The Ancient Eight aren’t so ancient anymore.
Penn ranks highest in experience in the Ivy League but still ranks just 140th nationally. Princeton (144th) and Columbia (244th) round out the Ivies in the top 250, while Cornell, Brown and Harvard are all sub-300 in experience at 306th, 334th and 335th respectively.
It hasn’t always been this way.
In 2014-15, the Ivy League was closer to “Ancient,” with three top-60 teams in experience (No. 27 Yale, No. 28 Harvard and No. 57 Cornell), and two more in the top 200 (No. 116 Dartmouth and No. 181 Columbia). The league had two top-50 teams in experience in 2015-16 (No. 21 Yale and No. 46 Columbia) and one top-60 team last season (No. 65 Princeton).
Sure, the Ivy League is ranked 21st among all 32 Division I conferences, its worst ranking since 2010. But the future is bright.
Four of the league’s five all-KenPom players are sophomores, and the other is a junior. No seniors lead any of the 13 major individual statistical categories.
The weekend’s KenPom game MVPs included Harvard sophomore Christian Juzang and Penn sophomore Devon Goodman, Yale sophomore Miye Oni on Friday and Dartmouth rookie Chris Knight, Harvard sophomore Chris Lewis and Penn sophomore AJ Brodeur on Saturday.
T1. Harvard (14-11, 9-1 Ivy)
No Ivy is younger – or looking better right now – than Harvard.
The Crimson’s defense was always a given, but Harvard is hitting on an inside-out approach on offense that in successive weeks dispatched what appear to be the Ivy League’s other two best teams: Penn and Yale.
A week after he went 10-for-14 from the floor for 25 points in a win over Penn, Lewis went 9-for-14 for 18 points in Harvard’s 64-49 win over Yale Saturday night, notching more field goals in the first half (seven) than Yale (six). Lewis’s ability to handle double-teams consistently going forward will be crucial. He also needs to stay out of foul trouble, averaging 3.1 fouls per game in the last nine contests.
Lewis’s fouls are typically either offensive or coming off an opponent’s offensive board in the paint. He was charged with nine fouls in two games against Brown, a good offensive rebounding team that forced several Lewis fouls on second chances and also benefited from several charge calls against him. Penn isn’t an offensive boards-oriented team like Brown (although Brodeur and Max Rothschild excel in that category), and the Red & Blue don’t draw fouls like the Bears do either. Harvard’s win over Penn was the only game in the past nine in which he didn’t commit a foul.
Harvard is clicking outside of the paint as well, shooting 39.7 percent from three-point range in Ivy play, much better than its abysmal nonconference clip. Juzang had never made more than two three-pointers in a game until this weekend but did so both in Harvard’s 65-58 win over Brown Friday and the Yale victory Saturday.
Harvard didn’t get to a point per possession in either game this weekend but got a sweep anyway because its defense, led by Justin Bassey, did its thing, holding Oni and Brown rookie phenom Desmond Cambridge to a combined 17 points on 6-for-25 (24 percent) shooting.
The Crimson defense had trouble locking down Penn’s guards, allowing open shots in their Lavietes Pavilion meeting that the visitors simply couldn’t net.
T1. Penn (19-7, 9-1)
Read Steven Tydings’ recap for IHO of how Devon Goodman went from the scout team to game MVP in Penn’s breakaway 74-62 win at Columbia Friday night.
Aided by increasingly desperate shot selection from Columbia, Penn threw down an 18-0 run over 5:30 that summed up the Red & Blue’s ensemble offense: five different players scored, with the team posting four assists on seven field goals.
Ryan Betley’s two-point night at Levien Gym broke an 11-game streak of getting into double figures, but he bounced back at Cornell with 6-for-11 three-point shooting for 23 points. Hot shooting from Betley and Caleb Wood (3-for-6) carried Penn to its 11th straight win, 79-71, over the Big Red and seventh straight at Newman Arena. But Penn hadn’t shot north of 40 percent from deep in its previous five games, so it was due for such an explosion, particularly against Cornell’s last-place three-point defense among Ivies.
