What to expect when Ivy League basketball returns

As this Ivy non-season progresses, we thought it’d make sense for us to do an Ivy Hoops Online contributors’ roundtable looking ahead to next season, assuming there is one:

Rob Browne:

If I look into the Magic Ancient Eight ball for the 2022 Ivy season, a mere 22 months after the last league’s last back-to-backs, I see the Yale men and Columbia women as the preseason favorites.

Every team in the league lost two strong senior classes, but the Yale men will return 2019-20 All-Ivy first-teamer Azar Swain, 2019-20 Ivy co-Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Gabbidon, Matthue Cotton and whomever else will star in James Jones’s next-man-up system.  Harvard with 2019-20 All-Ivy first-teamer Noah Kirkwood and Chris Ledlum, Penn with 2019-20 Ivy Rookie of the Year Jordan Dingle, Max Martz, Michael Wang and Bryce Washington, and Princeton with 2019-20 All-Ivy second-teamer Jaelin Llewellyn (2nd team), Drew Friberg and Ethan Wright should fill out the rest of the top four.

If there is a spoiler in the mix, it will be Mike Martin’s Brown Bears with 2019-20 Ivy co-Defensive Player of the Year Jaylan Gainey, Dan Friday and Perry Cowan.  Columbia, Cornell and Dartmouth should finish in the lower division after being left with more depleted rosters.

The Columbia women should build upon their fourth-place showing in 2020 with the return of 2019-20 All-Ivy second-teamers Abbey Hsu and Sienna Durr and Carly Rivera.  Despite losing 2019-20 Ivy Player of the Year Bella Alarie and first-teamer Carlie Littlefield, Princeton will have Julia Cunningham (honorable mention), Abby Meyers, Grace Stone and Ellie Mitchell.  These two teams have deep rosters and should be in a tough battle for the top all year long, but I’ll give the edge to the slightly more experienced Lions.

Harvard, which ended up in fifth place in 2020, should have a bounce back campaign with Lola Mullaney (honorable mention), and Rachel Levy, as well as the arrival of five-star recruit Harmoni Turner.  Yale and Penn both lost a huge amount of firepower from their rosters, but the Bulldogs will return Camille Emsbo (second team) and Alex Cade in the front court while the Quakers bring back Kayla Padilla (first team, Rookie of the Year).

Cornell brings back Shannon Mulroy and Dartmouth will have Katie Douglas, but it will probably not be enough for either team to get into the upper division. Brown will have the tough time as the Bears begin a complete rebuild under new head coach Monique LeBlanc.

Nathan Solomon: 

Next season will definitely be interesting for the Ivy League. Because the Ivy League is the only conference not partaking in college hoops this season, the level of play will decrease in 2021-22. On both the men’s and women’s sides, the Ivy League stood as a top-10 conference in terms of level of play for the majority of the past two or three years. But next season, teams will essentially have two freshman classes, as academic sophomores will competitively be freshmen.
Since Ivy League teams have previously been very competitive, some power conference teams were reluctant to schedule nonconference games against Ancient Eight teams. But next season, that shouldn’t be the case. Ivy League teams won’t pose as much of an upset threat, so power conference teams will schedule games against them, knowing wins are even more likely. Games against power conference teams will also help develop Ivy players and teams, regardless of the outcome.
Unfortunately, with the level of play decreasing next season, it’ll hurt ratings, lose eyes and make it less likely the league lands another TV deal. The Ivy League still has a deal to air all home games on ESPN+ and a handful of national television games, but the league is always looking for more publicity. Starting next season, it’s expected that there will be fewer back-to-back conference games on the schedule. If teams are playing just one game some weekends, or even an occasional weekday game, it increases the chances that TV networks will pick up the game. I think an unspoken goal of cutting back on back-to-backs is to land another TV deal with another network, as not all games will have to tip at 6 or 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Because so many players will be playing their first collegiate games next season, it’s too early to tell who the favorites. Most current stars in the Ivy League either graduated in 2020 or will graduate in 2021, so a new set of players will have to step up for all 16 programs.
Even though the level of play will go down and fewer eyes will be on the league, the 2021-22 Ivy League season should be a great one. It’ll be interesting to see which freshmen and sophomores step up immediately and which returning players turn into stars.

