2018 Ivy League Women’s Basketball Tournament preview

No. 4 Yale

15-12 Overall (7-5 Home; 8-5 Away; 0-2 Neutral)

8-6 Ivy (5-2 Home; 3-4 Away)

2-4 vs Ivy Tournament Teams (1-1 vs Princeton; 0-2 vs Penn; 1-1 vs Harvard)

RPI #125; Sagarin #135

Preseason Rank: #5

Projected Starters: Jen Berkowitz (Sr, C), Megan Gorman (So, F), Ellen Margaret Andrews (1st Yr, F/G), Tamara Simpson (Sr, G), Roxy Barahman (So, G)

Key Reserves: Tori Andrew (1st Yr, G), Mary Ann Santucci (Sr, G), Alexandra Maund (Jr, F), Alex Cade (1st Yr, F)

Yale earned its ticket to the Ivy Tournament with an early road victory at Dartmouth and big wins at home against Princeton and Harvard.  In nonconference play, the Bulldogs had a big road victory at TCU to go along with close loses to Kansas and Indiana.

The Bulldogs were led by Berkowitz, Simpson and Barahman.  Berkowitz, a career 1,000-point scorer and first-team All-Ivy selection, averaged 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds in league play. She also led the conference with a 54.9 shooting percentage. Simpson was tenth in conference scoring with 12.5 points a game and first in steals with 4.1 per contest.  In addition to leading the league, the two time Defensive Player of the Year is third in the country in steals per game and total steals. Barahman bounced back from an injury filled ’16-’17 averaging 4.7 points (28 percent shooting), 1.3 assists, 1.4 rebounds and 15.0 minutes a game to a ’17-’18 campaign where she had 13.6 points (38 percent shooting), 3.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 32.1 minutes per game.

In conference action, Yale’s greatest strength came from its defense.  Allison Guth’s team had the third best scoring defense, holding opponents to 63.1 points a game on 42.3 percent two point and 32.0 percent three point shooting.  It was first in the league and top 35 nationally in steals and forced turnovers. On offense, the Bulldogs only shot 28.7 percent from three, 42.9 percent from two and 66.8 percent from three.  Despite being last in three-point shooting and seventh in made three-pointers, Yale averaged 10.5 threes on 43 percent shooting in its wins against Harvard and Princeton.

Yale has beaten each of the other Ivy Tournament participants over the last 13 months, but each one was at the Lee Amphitheater. This past weekend, with a chance to capture a share of the league title and the No. 1 overall seed, Yale lost by double-digits at both Penn and Princeton.

To claim the league’s automatic bid, the Bulldogs will need Berkowitz and Megan Gorman need to hold their own on the boards, while Simpson and Barahman will have to disrupt opponents’ guards on their way to easy points off turnovers.  Additionally, Barahaman, Andrew and Santucci will need to shoot above their averages from three.

No. 3 Harvard

18-9 Overall (12-0 Home; 4-8 Away; 2-1 Neutral)

10-4 Ivy (7-0 Home; 3-4 Away)

3-3 vs Ivy Tournament Teams (1-1 vs Princeton; 1-1 vs Penn; 1-1 vs Yale)

RPI #51; Sagarin #107

Preseason Rank: #3

Projected Starters: Jeannie Boehm (So, F), Taylor Rooks (Sr, F), Kirby Porter (Sr, G), Madeline Raster (Jr, G), Katie Benzan (So, G)

Key Reserves: Sydney Skinner (Jr, G), Jadyn Bush (1st Year, F), Nani Redford (Jr, G)

In her 36th season coaching the Crimson, Kathy Delaney-Smith led her team to its 15th straight appearance in the league’s top three.  After its Ivy opening loss at Dartmouth, Harvard found itself at 7-6 and mired in inconsistency. The team then went 6-0 on a dominant four-week home stand that included important wins against Ivy Tournament challengers Dartmouth, Yale and Brown.

