What Happened Last Week: Princeton and Harvard opened Ivy League play with victories over their travel partners (see more below). Columbia and Yale dropped non-conference games to Stony Brook and NJIT, respectively. Cornell and Princeton dispatched midweek foes at home, and Brown’s offense sputtered in a 1-1 week.
1. Penn and Princeton kicked off conference play in entertaining fashion, as the Tigers overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to pull out a 78-74 home victory. The Quakers have played Princeton tough over the last couple years, and Saturday afternoon was no exception. Darien Nelson-Henry made his first eight shots and scored 18 points (his third straight Princeton game with at least 17), and the visitors shot 62% in the first half. But Penn’s offense self-destructed down the stretch, making just four shots in the final 13 minutes and finishing the game with six assists on 30 baskets.
The Tigers’ comeback was led by two unlikely sources: Henry Caruso and Ben Hazel, who scored 12 points combined in all of December. Caruso constantly snuck into the lane and scored a career-high 23 points, mostly from the foul line. Hazel — who fell out of Princeton’s rotation entirely after starting the first four games — frustrated Tony Hicks into 3-11 shooting after halftime. The Tigers’ small lineups forced turnovers, drew fouls and avoided a bad loss in their Ivy opener.
2. Harvard’s 57-46, wire-to-wire win over Dartmouth was actually impressive — the Crimson were favored by just three points per KenPom’s projections, and Wesley Saunders missed more than half the game with foul trouble — but it showed that conference play will be a slog for the reigning champions. Harvard’s juggernaut defense held Dartmouth to 33% shooting; the Big Green were forced to take tough shots, and they shot them terribly. On the other end, the Crimson committed 17 turnovers, though Corbin Miller bailed them out of several possessions with four threes and 16 points (and may have played his way into the starting lineup). They finished at a glacial 56 possessions, the first of many slow-paced Ivy League games to come.
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker was too cautious in managing Saunders’ minutes — the senior had committed just 2.0 fouls per 40 minutes this season, yet he sat for seven minutes in the first half with two fouls and another six in the second half with three. But Amaker was somewhat vindicated by the outcome: Saunders finished with four fouls in 19 minutes (including three soft offensive whistles), though he never fouled out.
3. Expect the Ivy League to follow Stony Brook’s blueprint for stopping Maodo Lo. The conference’s leading scorer was held to just seven points Tuesday, as all five Seawolves kept one eye on Lo. Defenses can afford to gamble on stopping Lo because he’s not a great passer for a high-usage guard:
Data via College Basketball Reference; minimum 20 mpg, 24% usage rate
Lo has assisted 16.4% of his teammates’ shots while on the court, in line with his career average. Among high-usage Ivy peers this year, Lo trails Javier Duren (31.0%), Tony Hicks (30.9%) and Wesley Saunders (29.3%) by wide margins, leading only Robert Hatter (5.4%).
While Columbia was one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams last season, it has regressed without Alex Rosenberg and Meiko Lyles. Aside from Lo, the other Lions are shooting just 31% from beyond the arc this season, allowing opponents to cheat toward Lo without getting burned.
Player of the Week: Henry Caruso, Princeton — After playing four total minutes in Princeton’s previous three games, Steven Cook’s illness forced Caruso into heavy second-half action in both of this week’s games. The sophomore scored 14 points to help Princeton hold off Norfolk State, then led a comeback over Penn with 23 more. Caruso shot a combined 8-12 from the field and 19-23 from the free throw line, committing only one turnover.
Rookie of the Week: Makai Mason, Yale — Mason has shown potential throughout the season as a sparkplug off the Bulldogs’ bench. With Justin Sears missing most of Friday’s game, Mason scored a season-high 17 points on 7-9 shooting, though Yale lost 78-71 at NJIT.
The Week Ahead: Non-conference play winds down for all non-Penn squads, including interesting Wednesday games for Harvard (at Boston College) and Dartmouth (at Vermont). The four remaining teams play their Ivy openers Saturday, when Yale visits Brown and Cornell hosts Columbia. Brown continues to be turnover-plagued, but it can beat anyone on a good day and matches up well with the Bulldogs. Meanwhile, the patient Lions and frenetic Big Red will match up with very different styles.
- Harvard — The lone Dartmouth player to shoot well Saturday was Connor Boehm, who went 4-5 from three-point range for 16 points. That’s no coincidence: Harvard’s bigs have struggled against power forwards who can score from the perimeter, and the Crimson will have even bigger matchup problems when teams like Princeton and Columbia play small. Harvard can match them with four guards, but doing so negates its frontcourt advantage and risks burning out its backcourt.
- Yale — Justin Sears played only six minutes at NJIT, missing the rest of the game after getting hit in the face. He is expected to play against Brown, but Friday’s game underscored his importance on defense: Yale surrendered 1.13 points per possession to the Highlanders.
- Columbia — The Lions’ defense carried them through the first month of the season, but they have allowed more than a point per possession in each of their last six D-I games. There was no shame in doing so against Kentucky, Hofstra or Connecticut; but Colgate, St. Francis Brooklyn and Stony Brook have now torched Columbia for a combined 1.13 ppp. The Lions’ three-point defense has predictably regressed, and they’re not rebounding nearly as well as in past years. Columbia will need a lot of offense to contend for the Ivy League title.
- Cornell — Shonn Miller has scored at least 10 points in Cornell’s last 11 games, and four of the last five have been double-doubles. He’s now in a virtual tie with Maodo Lo for the Ivy scoring lead, and he leads the rebounding rankings by a healthy margin. The Big Red’s fast pace helps boost his counting stats, but he’ll have a serious Player of the Year case no matter where his team finishes.
- Princeton — Caruso was excellent against Penn, but to continue being a major part of Princeton’s offense, he needs to start passing. The sophomore has one assist all season; once he’s been scouted, teams will start selling out to stop his drives.
- Dartmouth — Boehm made only two three-pointers in his first 11 games (including one game-winner), but he’s 6-8 from distance in his last two outings. If he keeps launching treys, he’ll add another piece to Dartmouth’s already solid set of shooters.
- Brown — The Bears squandered a low-turnover game at New Hampshire, shooting just 2-18 from three-point range (including 0-14 from their starters) in a 68-61 loss. Leland King missed the game with knee soreness; Brown needs him healthy to use possessions in conference play.
- Penn — I expect this Ivy League season to shape up like 2013 — Harvard and Yale might separate themselves from the rest of the league (as Harvard and Princeton did then), but I think every team will win at least four games, including the Quakers. Columbia finished last in 2013 at 4-10, the only Ivy doormat to win that many games since 2006.