Ivy League Tournament: Men’s semifinals preview


“The expectations (for winning) are always there, they just felt even heavier this year (due to the pandemic).  There should be several asterisks next to it (being at the Ivy League Tournament) and that’s true of all the teams.” – Princeton coach Mitch Henderson

No. 1 Princeton (22-5 overall, 12-2 Ivy) vs No. 4 Cornell (15-10, 7-7)

Season Series: 1/8/22 (at Princeton) Princeton 72-70, 2/4/22 (at Cornell) Cornell 88-83

The Tigers, the most experienced and healthiest team in the league, arrive at the Ivy Tournament as the undisputed regular season champs and look to earn their first automatic NCAA Tournament bid since winning both titles in 2017.

Offensively, the Orange & Black utilize strong ball movement to look for the open deep shot.  As a result, they are the best at three-point shooting in league play (39.4%) to go along with the second highest three-point rate (44.3%) and assist rate (50.5%).  When they do choose to bring it inside, they earned the conference’s second-best success rate from two (55.8%).

If there’s a concern for the Tigers, it’s the league’s lowest free throw rate (22.8%) and seventh lowest free throw accuracy (62.2%).

Princeton is the best in keeping teams off the free throw line with a 20.5% rate and the three-point line with 31.5% rate, while they are second in allowed three-point shooting of 30.6%.  They also are second in conference defense with a 49.6% effective FG percent and a 73.6% defensive rebounding rate.

The Tigers have solid production at all five starting positions with junior forward Tosan Evbuomwan (16.6ppg, 51.9% FG, 6.7 rpg 4.6 apg), the Ivy League Player of the Year, first-team senior guard Jaelin Llewellyn (14.9 ppg, 2.8%) and second team senior guard Ethan Wright (14.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 52% FG) highlighting the depth. 

(Ethan Wright’s mother, Ellen DeVoe, will be honored as one of Princeton’s two representatives to the Ivy League Tournament’s Legends of Ivy Basketball.)

If Ryan Langborg, who was injured in the Tigers’ game at Lavietes Pavilion on February 27 and missed the next weekend’s season finale at the Palestra, cannot go this weekend, look for sophomore Matt Allocco to take his place.  According to head coach Mitch Henderson, the sophomore guard from Hilliard, Ohio is the most vocal member of a generally reserved bunch and his influence on the team has been immeasurable.

Cornell was the biggest surprise in the Ivy League this year.  Picked for seventh in the preseason media poll and expected to be one of the lowest ranked teams in the country, the Big Red finished the regular season ranked #193 in KenPom and their coach, Brian Earl, was named the conference’s coach of the year.

“I said to my team, that’s an award that people would say is the Program of the Year award,” the former Princeton guard, 1999 Player of the Year and Tigers’ assistant coach told the assembled media.  “There are guys who have made sacrifices.  Guys who want to play 35 minutes.  Managers and staff who all plugged their skill sets into what we you’re doing.”

(Cornell Athletics confirmed to Ivy Hoops Online that Earl is the first-ever recipient of the Player of the Year and Coach of the Year honors, with its own asterisk that the Coach of the Year award has only been in existence since 2015.)

The Big Red have eleven players averaging over 10 minutes a game this season and a twelfth that plays over nine minutes.  Despite having been coached by Pete Carril and Bill Carmody in the “slowest pace in college basketball history”, Earl made a 180 and his team finished the conference schedule with an average possession of 14.9 seconds.

While there were changes in depth and speed, the Red kept their emphasis on passing and three-point shooting, leading the league with a 55.7 assist rate and a 45.8% three-point attempt rate, while hitting 32.4% from beyond the arc.

Dean Noll, a second team All-Ivy selection, averaged 12.9 points and 3.1 assists per game in the conference schedule, while sophomore Chris Manon added 11.5 points per game on 51.2% shooting.  Keller Boothby revealed himself to be a sniper from outside, making 58 triples on 48.7% shooting for the season.

Unfortunately, for all the success on the offensive end, Cornell’s lack of size made things a bigger challenge on the other side of the ball.

The Big Red finished league play sixth in defensive rebounding rate (73.3%), seventh in offensive rebounding rate (24.2%), seventh in allowed two-point shooting (52.9%) and last in allowed free throw rate (35.7%).

Going up against his former boss and close friend of 25-years, as well as his alma mater, Earl knows the challenge ahead of himself and his young team.  However, he also knows his team has defied expectations this whole year and is capable of rising to the moment.

“We’ve been within a basket, or ahead, in almost every game this season,” the coach told reporters.  “Just win the next minute, win the next possession and do the right thing.”

#2 Yale (17-11, 11-3 Ivy) vs #3 Penn (12-15, 9-5 Ivy)

Season Series: 1/22/22 (at Penn) Penn 76-68, 2/18/22 (at Yale) Yale 81-72

Yale was the top seed at the 2019 Ivy League Tournament and would have been the No. 1 seed at the canceled 2020 event but find themselves as the league’s second-best team in this weekend’s version of Ivy Madness.

