Only five points separated the top three teams in the Ivy League Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll, and our final tabulation was even tighter. Just three points separated the team atop IHO contributors’ preseason poll.
Yale gets the slight nod here, with our contributors trusting James Jones to lead the Bulldogs to their fifth Ivy League title in an eight-season span in a bid to represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight time. Penn, the Ivy League preseason poll’s top team above Princeton by a single point, also finished a single point above Princeton in our standings. Our contributors saw potential for success in a roster that returns most of the key players from last year’s squad that placed third in the Ivy standings. We’ve got Princeton pegged to finish third, aided in their quest to repeat as Ivy League champions by returning 2021-22 Ivy Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan but losing significant backcourt production from last year’s conference title team.
Harvard was the clear No. 4 finisher in our poll, a showing that would improve upon the disappointing sixth-place result that locked the Crimson out of the Ivy League Tournament on its home floor last season. We have Cornell ranked slightly ahead of Brown as the Big Red look to build on last season’s overachieving Ivy League Tournament berth and the Bears look to bounce back from an underachieving sixth-place finish (tied with Harvard) a season ago. Columbia and Dartmouth tied in our voting tally at the bottom of the standings as both programs look to secure their first Ivy League Tournament appearances.
1. YALE (2021-22: 19-12, 11-3)
The Bulldogs lost Azar Swain, one of the most lethal sharpshooters in Ivy League history, and lockdown backcourt defender Jalen Gabbidon to graduation. They also lose Matthue Cotton, who was one of just four players who played in all 31 games for Jones a season ago, to injury. Cotton averaging 7.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 22.5 minutes a contest, production that can’t be easily replaced.
But the Bulldogs’ frontcourt should be a factor in their favor. Returning are junior forward Matt Knowling and senior forwards EJ Jarvis and Isaiah Kelly.
Jones leaned more on Knowling in his first year of on-the-court action as last season progressed, starting him in all 14 Ivy games after he came off the bench for most of nonconference play. Knowling was Ivy Rookie of the Week thrice, and his continued development will be vital if Yale is to push past Penn and Princeton in the title hunt.
Jarvis was one of the most intriguing players to primarily come off the bench last season, showing what he could do in a 12-point, 11-board performance in just 27 minutes in a home win over Penn down the Ivy stretch. Kelly finished second in the Ivy in blocks and should play an even greater role as rim protector as a senior.
But Jones will have to find a backcourt rotation that works with Swain, Gabbidon and Cotton all gone. Sophomore guard Bez Mbeng showed flashes of greatness last season, including a critical 13-point, 11-rebound showing in the Ivy League Tournament final win over top-seeded Princeton. Yale excelled at defending the perimeter last season, and Jones will give minutes to whomever can maintain that standard in a league full of dangerous outside shooters and analytically aware programs that emphasize the three-ball.
2. PENN (2021-22: 12-16, 9-5)
One of those analytics-embracing teams is Penn, which notched nine Ivy wins a season ago despite a league-worst 30.6% shooting percentage from three-point land in conference play. Given its experienced roster, Penn should take its second Ivy title in seven seasons under Steve Donahue if it can just shoot the ball significantly better from long range – and play a little more aggressively at the other end of the floor.
The Red & Blue were nearly a sub-300 KenPom defense last season, forcing too few turnovers while still fouling enough to rank just 250th nationally in percentage of points allowed at the free throw line.
But Penn returns more than enough talent from a team that relied heavily on bench production a season ago to ratchet up the defensive intensity in critical moments and claim the Ivy crown.
Leading the pack is Jordan Dingle, who led the Ivy in scoring a season ago with the highest scoring average of any Penn player in 45 years. Dingle is easily the league’s best scoring talent, a potent shooter who is also nearly impossible to contain on the dribble-drive. It’s a thrill to watch him play.
But Penn was too reliant on Dingle offensively last season, failing to develop alternative dependable outside shooting – especially in Ivy play – and falling behind when Dingle struggled. Penn’s outside shooting declined precipitously during conference action. It’ll be chiefly up to not only Dingle but senior guard Jonah Charles, junior forward/guard Max Martz and junior guard Clark Slajchert – all capable shooters – to drain big shots if Penn is to separate from Princeton and Yale in the title race.
