What Happened Last Week: Harvard earned the Ivy League’s biggest win so far this season, edging UMass in a 75-73 thriller. Yale fell short at Providence, but it won two other games to move to 6-2. Columbia and Penn extended streaks in opposite directions, while Princeton and Brown had mixed results in Thanksgiving weekend multi-team events.
1. Harvard-UMass will go down as one of the best games in the Northeast this season. In front of a favorable crowd, the visiting Minutemen set a fast tempo and took an early lead, but Harvard battled back to win in the final minute. The Crimson’s frontcourt depth was game-changing for perhaps the first time this season; while Steve Moundou-Missi was limited by foul trouble, Kenyatta Smith was in peak form (11 points, seven rebounds, three blocks) and Zena Edosomwan played one of his best games yet (eight points, five rebounds). Together, they helped hold UMass center and leading scorer Cady Lalanne to a 75 offensive rating, his lowest of the season.
But the real difference-maker, as always, was Wesley Saunders. The reigning Ivy Player of the Year scored 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting; it was his three-point play with 38 seconds left that put Harvard ahead for good, and it was his defense that shut down a potential game-winning Derrick Gordon drive. “I definitely wanted to make sure that we won this one,” Saunders said after the game.
2. The Bulldogs matched expectations in Friday’s six-point loss at Providence, but they will rue how the first half ended. Over the final five minutes of the period, a 24-23 Friars edge ballooned to 34-27, and Yale was never again within one point of the lead. Star forward Justin Sears never saw the court in that stretch; as dictated by conventional basketball wisdom, he was handcuffed to the bench with two first-half fouls. James Jones should have been more aggressive with Sears — who isn’t foul-prone; he was disqualified only once last season, and his issues at Providence stemmed from a couple dodgy offensive whistles — especially against a top-50 opponent on the road, a situation that calls for risk-taking. (Sears eventually fouled out, but his fifth was intentional in garbage time.) As Friday proved, games can be won or lost in the first half as well as the second.
3. Penn freshman Mike Auger sat out the Quakers’ games this week with a right foot injury; he is expected to miss at least “a couple of weeks,” according to coach Jerome Allen (via City of Basketball Love). The timing was particularly painful for Auger, who broke out with big performances against Rider and Lafayette and had been named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week on Monday. Penn’s other freshmen have potential, but to this point they haven’t shown as much as Auger did.
GIF of the Week:
Siyani Chambers finds a hidden Slip ‘N Slide in Lavietes Pavilion:
Player of the Week: Wesley Saunders, Harvard — Saunders scored 24 points against Houston and 27 against UMass, bringing his season average to 21.8 per game (11th in the nation). By advanced metrics, Saunders’ 2013-14 season was nearly a carbon copy of his 2012-13 — a slight minutes reduction brought down his per-game averages, but his usage and efficiency were quite similar — so I expected more of the same this season. Instead, Saunders’ efficiency has skyrocketed (to a 124 offensive rating) while his volume has done the same (to a 29% usage rate); his rebounding and defense have both improved; and he’s done it all while playing nearly every minute on the wing.
Rookie of the Week: Amir Bell, Princeton — The heir apparent to T.J. Bray as the Tigers’ point guard, Bell scored 34 points in the three-game Wooden Legacy tournament, including 17 on 12 shots against San Diego on Friday. The freshman has been too foul-prone so far, but he’s sure-handed on offense (committing one turnover all week) and brings new explosiveness to Princeton’s backcourt.
Looking Ahead: Yale gets another shot at a quality power-conference opponent, traveling to UConn on Friday to take on the defending champions. Fresh off its victory over UMass, Harvard’s reward is two tricky games, against Northeastern Wednesday and at Vermont Saturday. The latter is part of a de facto Ivy League-America East challenge, one of five matchups between the two conferences on Saturday.
- Harvard — Turnovers were the primary cause of Harvard’s loss to Holy Cross, so it was encouraging to see the Crimson commit just eight miscues on 68 possessions against the high-tempo Minutemen. UMass’ pressure is more “hectic” than “Havoc”, forcing turnovers at a merely average rate, but Harvard still looked composed amid a tough atmosphere.
- Yale — Sears (deservedly) gets the most attention, but senior guard Javier Duren is also playing at a first-team All-Ivy level, with a 113 offensive rating on high usage. He scored 21 points at Providence with five assists and one turnover, keeping the Bulldogs in the game on Sears’ rough day; he’s shooting 41% on three-pointers this season, and will surely have opportunities to keep firing as defenses key on Yale’s post players.
- Columbia — The Lions haven’t allowed more than 57 points yet this season, and each of their last three foes scored fewer than .85 points per possession. Expect some regression going forward — Columbia’s opponents are shooting just 22% from three-point range, the eighth-lowest mark in the nation.
- Cornell — With Cornell nursing a late four-point lead against Canisius and star forward Shonn Miller on the bench due to foul trouble, Galal Cancer took over, scoring five points and forcing two turnovers in a one-minute span to help ice the game. Cancer was an inefficient scorer in his first two seasons, but he’s posted the Big Red’s highest offensive rating since rejoining the team this year.
- Princeton — The Tigers went just 1-2 at the competitive Wooden Legacy tournament, but they may have found solutions to their depth issues. Henry Caruso looked like a traditional Princeton Offense wing, scoring on a combination of smart cuts, drives and three-pointers, while esteemed freshman Alec Brennan saw his first extended action of the season.
- Brown — The Bears opened the week by taking a halftime lead at Illinois … and closed it by committing 20 turnovers in a too-close-for-comfort game against a Division III team. Suffice to say, Brown is something of an enigma, and one that has underperformed so far. Of the top eight Bears, only Jason Massey has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.1 or better.
- Dartmouth — Dartmouth’s buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat IPFW on Friday was a beautiful play. Alex Mitola caught the ball off of a Connor Boehm screen, but two Mastodons swarmed the Big Green’s top shooter as he elevated — so he turned to Boehm, now alone in the corner, for the game-winning shot.
- Penn — The Quakers appeared to be headed for their first victory of the season on Saturday, opening with a 14-2 run at Wagner and leading for most of the game. But they went 10 full minutes without a field goal late in the second half, allowing the Seahawks to win down the stretch. Now 0-5, Penn has three losses to teams outside Ken Pomeroy’s top 200, as many as the rest of the Ivy League combined.
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