Ivy League women’s basketball preseason power rankings

Ivy Hoops Online’s writing staff voted on where all eight Ivy women’s and men’s basketball teams would end up for the 2019-20 season. Our projected order of finish for the women:

  1. Princeton (22-10, 12-2 Ivy, lost in first round of NCAA Tournament)

Very few coaches taking over a new program have rosters as talented as the one that Carla Berube has inherited at Princeton, which comes off its seventh Ivy League championship in what was Courtney Banghart’s 12th and final season as Tigers coach.

Two-time Ivy Player of the Year Bella Alarie is poised to build upon her 34 career double-doubles in her senior season, anchoring the Tigers at both ends of the floor. A dynamic scorer in her own right, Carlie Littlefield is an excellent ball distributor and defender.

And returning is potent scoring threat Abby Meyers after she spent a year away from the team and university due to a “misunderstanding” in her computer science class that violated university policy.

Princeton does lose to graduation Gabrielle Rush and Sydney Jordan, its third and fourth-leading scorers from last season, but no Ivy has as much returning firepower as the Tigers. Princeton does have a daunting first half of the conference slate consisting of five road games and just two home games. Those amounts flip in the final seven, when the Tigers will have ample opportunity to build momentum heading into the Ivy League Tournament – and beyond.

  1. Penn (last season: 24-7, 12-2, lost in second round of WNIT)

Penn shared the Ivy League title with the Tigers last season because there wasn’t actually much of a talent gap between the two teams. The gap among returning players seems to be a little greater this season between the Ps, but certainly not so much that Penn can’t claim a fifth Ivy League Tournament title in the past seven years.

Penn does lose All-Ivy second-teamers Ashley Russell and Princess Aghayere, the second and third-leading scorers from last season. The Red & Blue will especially miss Russell’s ball distribution and Aghayere’s rebounding, but there’s still plenty of talent on 33rd Street.

Eleah Parker was the anchor of one of the best defenses in Division I in addition to leading Penn in scoring with 15.1 points per game. Three-point specialist Phoebe Sterba is back. Expect Michae Jones to produce more as a junior like she did against Harvard in three games last year (16 points per game against Harvard versus three points per game against all other competition). The quietly effective Kendall Grisela returns as well, and if Kayla Padilla can build on the sharpshooting promise she showed in the Red & Blue Scrimmage Saturday, the Red & Blue will have another outside scoring threat.

Even with the departures of Russell and Aghayere, Penn looks poised to characteristically stymie opposing offenses inside and out again with Parker leading the way.

  1. Yale (last season: 16-13, 6-8)

Missing out on the Ivy League Tournament and any further postseason tournament competition seemed unfathomable last season when Yale improved to 4-1 in Ivy play with a 96-86 overtime win at eventual Ivy League champion Princeton.

Then came a disappointing 2-7 finish to league competition, including back-to-back losses to Cornell and Dartmouth by a combined four points, left Yale all out of action.

But the Bulldogs are well-positioned to get back into the Ivy League Tournament in Allison Guth’s fifth season at their helm.

Last season’s Ivy leading scorer Roxy Barahman should continue stuffing stat sheets as a senior. Seven-time Ivy Rookie of the Week Camilla Emsbo ranked second in the Ivy League in blocks per game and fourth in rebounding, and it’ll be exciting to see what she can contribute as a sophomore. Most of Yale’s talent from last season returns as well, including last year’s leading Ivy defensive rebounder Megan Gorman, sharpshooter Tori Andrew, last season’s Yale Most Improved Player Award winner Alex Cade and Ellen Margaret Andrews, who returns after suffering a season-ending injury early last season, having started 28 of 32 games as a sophomore en route to Yale’s WBI championship. Robin Gallagher could make crucial strides as a sophomore after scoring 30 points in 47 minutes combined in late-season tilts at Dartmouth and Cornell as well.

It’s actually somewhat impressive that Yale almost made the Ivy League Tournament last season despite finishing with easily the league’s worst turnover margin, with lack of turnovers collected on defense proving as big a thorn in the Bulldogs’ side as their coughing up their own possessions. Yale’s defense, particularly inside, shouldn’t be an issue, and neither should its rebounding. Winning two or three more games in conference play could come down to simply being a little more opportunistic at both ends of the floor – and better outside shooting from the likes of Andrew and Barahman.

T4. Cornell (last season: 12-14, 6-8)

The only Ivy that shot the ball worse from three-point range last season was Cornell, but the Big Red took 225 (!) fewer threes than any other Ivy last season, continuing the Big Red’s trend of relying on a higher-percentage shooting approach under coach Dayna Smith that complemented a stout Cornell defense well en route to an Ivy League Tournament appearance that surprised many.

Because Cornell only had one senior last season (Samantha Clement), the Big Red get back most of the talent that lifted them into the top half of the league, chiefly senior forward Laura Bagwell-Katalinich, who established herself as one of the Ivy’s best scorers and rebounders in 2018-19. Also returning is the underrated senior guard/forward Samantha Widmann, who ranked in the league’s top 10 in rebounding, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and steals last season. Senior guard Danielle Jorgenson was an effective conduit offensively a year ago, boasting the sixth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league, a stat that takes on greater significance in defensive struggles like the Big Red engage other teams in.  Four Big Red players – Widmann, Jorgenson, Bagwell-Katalinich and junior guard Kate Sramac, ranked in the league’s top 15 players in steals last season, more than any other Ivy.