“Shoot better” and “force more turnovers” isn’t complicated analysis, but Penn did enough right last season with returning players to make it clear that those are the directives they need to carry out in 2022-23. Penn’s offense last season was efficient, avoiding turnovers at one end of the floor and defending the interior well at the other during conference play.
3. PRINCETON (2021-22: 23-7, 12-2)
Princeton gets to host the Ivy League Tournament this season. But to avoid Harvard’s fate of missing an Ivy League Tournament on its homecourt, the Tigers must reload in a backcourt that loses standouts Jaelin Llewellyn, Drew Friberg and Ethan Wright, a trio that accounted for 64% of three-point shooting on the nation’s sixth-best three-point-shooting team last season.
The Tigers’ offense was the Ivy’s best last season, but it’s hard to see a team that ranked 346th in bench minutes a year ago keeping up the offensive production in 2022-23. Expect sharpshooting senior guard Ryan Langborg to pick up where he left off in Princeton’s NIT first-round loss to VCU, in which he notched 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting in 33 minutes.
But it’s Evbuomwan, one of the most well-rounded Ivy players in recent memory, who is quite capable of carrying a relatively experienced roster to the top of the Ivy heap. Evbuomwan makes each of his teammates better through his consummate passing. There’s no such thing as hero-ball with Evbuomwan, even though his ability to finish in the paint is unparalleled in the conference. Evbuomwan is relentless in cleaning the offensive glass, snaring six offensive boards each in tight wins over Cornell and Yale to help secure the Ivy regular-season crown last season.
If Langborg and junior guard Matt Allocco, who made 45.2% of his 42 three-point attempts last season, can preserve some of Princeton’s deep-shooting prowess, Mitch Henderson’s team will be well-positioned for another Ivy League championship.
4. HARVARD (2021-22: 13-13, 5-9)
Harvard was a popular pick to win the Ivy League last season, finishing just five points behind Yale in the preseason media poll. But the Crimson crashed down the stretch of Ivy play, losing six of their last eight games weighed down by poor shooting and an unusually pedestrian defense for a Tommy Amaker-coached squad.
The Crimson struggled to get to the foul line and rarely notched assists on field goals compared to their opponents, signs of a stagnant offense. They lose the ultra-versatile Noah Kirkwood, the team’s leading scorer a year ago who ranked third in the Ivy in percentage of a team’s shots taken, per KenPom. They also lose Kale Catchings, who boasted the fourth-best field-goal percentage and started in all 24 of his appearances in the Crimson frontcourt.
But Harvard should get back senior forward Chris Ledlum, who missed most of Ivy play due to injury a season ago. Ledlum was on an All-Ivy first-team track before his season was cut short, averaging 16.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in 13 games. Look for Harvard to lean more heavily on senior guard Luka Sakota, who averaged 11.3 points and 36% three-point shooting in 31.2 minutes per game, starting every contest. If sophomore guard Louis Lesmond can top his production early in Ivy play from last season (12.3 points and four rebounds averaged in Harvard’s first four league contests), the Crimson will be on steadier ground offensively.
Harvard should contend for an Ivy Madness slot if it can defend the perimeter better and get more varied offensive production than it did a season ago. But the jury’s out on this roster. Let’s hope Harvard’s horrible injury luck takes a turn for the better this year.
5. CORNELL (2021-22: 15-11, 7-7)
The Big Red flipped a big tempo switch in 2021-22, transforming from one of the slowest-operating offenses in Division I the previous season. The change paid off, yielding one of the league’s most efficient-shooting offenses and playing to the strengths of leading scorers Dean Noll, Chris Manon, Jordan Jones and Sarju Patel. Only junior guard Manon returns, a challenge that coach Brian Earl acknowledged during a recent interview with Ivy Hoops Online.
Cornell could benefit from elevated roles for junior forward Keller Boothby and senior guard Greg Dolan, each of whom flashed abilities to produce much more while starting double-digit games last season. Boothby led the Ivy in three-point percentage, while Dolan proved himself an effective ball distributor despite missing eight games due to injury. Junior forward Sean Hansen likely will be called on to step up more as well after averaging 5.6 points and 2.7 rebounds in 12.7 minutes off the bench.
Earl has gotten the most out of his players, and it’s not hard to envision Cornell making another Ivy League Tournament run with another ensemble offensive effort and aggressive, turnover-minded defensive approach.