Richard Kent:
Looking at the men’s side:
Yale – Yale lost a lot with the departure of presumptive Ivy Player of the Year Paul Atkinson, who is on his way to Notre Dame but returns a lot as well. Sharpshooter Azar Swain should be a first-team All-Ivy player and Jalen Gabbidon is still the reigning Ivy Defensive Player of the Year. Yale will again be strong at the wing with Matt Cotton and August Mahoney returning. Coach James Jones will have the luxury of numbers with talented newcomers Yussif Basa-Ama, Matt Knowling and Luke Kolaja all in the mix along with some 2021 talent.
Harvard – Noah Kirkwood returns and that speaks volumes for the fortunes of the Crimson. So does the return of Chris Ledlum, who is expected to have a breakout season and compete for All-Ivy honors. Mason Forbes is a versatile 6-8 player. Newcomers Justice Ajogbor and Josh Hemmings should also be immediate frontcourt studs. Ajogbar chose Harvard over Auburn and Davidson, among others.
Princeton – Jerome Desrosiers is a big loss. He is expected to spend a season playing at Hawaii. Point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is a stud. Tosan Evbuomwan will handle the five position and Ryan Langborg and Drew Friberg can score in bunches. Friberg drained a team-leading 52 threes last season. Coach Mitch Henderson is high on Max Johns and rugged newcomer and struggling Jets fan Zach Martini from New Jersey, and Garrett Johnson should contribute. Johnson chose the Tigers over Penn, Yale and Xavier, among others.
Penn – The loss of Eddie Scott hurts, but Jordan Dingle should vie for All-Ivy honors at guard. Max Martz can drill it and is working on becoming a better rebounder at the wing. He was a three-time All Ivy rookie of the week. Michael Wang at 6-10 should be the answer at center. Bryce Washington and Jonah Charles will be recovered from nagging injuries and should contribute.
Brown – The success of the Bears should run through 6-9 Jaylan Gainey, a great defender with a good inside scoring touch. Guards David Mitchell and Perry Cowan had success last season. Newcomers Noah Meren and Tyler Brown should see considerable minutes.
Dartmouth – Aaryn Rai and Taurus Samuels are capable scorers. Newcomer Rob McRae from California is expected to have an early impact. The loss of Brendan Barry hurts.
Columbia – Ike Nweke is the top returning Lion. Maka Ellis is recovered from injury and will see much playing time. Coach Jim Engles is looking for contributions from newcomers Zavian McLean, Josh Odunowo and Patrick Harding, who spent last season at Bryant. Columbia just inked 6-9 Jake Tavroff last week. He might be a contributor.
Cornell – The loss of all-everything scorer Jimmy Boeheim will hurt, as will the loss of point guard Terrance McBride. Jordan Jones is a pure scorer who was injured much of the last Ivy campaign and should shine. Dean Noll is an excellent defensive guard. Isaiah Gray and Sean Hansen appear to be skilled newcomers.

Erica Denhoff:

It seems like 5,000 years ago I was on vacation soaking up the sun watching the Boston Red Sox take on the St. Louis Cardinals in Fort Myers during Spring Training in March 2020 and heard my phone buzz. It was Mike Tony emailing the IHO contributors to notify us that Ivy Madness was cancelled and for us to stay safe. A few hours later, I read the angry Twitter posts from various Ivy players and coaches and learned there were thousands of signatures on the petition to reinstate Ivy Madness. I have a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology degree and conduct clinical research for a living.  Still, I was mentally unprepared for the pandemic and pretty much lived in denial until April 2020. I predict, if there is a 2021-22 Ivy basketball season, that it will be among the most joyous seasons in the history of the league. While physical skills may decline from the lockdowns and training restrictions and time lost together as a team, I predict players will be mentally tougher than ever. Players will fight for every loose ball, rediscover the lost art of rebounding, and hustle every second on the court. Every minute on the court will have meaning to the players and their grit and perseverance is what I look forward to capturing with my lens and sharing with you, IHO readers.