Still, Cornell’s going to have to get at least a little more of a boost from three-point land. Clement was Cornell’s leading three-point scorer last season, accounting for 27.1% of the team’s startingly low 85 treys herself. That means returning Big Red players made just 2.4 three-pointers per game last season, a number that probably won’t get it done in the race for the 2020 Ivy League Tournament.

But Cornell should again draw great strength from Karina Hill, a prized recruit who signed her letter of intent to join the program in the offseason via Team IMPACT.

T4. Harvard (last season: 17-13, lost in second round of WNIT)

Guess who made 21 more threes than Cornell’s entire team last season?

Katie Benzan.

The problem is Benzan, a two-time All-Ivy first-teamer who led the league in three-pointers last season and ranked in the conference’s top seven in scoring, assists, steals, three-point percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio and minutes, has left the program.  Benzan accounted for 20.2% of Harvard’s scoring last season and contributed so much more offensively and defensively, and it’s hard to imagine Harvard fully making up for the loss of her production.

Controlling the damage, though, will be a veteran frontcourt among the league’s finest. Senior forward Jeannie Boehm and junior forward Jadyn Bush are among the best rebounders in the Ancient Eight, and Boehm in particular is a terrific rim protector. Bush easily led the conference in field goal percentage last season, getting high-percentage buckets for a squad that attempted more treys than any other Ivy.

But Harvard also loses major backcourt contributors Madeline Raster and Sydney Skinner, who combined to average 21.8 points per game as seniors a season ago, as well as Nani Redford and her skilled ball distribution.

Still, Harvard’s been incredibly difficult to beat at Lavietes Pavilion in recent years, and five of the first six Ivy matchups this season are at home. If the Crimson can come together early, they might be able to hold on away from home later in the campaign enough to make the Ivy League Tournament – which is also at Lavietes this season. Harvard’s offense is likely to take something of a step back, so how much will its defense step up?

  1. Columbia (last season: 8-19, 4-10)

Players often take their biggest leap forward between their rookie and sophomore years.

If that maxim holds true for the Lions this season, they’re in for a very good year.

Sienna Durr, Madison Hardy and Mikayla Markham all shone as rookies last season, accounting for 42.8% of the Lions’ points. The 2018-19 Ivy Rookie of the Year, Durr ranked second among NCAA rookies in field goal percentage and eighth in scoring average. Hardy established herself as a reliable sharpshooter outside shooter, and Markham finished fourth league-wide in assist-to-turnover ratio while ranking second among NCAA rookies in assists per game.

Columbia’s core suddenly became rookie-driven, but returning are senior guard Janiya Clemmons and junior guard Riley Casey, both efficient scorers, principally from inside and out respectively. The Lions need better rim protection, and their defense as a whole must become more cohesive. If it does, Columbia has more than enough offensive firepower to make the Ivy League Tournament.

  1. Dartmouth (last season: 13-14, 6-8)

The Big Green nearly got into the Ivy League Tournament but were foiled down the stretch of a win-and-you’re-in season finale tilt with Cornell at Leede Arena, getting outscored 23-10 in the fourth quarter of a 57-47 defeat.

Gone are Dartmouth’s top two leading scorers from last season, Isalys Quinones and Cy Lippold. Returning talent includes senior guard Annie McKenna, an adept passer who ranked fifth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio a season ago, senior forward Paula Lenart, a relentless offensive rebounder and committed rim protector, and senior guard Kealy Brown and junior guard Elle Louie, two of many stout defenders for coach Belle Koclanes in recent years.
Also back are sophomore guard Katie Douglas, who exploded for a 44-point three-game stretch in the middle of last season’s Ivy slate, and junior forward Anna Luce, who showed flashes of offensive brilliance last year as well.

Dartmouth’s defense was one of the Ivy’s best in 2018-19, particularly in conference play. But the Big Green are undersized and will need to find ways to make up for losing Lippold and Quinones on the offensive end of the floor in particular, as those two accounted for 38% of the team’s points last season.

  1. Brown (last season: 9-21, 1-13)

The bottom fell out for Brown in Ivy competition last season. After the Bears defeated Yale 86-71 in the Ivy opener and looking like they would contend for a second Ivy League Tournament appearance in three seasons, they faded fast, losing their final 13 contests by an average of 22.4 points per game. Brown gave up 82.7 points per contest in league play, worst in the conference by a whopping 14.5 points.

Brown now tries to turn the page after losing master pickpocketer and program all-time leading three-point scorer Shayna Mehta to graduation along with Brown’s all-time games played leader and stat sheet-stuffer Erika Steeves, fellow scoring threat Taylor Will and captain and shot-blocker Mary Butler.

That means four of Brown’s top five leading scorers from last season are gone, with only Justine Gaziano remaining from that group. Maybe a radically new starting lineup will mean different results for Bruno, but this an inexperienced roster likely to struggle.