What Happened Last Week: Yale opened Ivy League play with an impressive 80-62 victory at Brown. Despite committing 23 turnovers and nearly throwing away a six-point lead in the final minute, Columbia edged Cornell 48-45 on the road. In non-league play, Penn beat Niagara and was competitive with No. 5 Villanova, while Harvard’s six-game win streak against Boston College ended in overtime.
1. Yale looked a lot like last year’s team at Brown, relying heavily on offensive rebounding, free throws and Justin Sears. The junior saw several layups spin out and shot just 7-16 from the line, but he still finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds; meanwhile, the visitors earned 37 free throws and grabbed 15 offensive boards. The Bulldogs’ shooting is much improved this season (thanks largely to Javier Duren and Jack Montague, who combined for 34 points), so if they can get to the line and control the glass like they did last year, they will be very tough to beat.
2. The Lions had a great defensive gameplan against Cornell, and they needed every bit of it to escape Ithaca with a win. Columbia often brought four or five defenders into the paint to stop drives, daring the Big Red to beat them with ball movement. The hosts instead settled for off-balance jumpers, taking only 12 of their 52 shots at the rim (most of which were well contested). Cornell made four field goals in the first half and scored .71 points per possession, allowing Columbia to lead wire-to-wire despite an ugly offensive performance of its own (including zero points from a foul-plagued Maodo Lo).
3. The Ivy League announced a national TV package last week. Five men’s basketball games (and one women’s game) will be shown on CBS Sports Network, and several others will be syndicated on American Sports Network, which produces games to air on local networks. With fewer games and shorter notice, this marks a downgrade from last year’s package on NBC Sports Network, but at this late stage, it’s much better than nothing. The CBSSN package features each team at least once, though both Harvard-Yale showdowns are notably absent (one is on ASN).
Player of the Week: Javier Duren, Yale — Duren beat the Bears in many ways on Saturday. He used his speed to get into the lane, his strength to outmuscle Tavon Blackmon in the post, and his touch to hit a pair of three-pointers. The senior point guard finished with a game-high 19 points, 10 rebounds and three assists (plus several other passes that went unfinished at the rim).
Rookie of the Week: Antonio Woods, Penn — Against fifth-ranked Villanova, Woods came off the bench but led the Quakers in minutes, scoring 18 points on 7-12 shooting. His heroics helped the Quakers stay within one possession through 30 minutes.
The Week Ahead: Three sets of travel partners complete their home-and-home series, with Brown visiting Yale, Cornell visiting Columbia and Harvard visiting Dartmouth. (We will be covering all three games on Saturday.) Given that all three of this week’s home teams won their openers on the road, the favorites are clear, but crazy things can happen in these series.
- Harvard (1-0) — Ivy play may be approaching, but Tommy Amaker’s recruiting machine hasn’t stopped: 2016 power forward Chris Lewis, the nation’s #44 prospect per ESPN, committed to the Crimson Sunday.
- Yale (1-0) — Though Brown’s matchups often kept Sears away from the basket defensively in first half, he finished with five blocked shots. Sears is my midseason Defensive Player of the Year, followed by Steve Moundou-Missi and Wesley Saunders. (Edit: I forgot about Shonn Miller, who would be right with Sears for DPOY.)
- Columbia (1-0) — Kendall Jackson was a surprise hero for Columbia. After playing just 12 minutes in the Lions’ previous nine games, he spelled Maodo Lo for much of Saturday, banging two three-pointers and finishing with eight points.
- Cornell (0-1) — The Big Red’s defense continues to be an amazing story, now 87th nationally per KenPom after ranking 350th a year ago. But their offense is now 305th. Cornell has scored .75 points per possession or less in three of its last five D-I games; remarkably, they still nearly won two of those (an OT loss to Saint Peter’s and Saturday’s loss to Columbia).
- Princeton (1-0) — With the Tigers off for exam break, here’s a long-overdue spotlight on their women’s team, which is 17-0 and #19 in the AP poll. The Tigers have won four Ivy championships under head coach Courtney Banghart, but they’ve yet to win an NCAA tournament game. This year is their best chance yet: With convincing wins over good Michigan and Pitt squads, Princeton is ranked sixth nationally in the Sagarin ratings.
- Dartmouth (0-1) — After a close loss at Vermont, Dartmouth did what Michigan and Yale couldn’t: Beat NJIT. The Big Green have shot just 30% from three-point range over their last three games, however, which they’ll need to turn around to make noise in Ivy play.
- Brown (0-1) — The Bears played at home, committed only 11 turnovers, and were still blown out in their Ivy opener, thanks to Yale’s 1.16 points per possession. Brown’s defense is probably the biggest disappointment of the Ivy League this year.
- Penn (0-1) — Penn’s freshmen continue to impress this season. Woods stole the spotlight against Villanova, but Mike Auger scored eight points with a team-high nine rebounds, a few days after getting seven boards and two steals in 21 minutes at Niagara.