Brodeur has netted at least seven two-point field goals in four of the past five games after doing so just twice in the previous 21 contests this season. In other words, he’s getting hot, and the team is leaning on him more than it did in late January and as recently as the Yale-Brown home weekend on Feb. 2-3.
Caleb Wood went 6-for-14 from deep this weekend, but he went a combined 0-for-14 from beyond the arc at Dartmouth and Harvard, which have better three-point defenses (especially Harvard, of course) the previous weekend. If he can net multiple threes against them both this weekend, that would be a huge boost to Penn’s shot at getting to 11 Ivy wins for the first time since 2012 with a weekend to spare.
Really, though, Penn needs to figure out how to slow down Lewis. Backside pressure might be something to try early, especially since Penn’s guards are so good at rotating defensively anyway.
3. Yale (12-14, 5-5)
Makai Mason made his long awaited comeback at Harvard Saturday night, turning in eight points on 2-for-6 shooting in 21 minutes off the bench. He looked much better than his stats suggest, though, deftly distributing the ball and repeatedly displaying his smooth crossover dribble. He led Yale in scoring at halftime with five points. The rest of the team had 11.
The Bulldogs attacked the basket more in the second half and got rewarded for it (just as the Crimson got away from feeding Lewis inside and paid for it), resulting in the Elis getting within single-digits after a 36-16 halftime deficit before the Crimson pulled away with defense. Having Mason back is awesome. Let’s hope he can pitch in in every game down the stretch.
The bellwether is still Miye Oni, though. Yale is 5-0 in Ivy play when Oni scores in double figures and 0-5 when he doesn’t. The former scenario will probably get a boost from Mason’s floor vision, since Oni and Mason had never played in a game together before prior to Saturday night.
The upcoming weekend is huge for Yale, which can for all intents and purposes punch its Ivy League Tournament ticket with a sweep at Cornell and Columbia. Yale hasn’t lost at either since 2014.
Huge weekend against two teams desperate to make up ground in Ivy tourney race: Cornell and Columbia. Hasn’t lost at either since 2014.
T4. Cornell (10-13, 4-6)
— Matt Morgan (@TheRealMM10) February 17, 2018
Cornell’s 107-101 triple-overtime triumph over Princeton Friday night was an all-time classic, one that the Big Red had 99.1 percent odds of losing when they trailed 65-43 with 11:44 remaining in regulation.
It really was a team effort that brought Cornell back, with Jimmy Boeheim and Jack Gordon making big plays down the very long stretch. Morgan, though, was the game’s MVP, finishing three assists shy of a triple-double at 31 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in 51 minutes. Stone Gettings made several crucial shots late too amid a 26-point, eight-rebound, five-assist, three-block, two-steal performance.
The Big Red rank sixth in league play in adjusted offensive efficiency and last in adjusted defensive efficiency, and yet they would be in the Ivy League Tournament if it started today since it’s the 4-6 team with the most head-to-head wins against the other two. Sweeping Yale and Brown this weekend is critical, of course.
Yale is kind of a tantalizing team on paper for Cornell, almost like a mirror image. Yale offers statistically poor three-point shooting versus the Big Red’s poor three-point shooting defense, a mediocre interior defense against Cornell’s aggressive offensive approach and an uncharacteristically low volume of offensive boards against Cornell’s meh defensive rebounding. Cornell and Yale rank one and two in the league in assists per field goals made as well. And of course, Cornell already took care of Brown once this season. The point is, Cornell is very much in this race, a credit to Brian Earl, who has bestowed interior offense to the Big Red, which have ranked in the top 40 in two-point percentage in two seasons under Earl after ranking outside the top 200 in five of the previous six seasons. The Big Red shoot with smarts now, which is why they still have a shot.
T4. Columbia (7-16, 4-6)
Columbia shot 14-for-24 (58.3 percent) from deep against the reeling Tigers in its 85-60 romp Saturday night, led by a career-high 22 points from Kyle Castlin.
