Ivy League Tournament: Women’s semifinals preview


“Is there even a clock in March?” – Yale head coach Allison Guth in response to a question about the possibility of playing two games against higher seeds in 26 hours

No. 1 Princeton (22-4 overall, 14-0 Ivy) vs No. 4 Harvard (13-13, 7-7)

Season Series: 1/2/22 (at Princeton) Princeton 68-50, 3/6/22 (at Harvard) Princeton 73-53

The Tigers, the No. 24 team in the nation and owners of a 40-game conference winning streak, arrive at Lavietes Pavilion as the overwhelming favorites to take their third straight Ivy Tournament title.

Typical of a Carla Berube team, the Orange & Black are led by their defense.  The Tigers are No. 3 in the nation in points allowed (50 ppg) and fourth in effective field goal percentage (38.9%).  In league play, they are tops in limiting their opponents two (35.3%) and three-point (24.7%) shooting, as well as in offensive (40%) and defensive (73.4%) rebounding.

While the defensive numbers are quite impressive, the offensive results are also quite good.  The Tigers lead the conference in three-point (37%) and free throw (74.1%) shooting, are second in points per game (70.9 ppg) and turnover rate (14.9%), as well as third in two-point (44.6%) shooting.

Princeton is led by the Ancient Eight’s Player of the Year Abby Meyers (17.7 ppg, 45.9% FG, 40.9% 3PT, 80.9% FT, 6.1 rpg), fellow first team All-Ivy Julia Cunningham (13.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Defensive Player of the Year Ellie Mitchell (10.1 rpg, 2.3 spg). 

“Losing a Carlie Littlefield (grad transfer to UNC) and a Bella Alarie (to the WNBA), you just don’t quite know,” the coach said about her expectations for this year.  “The way Abby Meyers stepped up and our junior class (Cunningham, Grace Stone and Maggie Connolly), they’ve just been awesome.”

The Crimson are focusing on head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, who will end her 40-year career at Cambridge at season’s end, but the Ivy League’s all-time leader in wins wants the light to shine on her players.

“We’ve had our share of injuries, our share of COVID,” the coach told reporters at the tournament press conference.  “I’m just proud of the resiliency of my players.  I’m thrilled to be spending my last Ivy tournament with this group of student-athletes.”

Due to these injuries, Harvard doesn’t have a game-ready forward and plays a five-guard rotation.  While the size limitation affects the defensive analytics, it allows the Crimson to play a fast-paced game centered on the three-point shot.

The hosts finished league play tops in points scored (72 ppg) and three-point rate (38.5%), as well as second in two-point shooting (44.7%) and third in three-point shooting (30%).  Maybe most impressive is the fact that this uptempo team has the lowest turnover rate in the league play (13.5%) and is sixth nationally (14.2%) for the year. 

Defensively, the Crimson are seventh in overall rebounding (47.4%) and eighth in opponents’ two-point shooting (45.3%), but they also limit teams to only 29.2% from beyond the arc.

Harvard has three players averaging double-digit scoring with Rookie of the Year and second-team All-Ivy Harmoni Turner, fellow second-teamer McKenzie Forbes and honorable mention Lola Mullaney scoring 16.9 ppg, 15.1 ppg and 12.2 ppg, respectively.

Despite the two big defeats and some recent inconsistent shooting, Delaney-Smith feels her young team has a chance to pull off the upset of the more experienced Tigers and get one last shot at a postseason tournament.

“Hats off to Princeton’s defense for sure, but I thought we got a lot of really open looks that we can knock down,” said the veteran coach, whose Crimson were the first No. 16 seed to ever beat a No. 1 seed back in 1998. “If we can knock them down, the whole feel of the game will change.  And we are a really good three-point shooting team.”

No. 2 Columbia (21-5 Overall, 12-2 Ivy) vs No. 3 Yale (16-10, 9-5)

Season Series: 1/2/22 (at Columbia) Princeton 65-55, 2/12/22 (at Yale) Columbia 65-57

The Lions, led by sixth-year head coach Megan Griffith, earned their second bid to Ivy Madness but will be making their first actual appearance due to the cancellation of the 2020 Ivy League Tournament.  Their stars may have been reserved on media day, but their coach was brimming with confidence.

“We will be here for two games,” the coach told the assembled crowd. “They (the team) do ride my vibe and as long as I’m instilling that confidence in them, gut checking them when they need it, we will absolutely get the result we want.”

The Lions, who had been known for their offensive talent the last few years, flipped the script and led with their defense.  Columbia finished league play second in the Ancient Eight in a number of defensive metrics, including points per game (56.3), two-point shooting (37.6%), three-point shooting (25.8%), effective field goal percentage (38.0%) and overall rebounding rate (55.4%).  They were also tops in the conference at keeping teams off the charity stripe with an 11.3% free throw rate.

Offensively, they were the best of the league’s eight teams from hitting shots from inside the arc (45.8%) and getting to the free throw line (20.3% free throw rate), but last in free throw success (59.1%) and fourth in accuracy from beyond the arc (29.8%).  Against the Bulldogs, however, they managed to hit 20 of 25 free throws (80%) in the first game and 12 of 14 (85.7%) in the rematch.

Columbia’s greatest strength is their depth.  With a roster in which 10 players average over 10 minutes per game in Ivy action, led by junior first team All-Ivy forward Kaitlyn Davis (12.6 ppg, 47.0 FG%, 9.2 rpg, 1.5 bpg) and sophomore second team All-Ivy guard Abbey Hsu (14.8 ppg, 38.0% 3 PT, 46 Made 3 PT), they have the ability to wear teams down in the second half.

Yale is yet another defense-first Ivy League team, using its pack-line defense to hold conference opponents to 56.4 ppg (third), 39.1% from two (third), and 29.4% from three (fifth), while blocking 3.4 shots per game (second) and 9.9% of all possessions (second).  On the glass, they’ve been able to grab defensive rebounds at a 72.9% rate (second), but only 33.6% (sixth) on the offensive side.

The Bulldogs are best in the league in assist rate (70.9%) and second in three-point shooting (33.3%), but fourth in two-point shooting (41.9%), fourth in free throw accuracy (69.2%) and last in turnover rate (24.4%).

Junior Camilla Emsbo, a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection, anchors the low post with 12.6 ppg, 50.4% FG, 9.8 rpg, and 1.9 bpg in conference action, while sophomore Jenna Clark leads the backcourt with 10.8 ppg, 6.0 apg and 1.6 spg.  Senior Alex Cade, the sole member of Yale’s last in-person Ivy Madness semifinal and WBI championship team, adds experience and leadership to the Elis, along with 7.4 ppg and 7.9 rpg.

Speaking to the media at the end of media day, Clark and Guth said the keys to an Eli victory are limiting Columbia’s transition offense with multiple threats on the inside and outside, while controlling their own turnovers and getting good shots over an entire 40 minutes.

“From one through five, we have players who can guard them and also players who can take it to them on the attack,” added Emsbo.  “It’s a really exciting matchup and it’s awesome to have a third chance at them.”