Ivy weekend preview: What to watch for now that there’s finally something to watch

Sunday will mark the first Ivy League conference basketball since March 7, 2020, even if two of the eight games in the opening slate (the Princeton at Harvard and Columbia at Yale men’s matchups) have been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. Here’s what to watch for:

MEN’S 

Dartmouth at Cornell, 2 p.m.

A battle of styles. Cornell (8-3) has the fourth-fastest average possession length in the nation according to KenPom. Dartmouth (3-8) ranks 37th-slowest nationwide. The Big Red are more efficient and less reliant on threes than the Big Green, who rank fourth nationally in percentage of points scored from three-point range but get to the foul line infrequently and struggle to hit their shots from inside the arc. If Cornell can push tempo and defend the three-point line against Dartmouth’s methodical, outside shooting attack, the home team should be in good shape to get its ninth win of the season.

Brown at Penn, 3 p.m.

This game could go a long way toward determining whether Penn’s and Brown’s respective four-year streaks of qualifying and not qualifying for the Ivy League Tournament continue in 2022. Penn’s greatest strength so far has been its three-point shooting, while defense has been Brown’s calling card this season. The Bears (8-7) particularly excel at forcing turnovers, which Penn (3-10) cut back on in its four Big 5 matchups – all losses – last month after not taking care of the basketball in ugly defeats at Florida State and Towson. Penn hasn’t played since Dec. 11, while Brown is coming off battles at Syracuse and Maryland in the past week, leading the Terrapins 39-35 at halftime in the latter before fading in an 81-67 loss. Penn may have to create more off the dribble than it’s accustomed to in this matchup.

WOMEN’S

Yale at Columbia, 1 p.m.

An intriguing tilt to kick off the first Ivy conference hoops action anywhere in 667 days. It’s no fluke that Columbia (10-3) sits at eighth in the CollegeInsider.com mid-major top 25 (Princeton is the only higher-ranked Ivy, perched at sixth.) The Lions boast the Ivy’s best scoring offense by a wide margin (scoring 4.5 points more per game than second-place Harvard), crash the offensive boards well and share the rock with great aplomb despite sophomore guard Abbey Hsu leading the league in scoring at 18.2 points per game. Yale (7-5), meanwhile, has the Ivy’s best scoring defense, anchored by the conference’s top rebounder and shot-blocker, junior forward Camilla Emsbo. If Yale can slow the game down and defend the perimeter well, it’s got a shot.

Harvard at Princeton, 2 p.m.

The defense for Princeton (7-4) isn’t quite what it was in Carla Berube’s first season helming the Tigers, but it’s still a championship-caliber unit, excelling at defending the three-point line and keeping teams off the offensive boards. Harvard (6-7) is coming off an impressive 73-70 win at St. Joseph’s, which beat Yale and Penn earlier in the season, led by rookie phenom Harmoni Turner. Turner ranks in the league’s top five in scoring, steals and three-point field-goal percentage, and watching her go up against a Tigers squad featuring Abby Meyers and Julia Cunningham – two of the league’s top four scorers – should be entertaining. Don’t overlook Princeton’s 11.5% advantage over Harvard in free-throw shooting percentage. The Tigers are the conference’s best foul-shooting team by far, a key advantage likely to pay off in pivotal moments in conference play.

Penn at Brown, 2 p.m.

Good for Brown. The Bears (5-7) are noticeably improving in Monique LeBlanc’s first season of game play, coming off a road win at NET No. 148 St. John’s Thursday and notching a win at NET No. 171 Holy Cross last month. Brown’s defense is much stingier than it was prior to LeBlanc’s arrival, anchored by sophomore forward and Uniontown, Pa. native Mya Murray, who in her first year of conference play ranks second in blocking and ninth in rebounds among Ivy players. But Penn’s defense has been better still, statistically the conference’s best while holding opponents to a conference-low 35%. Sophomore forward Jordan Obi has been the latest in a long line of potent paint patrollers in her first season of game play, ranking seventh in the conference in scoring and rebounding and third in blocks behind only Emsbo and Murray. Penn (3-7) has more firepower with Kayla Padilla leading the way, but expect an intense defensive battle.

Cornell at Dartmouth, 2 p.m.

As always under Dayna Smith, Cornell (4-6) is defense-oriented, so it wasn’t surprising that junior guard Ania McNicholas emphasized using the Big Red’s defense for offense when looking ahead to the Ivy opener. The Big Red struggle mightily shooting from the three-point and free-throw lines, and they’re simply not designed to win high-scoring games. If they are to start off Ivy play with a win in Hanover, they’ll have to do what they do best – string together defensive stops and collect turnovers. Dartmouth’s offense is the Ivy’s lowest-scoring by a wide margin (46.6 points per game), so don’t expect the Big Green (1-11) to set the Leede Arena scoreboard ablaze Sunday. The Big Green’s defense has been leaky as well, and Adrienne Shibles’ first season at the helm is clearly a rebuilding year. This should be a low-scoring affair.

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