The Lions remain arguably the league’s most fun team to watch. They’ve got the league’s No. 1 offense, rank first in three-point shooting, and a nab an awful lot of offensive rebounds, largely courtesy of Patrick Tape, who ranks first in the league in that category in conference play.
Quinton Adlesh remains one of the league’s most scoring threats, having netted at least four three-pointers in four of the last six games and multiple treys in nine of the last 10, in addition to being a solid passer and rebounder.
Columbia has a monumental matchup with Brown at Levien Friday night. Brown’s leaky defense is a great matchup for the Lions’ high-octane offense, but Columbia couldn’t take advantage of a hot night from deep while the Bears went cold there in their previous meeting, a 91-88 overtime win for Brown on Feb. 10.
T4. Brown (11-12, 4-6)
After scoring 90 points or more in three of four games, Brown’s offense cooled off this weekend, largely because Desmond Cambridge did. Cambridge went 8-for-32 (25 percent) from the floor this weekend, his first after sustaining a left ankle injury (per the Providence Journal) against Columbia.
The good news is Brown gave up under a point a possession to both Harvard and Dartmouth, two squads that like to assert themselves inside. That bodes well for a rematch with Cornell Saturday night, but as noted above, Columbia is a different story.
Tamenang Choh is establishing himself as one of the league’s most versatile talents, an efficient scorer who crashes the boards at both ends and block shots. Choh posted 12 points and seven boards in just 27 minutes in Brown’s overtime loss to Columbia and will likely to have to come up big if the Bears are to score a season sweep of the Lions this upcoming weekend.
7. Princeton (11-14, 3-7)
Princeton started the season as a top-90 team in KenPom and were a top 125 team as recently as this month. Not even three weeks later, the Tigers have fallen out of the top 200.
The Tigers are coming off a weekend in which they got swept by a pair of teams they beat by a combined 53 points last month, stunningly registering just one assist in the entire first half at Columbia. They’ve gotten swept by Penn, lost two Ivy games in which they’ve scored more than 100 points and one that they had a greater than 99 percent shot of winning midway through the second half.
So how is this happening? For starters, a lack of aggression at both ends of the floor.
This Princeton team has easily the worst defensive turnover percentage of the KenPom era, and at the other end of the floor, the Tigers are coming up small in big moments. Amir Bell airballed what would have been a game-winning free throw with four tenths of a second left in regulation at Cornell, after he had already made the first. Myles Stephens had the ball with a chance to win the game at the end of double overtime, but instead of driving in the paint as is one of his strengths, he settled for a contested fadeaway jumper that rimmed out from an awkward angle on the wing.
Princeton’s not seizing moments. It’s fading in second halves, whether at Cornell, at Dartmouth or at Jadwin versus Penn. Maybe the team simply doesn’t have the depth to fall back on as games progress at either end of the floor. It’s relying too heavily on its big three of Bell, Stephens and Devin Cannady, the latter playing all 55 minutes at Cornell while Stephens played 54. Those three all rank in the league’s top five in minutes played. No other team has more than two players in the top 10. Penn has one. Harvard has none.
The Tigers aren’t mathematically eliminated from Ivy tourney contention by a long shot, but they’re clearly the most listless team in the conference right now with Harvard about to come to town. Princeton’s got the talent and coaching to pull this together, but it’s got to start now, and with somebody providing an early spark in both games this weekend.
8. Dartmouth (6-17, 2-8)
The Big Green finally came out on top in a close Ivy game, holding off Brown, 66-63, in Hanover Saturday night. Despite 20 turnovers, Dartmouth took advantage of abysmal Brown shooting to nab its second win in three tries, with a trip to Penn and Princeton up next.
Dartmouth’s offense has actually improved over what it was the past two years because of better outside shooting and a more balanced inside attack lately featuring Chris Knight to great success. Like much of the rest of the league, the Big Green’s promising frontcourt is young and on an upswing in a down year.