Ancient Eight thoughts: Ivy Friday men’s edition

Seeing it through 

Brown notched an outstanding 67-63 win at Jadwin Gym, hanging on after nearly surrendering a 60-47 lead with 2:17 left. Brandon Anderson was the best player on the floor off the bench, posting 21 points and three steals in just 28 minutes, his trips to the foul line and jumpers setting back the Tigers any time they got even a modicum of momentum. Brown’s defense shut Princeton down early and often, holding the Tigers to 0.79 points per possession and collecting a whopping 25 turnovers from the hosts.

Bears fans had grown accustomed to late-season slides in conference play. Brown lost its final six games last season after a 4-4 start in league action, lost seven of nine after a 2-3 start in Ivy contests in 2017 and lost eight of nine after a 2-3 start in 2016. This season, though, Brown has flipped the script, getting it together after a 1-4 start by leaning on its much-improved and aggressive defense even as Desmond Cambridge has struggled to score. It took a 17-for-19 showing from the free-throw line for Columbia to squeeze past Brown in Providence, Bruno’s only loss in the past six games.

Brown could very well punch an Ivy League Tournament ticket from the free throw lines in the win-and-in game at the Palestra tonight, as the Bears rank first in the conference in percentage of points scored from the foul line (21.4 percent). Penn, however, allows a league-low 13.2 percent of points scored there and also has the Ivy’s lowest defensive free throw rate, attempting nine more and making four more free throws than Brown in Penn’s 92-82 win over the Bears last month. But Anderson was not a factor in that game, and Brown has been outscored from the foul line only once since (by one in a decisive win over Cornell). Anderson’s aggressive attacking style on offense shapes games sometimes, determining pace and momentum. Now’s a huge opportunity for Anderson to try to hang fouls on a Penn squad that doesn’t commit a ton of them.

The Bears have a chance to win 20 games for the first time in program history tonight, having already won a program-record 19 games in 29 outings in Mike Martin’s seventh season as coach at Brown.

Work to do

Princeton had little offense for the first 38 minutes versus Brown beyond Richmond Aririguzoh in the post and Myles Stephens in transition. Those two combined for 12 turnovers, plus four from rookie Ethan Wright in his career-high 30 minutes of play. Add nine more turnovers and you get 25, which coach Mitch Henderson knows is unacceptable, calling the total “horrific” and “unbelievable” postgame.

Contributing to Princeton’s offensive woes was the absence of Ryan Schwieger, who the Daily Princetonian reported missed the game with a concussion and won’t play against Yale tonight after having surpassed 20 points and earning KenPom game MVP honors in three of the previous four games stepping up following Devin Cannady’s departure.

Princeton still has a shot at sharing the Ivy League championship, which it will do with a win versus Yale and a Harvard loss at a resurgent Columbia. That could very well happen. But the Tigers need to figure out their offensive attack first.

Right on cue

Penn was in a must-win situation after Brown’s victory at Princeton and played like it, standing out as the visibly better team from the opening tip on in a 77-66 win over Yale. Penn’s defensive intensity, disciplined crisp ball movement (just two first-half turnovers) and hot three-point shooting overwhelmed Yale. Antonio Woods has made 16 three-pointers in the past five games, and AJ Brodeur has remarkably been KenPom’s MVP in each of Penn’s past four contests, making a strong Ivy Player of the Year case. Brodeur anchored Penn’s attack versus Yale, collecting 24 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks in 37 minutes. Most importantly, though, Penn’s defense continues to impress as of late, effectively shutting down the Elis despite their own shooting accuracy (12-for-29, including multiple three-pointers made by Blake Reynolds in Brodeur’s face). Brown is going to be an incredibly formidable opponent tonight, but the Red & Blue’s defensive momentum has them rolling with ample positive momentum to try to slow down Desmond Cambridge, Brandon Anderson, Obi Okolie, Tamenang Choh and company.