Losing to Princeton by 33, Penn by 20 and Yale by six on the road over the next two weeks lessened the positives of the win streak and placed Harvard in a fight for a place in the league’s upper division. With two weekends left, including return matches against the Quakers and Tigers, it appeared that Harvard would need the league’s third level of tiebreakers to secure the last spot at the Palestra. The Crimson, however, took matter into their own hands and away from the league office. In a defensive struggle against Penn on Friday night, they pulled away late in the fourth quarter for a 55-52 win. On Senior Night, they exploded for 47 second-half points to beat Princeton and clinched a return spot in the conference tournament.

Harvard arrives at the Ivy Madness with the league’s most potent offense, putting up 73 points on the strength of its 37.4 percent three point (nine made threes per game) and 51 percent two-point shooting. Sophomore guard Katie Benzan, a two time All-Ivy first-team member, averaged 14.3 points a game and 3.6 made threes on 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Senior Taylor Rooks, who successfully moved to the front court replacing Destiny Nunley and became a All-Ivy Second Team selection, averaged 13.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals a game.x Sydney Skinner, arguably the conference’s best reserve, added 10.9 points, 1.7 made three-pointers and 3.5 assists in 24.4 minutes a game. Helping the offense is a league-leading 40.5 percent rebounding rate anchored by Rooks, sophomore Jeannie Boehm (Second Team All-Ivy) and first-year Jadyn Bush. Defensively, the Crimson are fifth in the league in scoring defense, allowing 66.4 points a game.  They are holding teams to 34 percent from three and 44.1 percent from two, while securing 68.8 percent of its defensive rebounding opportunities. With regards to turnovers, they give up 15.3 a game, while only taking the ball away 13.5 times.

Harvard went 12-0 at home this season, but it had difficulty against quality opponents on the road.  To win the tournament, the Crimson will need to replicate their Lavietes magic. Their front court will need to bring their home court swagger, bottling up their opponents forwards and forcing more outside shooting. They also need to get the team out on offense quickly, preventing their opponents from setting up their defense.  Their guards need to push the pace, hold onto the ball and be accurate from beyond the arc.

No. 2 Penn

20-7 Overall (9-2 Home; 9-4 Away; 2-1 Neutral)

11-3 Ivy (6-1 Home; 5-2 Away)

3-3 vs Ivy Tournament Teams (0-2 vs Princeton; 1-1 vs Harvard; 2-0 vs Yale)

RPI #62; Sagarin #66

Preseason Rank: #1

Projected Starters: Eleah Parker (1st Year, C), Michelle Nwokedi (Sr, F), Lauren Whitlatch (Sr, G), Ashley Russell (Jr, G), Anna Ross (Sr, G)

Key Reserves: Princess Aghayere (Jr, F), Beth Brzozowski (Sr, G), Phoebe Sterba (So, G), Tori Crawford (1st Year, F)

Despite not winning the conference regular season title for the third straight year, Penn had a very successful campaign. Penn had its fifth straight year with 20 or more wins and double digit conference victories, as well as its first win over Villanova since 2001 and a Big 5 co-championship.

With the graduation of Sydney Stipanovich and the arrival of Parker, Nwokedi had to learn how to play with a new partner as she was moved from the center to the forward position.  After a short learning curve, the ’16-’17 Ivy Player of the Year successfully adapted, averaging 12.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.6 blocks in league play on her way to her third All-Ivy First Team selection.  Parker quickly adjusted to Division I basketball, averaging 11.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and two blocks. The Charlotte native proved to be one of the most physical players in the conference, winning eight Rookie of the Week awards and a unanimous selection as the league’s Rookie of the Year. Ross, who moved back to the point guard spot this season, averaged 8.9 points and 4.8 assists. She also ended the year with a program record 476 assists.

The Quakers are one of the nation’s most elite defensive units.  They were first in the conference and eleventh in the nation in both scoring defense (51.8 points Ivy, 54.5 overall) and opponent field goal percentage (33.1 percent Ivy, 35.4 percent overall).  They also led the Ancient Eight in three-point field goal defense (29.6 percent), two-point defense (35.5 percent) and blocks (6.1), while being second in rebounding (40.4 percent offensive and 70.3 defensive rates) and third in forced turnovers (14.8).  The offense, however, is less dominant. They averaged 65.3 points in conference action, shooting 41.9 percent from two, 33.6 percent from three (8.1 made threes per game) and 67.4 percent from the free throw line.