The cast changes from year to year, but head coach James Jones consistently achieves success.  In his 23rd year at the helm in New Haven, the Dix Hills native led his team to its 21st straight top-four result.  In the words of Yale women’s coach Allison Guth, “Tradition never graduates.”

Typically, the Bulldogs find themselves as one of the league’s best defensive units, finishing conference play first in defensive efficiency (95.9) and offensive rebounding (27.9%), as well as opponents’ effective field goal (48.1%) and three-point shooting (27.9%).  They are also second in block rate (9.8%) and third in defensive rebounding (75.2%).  If there’s one weak spot, it’s two-point defensive, where the Elis are sixth in the league at 52.8%.

On the offensive side, Yale has been able to hit the two-pointer with regularity, making 52.7% of their attempts.  However, they have not found as much success from deep, converting only 32.2% from downtown.  While passing and distribution has been a hallmark of the recent teams, this year’s squad only has an assist rate of 43.3%.

The Bulldogs are led by first team All-Ivy guard and the school’s all-time leading three-point shooter Azar Swain.  The Brockton, Mass. native, whom coach Jones labeled an assassin from outside at his first-ever Blue Madness back in the fall of 2017, averaged 18.9 points per game and made 60 triples.  Jalen Gabbidon, the 2020 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, showed his offensive prowess in 2022 with 13.8 points per game in conference play, including 32 points in the victory over Penn. 

(For Gabbidon, this will be his first time playing at the Ivy League Tournament due to injuries in his first two years and the 2020 cancellation.)

Penn was picked fourth in the preseason poll, but a 3-10 nonconference schedule threw that prediction into doubt.  The Quakers, facing four top-50 teams and eight top-125 teams in that early season stretch, learned valuable lessons that they were able to apply to the Ivy schedule.

In the preseason, head coach Steve Donahue emphasized the depth of his young team, but he would need to rely on it after a host of injuries.  The team lost their top two big men, Max Lorca-Lloyd and Michael Wang, early in the year, leaving them with Michael Moshkovitz, an undersized forward transfer from Israel, to protect the rim in league play.

Fortunately for the Red & Blue, first-team All-Ivy Jordan Dingle was able to make it through the majority of the season.  Even with every team focusing their defensive energies on the Valley Stream, New York native, Dingle led the league with 21.2 points per game and had five league games with 30-plus points.

Penn got an added offensive boost from sophomore guard Clark Slajchert, who was pressed into more playing time due to the various injuries and averaged 12.4 points per game.

As a team, Penn was second in offensive efficiency (106.4), third in two-point shooting (54.9%) and third in free throw shooting (74%).  The three-point line was not as welcoming to the Quakers, with the team finishing at the bottom of the league (30.6%).

Defensively, the undersized Quakers were fifth in defensive rebounding (74.2%) and sixth in offensive boards (25.5%).  While there three-point defense was only fourth in the conference (33.4%), their 38.6% defensive three-point rate kept teams off the arc and their 51.2% two-point shooting defense held teams in check.

Late season injuries to Dingle (concussion) and Williams (left finger injury requiring two screws to be place four weeks ago today), contributed to Penn’s going from 9-3 and looking at a shot at the regular season title to a 9-5 third place finish.  Both Dingle and Williams told reporters they are ready to go, as are frequent starter George Smith and the coach, who both just recovered from bouts of COVID-19 that kept them away from the regular season finale.

In the rubber match between the two rivals, the Bulldogs will look to hold Dingle closer to the 10 points he scored in the Yale win than the 31 he put up in the Penn victory.  The key to the coach is to have a whole-team approach to stopping Dingle, as they did in game number two, rather than the first game’s approach of having one person try to stop him.

For Coach Donahue, his team has to find a way to deal with the physicality of Yale’s two bigs (Matt Knowling and EJ Jarvis), while making sure they don’t give up too many points to Swain and Gabbidon.  Even with all of their ups and downs this season, the coach knows his team has a chance to pull out victories over the toughest teams in the Ivy League is they can execute to their abilities.

1 thought on “Ivy League Tournament: Men’s semifinals preview”

  1. Very nice overview of both games, Rob. As a Princeton fan who will be attending the games this weekend, there are three things that worry me from a Princeton perspective. The first was highlighted above — Princeton’s poor free throw shooting. It’s been a mystery to me how and why this problem has persisted throughout the season, but it has and it could be the difference in a close contest. On the flip side, if Princeton makes its free throws this weekend, they probably roll to a title. Second, I worry about Princeton’s physicality, especially in a championship matchup against Yale. The Tigers have been out-muscled at times this season, including in their sole home loss of the season against the Bulldogs. Should the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds meet in the finale, the game may well come down to who wins the rebounding battle. Finally, any time a team depends on three-point shooting as much as Princeton does, you worry about whether they may have an off game from behind the arc. Both Cornell and Princeton take and make a lot of threes. If Cornell has a markedly better game from behind the arc today, they can pull the upset. Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic that Princeton will cut down the nets this weekend as they are built for this event. They have the most potent blend of talent and experience and they have a coach who knows how to lead his team to victory. But each of the other three teams has a solid chance to play the spoiler this weekend. It should be a great tournament. Go Tigers!

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