She was also in the top 10 in minutes played and points.  Boehm, who was selected to the USA U-19 World Cup team this past summer, was second in blocks, fifth in field-goal percentage, and top 15 in total rebounds. Raster was ninth in three pointers (1.6 per game) and 10th in steals (1.4 per game). Junior guard Sydney Skinner was third in free-throw percentage (84.8 percent) and eighth in assists (2.6 per game).

Offensively, the Crimson emphasize ball movement and the three-pointer, putting up a league second-best 14 assists and 6.8 threes a game.  They were sixth in the conference in three-point shooting (31.4 percent), but second for two-point range (43.7 percent).  Defensively, they excelled on the perimeter, forcing its opponents into 28.9 percent three-point shooting and a league-best 4.9 made threes a game. Once inside, Harvard was able to use a 70.2 percent defensive rebounding percentage and 5.2 blocks per contest to its advantage.

Harvard only loses one player from its core rotation, returning 82 percent of its points, 89 percent of its assists, 82 percent of its rebounds and 97 percent of its made three-pointers.  Losing Nunley leaves a large void at the four-spot, but senior Taylor Rooks, who averaged 16.0 minutes a game in 30 contests, appears ready to start.  There are also four forwards in the first-year class who will look to gain front court time, as well.

Last season, Harvard won 16 games in a row, following an opening night defeat.  Unfortunately, the team had problems late in the season, losing five of its last six Ivy matchups (regular season and Ivy Tournament).  If this team can solidify the four and avoid another late season struggle, there is enough talent to challenge for the league title.  If not, then the Crimson may find themselves in a fight for the last spot in the Ivy Tournament.

2. Princeton Tigers (‘16-’17 record: 18-14, 9-5 Ivy; second; Ivy Tournament finalist; lost first-round NIT)

Coach: Courtney Banghart (11th season)

Captains: Leslie Robinson (senior forward) and Tia Weledji (senior guard)

Key Returning Players:
Bella Alarie (sophomore guard/forward) – 30 starts, 30.6 mpg, 12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 51 blocks, 39 made three-pointers
Robinson – 29 starts, 26.6 mpg, 10.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 48 percent field-goal percentage, 2.8 apg, 35 steals

Key Losses:
Vanessa Smith (Guard) – 25 starts, 24.0 mpg, 7.8 ppg, 45.6 percent field-goal percentage
Taylor Brown (Guard) – 30 starts, 24.0 mpg, 6.4 ppg, 2.0 apg

Key Additions:
Abby Meyers (shooting guard) – 1,700-plus career points
Carlie Littlefield (point guard) – Iowa Class 5A POY; 1,393 points, 380 assists, and 296 steals in career

IHO Princeton schedule breakdown here 

Alarie was an All-Ivy first team member, as well as the league’s Rookie of the Year and the starting forward for USA Basketball’s U-19 World Cup Team.  She was in the conference’s top 10 for points, rebounds, blocks, field-goal percentage, three-point field-goal percentage and made three-pointers. Robinson was a second team All-Ivy selection, who was in the top 10 for field-goal percentage, rebounds and assists. Sydney Jordan, a junior wing, started 24 games and was seventh in the conference in offensive boards (2.4 a game).

The Tigers offense, which was the second-most prolific in the Ivy League (64.4 a game), centered on rebounding (first 15.2 a game; 39.6 percent) and two-pointers (first; 45.1 attempts and 18.4 made), as opposed to three-pointers (sixth; 5.9 a game).  While the Tigers has solid offensive numbers, they were better on the defensive end. The Orange and Black, which held its opponents to 57.2 points per game, were first in steals (8.4 a game; five players with 25-plus) and three-point field-goal percentage (28.3 percent).  They were second in defensive rebounding (72 percent), forced turnovers (15.9) and made two-pointers (14.6), while being third in blocks (4.5 per game) and two-point field-goal percentage (39.7 percent).

For a team that is frontcourt-focused, Princeton will return its three starters, including two of the league’s most dominant forwards. While the Tigers have to replace the starting backcourt, there are a number of experienced players from last year (Weledji, senior Kenya Holland, and junior Gabrielle Rush). as well as highly rated recruits, ready to take those spots.  Barring unexpected injuries, the Tigers should be a lock for the Ivy Tournament and their ninth straight postseason appearance, as they challenge for the regular season and tournament Ivy titles. 

1. Penn Quakers (‘16-’17 record: 22-8, 13-1 Ivy; first Place; Ivy Tournament champion; lost first Round of NCAA Tournament)

Coach: Mike McLaughlin (ninth season; 23rd season overall)

Captains: Michelle Nwokedi (senior forward), Anna Ross (senior guard), Beth Brzozowski (senior guard), Lauren Whitlatch (senior guard)

Key Returning Players:

Nowkedi – 30 starts, 31.4 mpg, 15.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.4 apg, 87 blocks
Ross – 30 starts, 38.1 mpg, 9.3 ppg, 4.2 apg

Key Losses:

Sydney Stipanovich (forward) – 30 starts, 32.9 mpg, 10.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 43.0 field-goal percentage, 55  blocks
Kasey Chambers (guard) 30 starts, 33.1 mpg, 6.1 ppg, 2.8 apg, 1.6 spg

Key Additions:

Eleah Parker (center) – three-time All-State (N.C.); Career 1,484 points and 1,265 rebounds
Michae Jones (guard) – three-time second-team All-State (La.); 1,832 points

IHO Penn schedule breakdown here 

Nwokedi was a unanimous selection to the All-Ivy first team and was the league’s Player of the Year.  She led the conference in offensive rebounds (3.2 a game) and blocks (2.9 a game).  She was top-five in points, total rebounds, defensive rebounds and made free throws (100).  Ross, who was selected to the second team All-Ivy, was first in assists (4.2 per game), second in minutes played (35.2 per game), and 10th in made three-pointers (39).  Brzozowski, who started the second half of the year due to a season-ending injury to Whitlatch, ended the season ninth in three-point field-goal percentage (35.7 percent).

While Penn had good shooting numbers (41.9 percent from two; 34.1 percent from three), the Quakers’ offensive strength came from ball movement (league leading 14.4 assists per game) and offensive rebounding (36.4 percent).  The Red and Blue only allowed 52.1 points per contest on the strength of their shooting defense (36.4 percent two-point field-goal percentage; 30.2 percent three-point field-goal percentage) and interior presence (5.9 blocks per game).

The graduations of Stipanovich, the 2015-16 Ivy POY, and Chambers, a relentless on-ball defender, are major losses for Penn. Having four returning starters, including the defending POY at forward and one of the league’s best point guards, will certainly help lessen that loss.  Junior Princess Aghayere and the highly touted Parker should help at the forward position, while junior Ashley Russell may pick up more minutes in the backcourt. With the team’s talent and experience, a top-division result seems certain.  If the Quakers can find a strong partner to team with Nwokedi in the frontcourt, an Ivy three-peat, an Ivy Tournament repeat, and a shot at NCAA Tournament redemption will be in reach.

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