Reporter’s Notebook: Ivy Madness day two

The Cornell jersey arrived special delivery from Ithaca, and all is right in the world of Ivy hoops. (Photo: Rob Browne)

Another great day in the books at Columbia University and Levien Gymnasium.

Four good press conferences, two very good semifinal games and lots of tasty food (including pizza!) in the media room. It’s really hard to beat a day like that.

Some things of note from an Ivy hoops Friday:

  • Another quiet and calm day on the Columbia campus. People seem to be more focused on classes, improving weather and the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day weekend than anything else, including basketball.
  • Princeton’s Mitch Henderson came out more confident than last year, when his team was the No. 2 seed and hadn’t yet gone on its incredible Sweet 16 run. Moments after the press conference came a report from ESPN that he is being considered for the Stanford job (the worldwide leader also has him being mentioned for newly opened spots at Michigan and Vanderbilt as well). I wonder if this comes up at all at any of the Tigers remaining pressers.
  • With news of Henderson’s possible involvement in the coaching carousel came the chatter of who would replace Henderson if he did, in fact, leave Old Nassau. The general feeling is that it would between present associate head coach Brett MacConnell or Cornell head coach (and former Princeton standout player and assistant coach) Brian Earl. Of course, there was the occasional fan from the other programs that feel the Tigers should give former Princeton player and head coach Joe Scott one more chance.
  • Speaking of the coaching carousel, there is an opening with the Cornell women’s team. Word around the media world encompasses any of a number of people connected to former Princeton coach Courtney Banghart or present Tigers’ coach Carla Berube. (The present Ivy landscape includes two connections to Banghart with Columbia’s Megan Griffith and Harvard’s Carrie Moore, while there is one connected to Berube, Yale’s Dalila Eshe). I totally get that, but I’m keeping my eyes on Colgate coach Ganiyat Adeduntan, who was hired in 2021 and given an extension to 2027-28 by former Colgate and present Cornell Athletic Director Nicki Moore.  Adeduntan played for Florida State, worked as an assistant at George Washington under Jennifer Rizzotti and orchestrated a 10-game improvement for the Red Raiders in 2022-23.
  • On the speculative coaching carousel is Steve Donahue and Penn. It seems like people feel there are serious concerns with the Red and Blue but that Alanna Shanahan will not make a change.
  • No word on Dartmouth and Dave McLaughlin.  Given how relatively new Dartmouth athletic director Mike Harrity moved on from women’s coach Adrienne Shibles last year, it wouldn’t be a surprise if a change is made in Hanover. No matter the choice, hopefully it is done as soon as possible. Both Shibles and present women’s coach Linda Cimino were hired very late in the offseason, making for a challenging year one for everyone involved.
  • The only time Dartmouth comes up is when coaches and players are asked about unionizing (by Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post, who recently wrote about Harvard’s Malik Mack and the possible transferring of Ivy stars to high major conferences to get significant NIL dollars). To no one’s surprise, everyone on the dais, sitting in front of ESPN cameras and league officials, said they hadn’t had any conversations about this topic and their sole focus has been on basketball.
  • After being so close to getting a bid on four previous occasions and finally making it to the Ivy Tournament, Mike Martin and his Bears have a “we’ve been here before” demeanor. This is probably the right frame of mind when having to face Princeton in the breakfast special on Saturday.
  • One of the perks of seeding is not only the home locker room, but accommodation closer to the gymnasium. The No. 4 seeds in both events, Brown on the men’s side and Penn on the women’s side, were the farthest away in Yonkers. For those outside the NYC area and skewing in the typical season ticket-holder age group (like me), Yonkers is the former home of Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder.
  • Yale’s James Jones arrived at the press conference sporting a New York Yankees hat. As a native Long Islander, I would have thought he would be a Mets fans. However, knowing how consistently successful Jones has been in his 20-plus years in New Haven, the Yankees seem like a more obvious choice.
  • Cornell’s Brian Earl said he didn’t feel any pressure to make it to Sunday after three previous first-round exits. While I certainly believe him, I think they know that it would give a big boost to the program to break through to the finals and have a chance at getting back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Sweet 16 season of 2009-10.
  • While it was great to see the Cornell guys for their press conference, the bigger news was that the team staff brought a jersey for the Ivy League mannequin display case. It was a great relief for everyone at the league office to get that in place a few hours before fans arrived for Friday’s semifinals.
  • The press room is more filled than it was on Thursday, including Steve Silverman and Palestra Pete from IHO.
  • Later in the day, the area filled even more with the arrival of the bands and cheerleaders. For me, the most enthusiastic (or annoying or inconsiderate, depending on how one looks at it) was from Princeton.
  • I made it to my catbird seat in the gymnasium. Fortunately, I was given seat No. 9 (No. 9, No. 9, No. 9…) and not No. 20! It takes a few minutes to get used to the sloped ceiling, but all in all, it’s an excellent vantage point. Palestra Pete is to the left of me, and Steve is a few spots to my right. For some reason, fellow IHO contributor George Clark, whenever he arrives, is seated on the opposite side.

    Welcome to my view-finder vantage point for the six games of the Ivy League Tournament! (Photo: Rob Browne)
  • The lighting up top is not ideal and very dependent on the outside windows. It wasn’t a problem for the 4:30 p.m. game, but things got awfully dark for the evening game.
  • The person introducing the starting lineups for Princeton-Penn sounded like she was in a subway station, but things quickly improved.
  • The band and cheerleaders from the higher seed are seated near us, so we drew Princeton for game No. 1 and Columbia for game No. 2. The Tigers and Quakers may be rivals on the court, but the bands were respectful to each other, and their leaders communicated often throughout the game.
  • Penn gave Princeton all it could handle in the opening semifinal, but it just felt like the Tigers weren’t going to lose that game. Even though Penn played so well, Princeton just had too many offensive weapons and a game-changing defender in Ellie Mitchell, who set the Princeton all-time rebounding record late in the game.
  • Harvard made it close against Columbia, even getting it to four points late in the fourth quarter and two points at the buzzer, but it didn’t feel like the Crimson had enough to actually take the lead. While Abbey Hsu has been a dominant player the previous two seasons, she has taken her game to another level. She has increased confidence, focus and leadership this season and is quite comfortable putting the team on her back if necessary.
  • The first semifinal was at near capacity and the second was sold out! Great job by the fans, especially the Columbia faithful, who frequently pack Levien.
  • Lots of relief in the Princeton press conference and joy in the Columbia presser. It was nice to hear that Susie Rafiu’s family came to the game from England and saw her play for the first time in three years. It was even better that she scored 11 points and was invited to speak at the press conference.
  • Of course, lots of pride and disappointment in the Penn and Harvard press conferences. Hopefully, the Crimson get a bid to the new WBIT or the WNIT and Penn makes it into the WNIT field.
  • Listening to people around the water cooler, the feeling is that Saturday’s long-anticipated Princeton-Columbia final will be a close battle with the Lions prevailing. (I hope I didn’t jinx the Light Blue).
  • So far, I know of Brown and Cornell pregames with the Bears’ faithful at La Monde and the Big Red fans at Lions Head Tavern. Registration is required for both, so it may be tough to just show up at the last minute. I’m confident fans will be drinking and eating responsibly before they arrive for the start of the Ivy tripleheader.

    That’s it for now. Thanks for reading!