Even though they are the No. 2 seed in the Ivy Tournament, Penn will have the home court advantage throughout their stay. Although the stronger unit, the Quakers front court will need to prevent Harvard and Yale’s bigs from gaining confidence with layups and second chance opportunities. If they play Princeton, they will need to make Bella Alarie work for her inevitable points while limiting Leslie Robinson’s passing and driving abilities. In the backcourt, Russell will need to spend her time blanketed on Benzan, Barahman, Rush and Meyers to prevent them from getting hot.  Offensively, Nwokedi and Ross needs to spend more time playing to their strengths inside the arc and allow the more accurate three point shooters to take their chances. Lastly, the bench will need to be productive, especially if they play the Tigers, so their starters can remain strong late in the contests.

#1 – Princeton

22-5 Overall (10-2 Home; 10-3 Away; 2-0 Neutral)

12-2 Ivy (7-0 Home; 5-2 Away)

4-2 vs Ivy Tournament Tems (2-0 vs Penn; 1-1 vs Harvard; 1-1 vs Yale)

RPI #29; Sagarin #52

Preseason Rank: #2

Projected Starters: Bella Alarie (So, F), Leslie Robinson (Sr, F), Sydney Jordan (Jr, G/F), Qalea Ismail (Jr, G), Carlie Littlefield (1st Year, G)

Key Reserves: Abby Meyers (1st Year, G), Tia Weledji (Sr, G), Gabrielle Rush (Jr, G), Kenya Holland (Sr, G)

Princeton’s nonconference schedule included signature wins against George Washington, Seton Hall, Delaware and Quinnipiac.  In conference play, the Tigers went 7-0 at home and swept the two-time defending champs Penn as the team won its first title in three years and the sixth in Courtney Banghart’s eleven years as head coach.

For the second year in a row, the Tigers were led by Alarie and Robinson. Alarie, the Ivy League Player of the Year, averaged 11.4 points, nine rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 1.5 steals in league play, while Robinson, an All-Ivy First Team member, had 10.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.8 steals.  Meyers and Rush overcame nonconference struggles to add three-point offensive power during league play. Meyers averaged 10.9 points in league play, including 24 three-pointers at a 40.9 percent rate, and Rush averaged 8.4 points along with 29 threes at a 43.9 percent rate.

Like the Quakers, the Tigers have one of the league’s and nation’s best defenses.  They allowed their Ivy opponents to score only 54.4 points, shooting 31.3 percent from two and 37.7 percent from three.  The Orange & Black also led the league with a 72.5 percent defensive rebounding rate, second in blocks (5.5) and third in steals (8.5).  Meanwhile, their offense was first in the league in assists (17.2), second in the league in scoring (71.3 points on 33.9 three point and 51 percent two-point shooting), and third in the conference in offensive rebounding rate (36.7 percent).

With 12 wins, including a victory over No. 2 seed Penn at the Palestra, the Tigers arrive at the Ivy Tournament as the solid favorites to win the postseason crown.  In their two conference losses, Alarie scored a total of 12 points and the team gave up 21 three pointers on 51 percent shooting. If they can get Alarie involved in the offense right out of the gate and their normally strong defense can emphasize additional three-point pressure, they should be able to focus the game to their strengths inside the arc.  If they cannot do that, then their deep bench will have to pick up the slack from three while wearing down their opponents.

Ivy Tournament Schedule

Sat., Mar. 10 – Semifinals (The Palestra)
Princeton vs Yale at 6:00 p.m. (Live and On Demand at ESPN3; Tape Delay at ESPNU)
Penn vs Harvard at 8:30 p.m. (Live and On Demand at ESPN3; Tape Delay at ESPNU)

Sun., Mar. 11 – Final (The Palestra)

Winner of Princeton/Yale vs Winner of Penn/Harvard at 4:00 pm at ESPNU