6. BROWN (2021-22: 13-16, 5-9)
The Bears proved less than the sum of their parts in 2021-22. Brown’s roster last season boasted stat sheet-stuffing phenom Tamenang Choh, reigning Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Jaylan Gainey and steady ball distributor Dan Friday.
But despite another standout year from Choh, a second straight Defensive Player of the Year campaign from Gainey and an Ivy Rookie of the Year season from Kino Lilly Jr., Bruno underwhelmed. The Bears came up short in close games, going 2-5 in league contests decided by four or fewer points (a trend coach Mike Martin thoughtfully reflected on in a recent interview with Ivy Hoops Online).
Brown had finished first or second in the Ivy in adjusted defensive efficiency the previous two seasons, but the defense took a step back year, fouling too much while not extracting as many turnovers as in past campaigns. The Bears lose Choh and Gainey, but they return Friday and Lilly. The latter showed he can score from anywhere as a rookie, and the offense effectively flowed through him. Senior guard and 2021 Loyola Chicago transfer Paxson Wojcik likely will be asked to contribute more after finishing third on the team in scoring and second in three-pointers while starting every game. If the Bears can tighten up defensively and develop offensive weapons to complement Lilly, they will challenge for their first Ivy League Tournament appearance.
T7. COLUMBIA (2021-22: 4-22, 1-13)
The Lions haven’t won more than 11 games in a season in five tries under Jim Engles, and they may fail to do so again in 2022-23.
Last year’s Lions shot the bell well from deep and crashed the offensive boards with success but struggled in virtually every other facet of the game. Columbia loses 2021-22 leading scorer Ike Nweke, leading rebounder Patrick Harding and adept passer Eddie Turner III.
Returning is Geronimo Rubio De La Rosa, a 2021-22 Ivy Rookie of the Year candidate who finished third in the Ivy in minutes, fifth in assists, sixth in three-pointers made and eighth in steals. The Dominican Republic native is an exciting talent who should anchor what will have to be a less turnover-prone offense if Columbia is to contend for its first Ivy League Tournament berth. The Lions have lacked a dominant inside scoring presence for years, and it’s unclear who might fit that bill on this roster.
Columbia should benefit from the many bench minutes that Engles portioned out a season ago. The Lions had the 12th-highest bench minute percentage in Division I, and junior forward Liam Murphy, junior forward Josh Odunwo, senior guard/forward Cameron Shockley-Okeke and junior guard Zavian McLean all return after averaging over 18 minutes a game last season. That group must step up at both ends if the Lions are to stay in the Ivy Madness hunt.
T7. DARTMOUTH (2021-22: 9-16, 6-8)
The Big Green have big shoes to fill left behind by Brendan Barry, who broke the program record for three-pointers last season and regularly ranked at or near the top of the league in minutes. Dartmouth is likely to sorely miss not only Barry, its leading scorer a year ago, but its second- and third-leading scorers, Aaryn Rai (also a defensive rebounder extraordinaire) and Taurus Samuels (an underrated scorer who went 6-for-10 from three-point range in Dartmouth’s win at Georgetown last year).
Coach David McLaughlin discussed how to find a team’s identity in a recent interview with Ivy Hoops Online. Perhaps that identity is simply defense above all else.
Dartmouth excelled defensively in Ivy play last season. The Big Green had the league’s slowest offense, limiting game possessions while relying on a stout halfcourt defense that turned opponents over frequently and allowed the lowest two-point shooting percentage in league action. That’s something to build on and reflects a mindset that can carry over into 2022-23 even without Barry, Rai or Samuels.
McLaughlin told Ivy Hoops Online that the team’s rotation isn’t set yet, and nonconference play could sort out what that rotation looks like come Ivy competition. Returning are role players from a season ago who be asked to produce more in 2022-23 after showing promise last year: senior forward Dame Adelekun (scored in double figures in nine of the final 13 games last season), sophomore guard Ryan Cornish (14 points in the win at Georgetown) and senior forward Cam Krystkowiak (20 points on 7-for-14 shooting in a 61-55 loss at California).
The Big Green’s roster turnover positions them poorly in their pursuit of a program-first Ivy League Tournament berth. But if Dartmouth can manage close to the defensive effectiveness it’s shown the past two seasons, it’ll spring an upset or two that will reshape what looks to be a parity-driven Ivy Madness scramble.