What Happened Last Week: Harvard was routed at No. 6 Virginia, while Yale edged Vermont on a late jumper before a surprising home loss to Albany. The rest of the league had more success at 4-1, led by Columbia’s win over Hofstra and a pair of Dartmouth victories.
1. Maodo Lo is the most fun player to watch in the Ivy League. Columbia’s lead guard scores a lot of points, and he does so fairly efficiently, but true fun lies in how he scores — a dizzying set of crossovers and pull-up threes, and a tendency to cluster points in quick spurts. Lo’s quick-strike capability helped the Lions win their first fast-paced game of the season against Hofstra. With a two-point lead midway through the second half, “Chairman Maodo” swished a pair of catch-and-shoot threes over the Pride’s zone, hit another trey off a crossover, drained a pull-up 17-footer from the left side and finished with a final triple over two defenders. The final tally: Four minutes, 14 points, and a lead that would withstand Hofstra’s late run.
2. Yale’s offense puzzles me in so many ways. They don’t shoot a ton of threes, nor do they make a high percentage, but it feels like they need treys to get out of every offensive slump. Justin Sears is capable of dominating the paint on both ends, but it feels like all of his shots at the rim this year are contested by three defenders. Sears and Matt Townsend attempt tons of dreaded 18-footers, but they’re always open spot-up shots in rhythm, and they go in at a pretty high rate. Their best skill last year was getting to the foul line, but with most of the same personnel, they’ve drawn free throws at just an average rate this season. Their offense seems to go nowhere on so many possessions, but it ranks 128th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency.
Case in point: I thought Yale’s offense was ugly during its loss to Albany, but the Bulldogs scored 60 points on 59 possessions — not good against a lesser opponent at home, but hardly a disaster. Yale’s defense should be strong this season, but it will need consistent scoring to truly challenge for the Ivy title.
3. For an offense ranked 152nd nationally per KenPom, Dartmouth goes through a lot of scoring droughts. After hammering Mercer on the road and building a double-digit lead over Northern Illinois, the Big Green seemed to be cruising — until they scored only seven points in the final 15 minutes of regulation as the Huskies forced overtime. A slow pace and reliance on three-pointers means Dartmouth can have a productive offense overall while sputtering often: The Big Green scored just three points in two different eight-minute stretches at St. Bonaventure; they were scoreless for a 9:00 span against IPFW; and they blew a seven-point lead to Longwood in 40 seconds on three missed free throws and two turnovers.
Friday night, the rest of the Big Green remained cold in overtime (including Gabas Maldunas, who missed his last six free throws), but Alex Mitola’s four three-pointers, capped by a game-winner at the buzzer, were just enough.
Ivy League basketball has improved dramatically in recent years. Due to financial aid expansion, better recruiting and a general snowballing of success, this generation of the Ancient Eight looks nothing like that of last decade (or, for the league as a whole, anytime before that). This weekend, @ivybball detailed the league’s better performance against top opponents; overall, the Ivy’s Pomeroy rating is currently 13th-best nationally and above .500 for the first time ever.
Player of the Week: Maodo Lo, Columbia — Lo’s second-half exploits (chronicled above) led Columbia to a big victory over Hofstra. The junior matched his career high with 29 points, including seven three-pointers, alongside seven rebounds and two steals. Lo is inching toward Wesley Saunders for the Ivy League scoring lead, averaging 17.6 ppg for the season and 21.8 in December.
Rookie of the Week: Amir Bell, Princeton — Bell did a bit of everything in Princeton’s 77-55 thrashing of Lipscomb, scoring 11 points on six shooting possessions while adding six rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals. Handed the starting point guard position from opening day, Bell has consistently battled foul trouble but otherwise been steady; aside from a six-turnover outing at California last week, he has yet to commit more than two miscues in any game.
The Week Ahead: Three teams face major-conference foes tonight: Columbia tries to become the second Ivy team to beat reigning champion UConn (ESPN3), while Dartmouth faces Penn State and Penn visits Vanderbilt. After a holiday break, three teams return to action Sunday, including Harvard’s trip to Arizona State.
Power Rankings: Mascot Edition
Few games have been played since last week’s power rankings, so instead I’m ranking the Ivy League mascots.
- Princeton Tigers — There’s tough competition at the top, but Tigers stand out because of their powerful orange and black colors. There’s a reason they’re the second most-popular nickname in Division 1.
- Brown Bears — Bears are a strong mascot under any circumstances — capable of being ferocious (in the forest) but also friendly (when stuffed) — and especially at Brown, because of the wordplay.
- Yale Bulldogs — According to Wikipedia, bulldogs of the 19th century were ferocious and aggressive, but they’ve since been bred to become more docile — rather fitting for an Ivy League football team. Regardless, a live mascot is always cool.
- Columbia Lions — Lions are fearsome animals, but they aren’t quite as intimidating when dressed in baby blue. Columbia’s logo looks like a jungle cat that stumbled into a vat of Easter Egg dye.
- Penn Quakers — I respect Penn’s nod to history, but it’s impossible to make a human mascot that isn’t kinda creepy. You might think Quakers would at least beat Tigers or Bears at actual basketball, what with the opposable thumbs and all, but they’d be afraid to go into the paint after a few maulings.
- Harvard Crimson — Crimson can’t even play actual basketball, because it’s just a color, not an animate being. Colors are not imposing mascots, and they’re also grammatically annoying.
- (tie) Cornell Big Red, Dartmouth Big Green — At least Harvard has the sincerity to stick with its color, instead of pretending that making it “Big” is more potent. Color has no size, and there’s no reason to think that bigger color is better. “Big Green” and “Big Red” sound less like sports teams and more like modern art.