Responsible for that momentum were Penn’s veterans, as seniors Max Rothschild and Jackson Donahue played pivotal roles in the win, getting more minutes than the recent usual as rookies Bryce Washington (four minutes) and Michael Wang (did not play) took backseats.

Another strength versus strength between Brown and Penn will be Bruno’s turnover-oriented defense and Penn’s discipline on offense. Penn has the best offensive turnover percentage in Ivy play per KenPom, while Brown has the highest defensive turnover percentage. Something’s got to give, and in their previous matchup Penn registered 18 assists to just 11 turnovers. Penn’s probably not going to turn it over 25 times like Princeton, and now’s a good time to note how exceptional Penn’s guards in particular are at avoiding turnovers. If Brown can stack some steals and disrupt the rhythm of Penn’s motion offense, watch out.

Still No. 2

Given Harvard’s loss at Cornell, Yale blew a chance to take sole possession of first place in the Ivy League standings and the No. 1 seed that would come with that, dropping its third loss in four games. And coach James Jones isn’t happy about his team’s effort. “Our energy and our effort was not where it needed to be to win a college basketball game,” Jones said postgame per the Yale Daily News. Miye Oni’s had a rough past two games (including a career-low two points at Penn) and Yale’s defense hasn’t been itself lately either. It’s not too late for the Bulldogs to get their bark back, especially given that the conference tourney will be in their backyard. Still, a reset at both ends is in order. The veteran leadership and coaching is certainly there to make it happen, so why not start tonight against Princeton, the Ivy with the worst adjusted offensive efficiency in league play?

Matt Morgan, thank you 

Morgan did his thing yet again, powering Cornell to a sweep of Harvard with 31 points on 9-for-16 shooting (including 5-for-11 from deep) in a 72-59 win for the Big Red that couldn’t stop them from getting eliminated from Ivy League Tournament contention by Brown’s and Penn’s wins. Steven Julian, Cornell’s “glue guy,” contributed 14 rebounds, eight points and three steals in 30 minutes, continuing his Ivy Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season.

Cornell could get to .500 (15-15) with a home win over Dartmouth to close out the regular season, which would make the Big Red eligible for playoffs should the school choose to crash the CIT or another postseason tournament that would extend Morgan’s collegiate career.

Aiken and who?

Harvard’s offense has become the Bryce Aiken show lately, taking more than a quarter of the team’s shots at Cornell and scoring a third of the team’s points last Saturday versus Princeton. The Crimson’s defense is reliable, but the offensive production outside of Aiken is not, something that sunk Harvard as Aiken shot 4-for-18 while facing repeated double teams, with 11 of Christian Juzang’s 15 points coming in the first half. The Crimson can still clinch the Ivy League championship with a win at Columbia, where they’ve lost three straight.

Closeout coup

Columbia is finally finishing games with consistency, upping its win streak to three with a 70-66 home win over Dartmouth, with Patrick Tape leading the way with 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the field. Tape has become a consistent scorer as a junior this season, the KenPom game MVP in each of the past two Lions’ games. Tape leads the league in Ivy play in effective field goal percentage and block percentage, as well as third in offensive rebound percentage. If the Lions nick Harvard at Levien Gym tonight, they’ll have won five of their last six games, real momentum for a program that took a lot of hard, close losses in Jim Engles’s first three seasons at the helm in Morningside Heights. And if Columbia can slow down Bryce Aiken, who scored 44 points in Harvard’s triple overtime 98-96 win over Columbia last month, the Lions will probably get one more victory.

Knight is true

Dartmouth endured an 0-fer at Columbia, missing all 17 three-point attempts, the latest sharpshooting setback for a squad that enjoyed hot shooting for much of nonconference play. Sophomore forward Aaryn Rai has come on down the stretch, with two double-doubles in the past three games, including 14 rebounds and 13 points in 37 minutes at Columbia. Rai and Chris Knight make a formidable sophomore frontcourt, something for coach David McLaughlin to build on going forward.