What Happened Last Week: Yale swept Columbia and Cornell on the road, improving to 4-0. Harvard recovered from last week’s upset with wins at Princeton and Penn, keeping pace at 3-1. Princeton is in the mix at 2-1, as are Cornell and Columbia at 2-2, but the Ivy League still looks like a two-team race.
1. Many of us thought Justin Sears deserved last year’s Player of the Year honor (which went to Wesley Saunders instead). So far in Ivy play, Sears is on pace to erase any doubt about this season’s award. In Friday’s tight game at Columbia, the junior dropped 28 points on 10-15 shooting with eight rebounds and three blocks (including a deflection of Maodo Lo’s potential game-tying three down the stretch). After a short turnaround at Cornell, Sears outdueled Shonn Miller for an efficient 19 points. Sears is leading the league in scoring (22.3 ppg in conference play), second in rebounding and tied for the lead in blocks, all for the Ivy’s best team so far.
Sears’ stats weren’t eye-popping for the first two months, but he’s turned it on for the 14-Game Tournament. Over the last two seasons, Sears has averaged a 102 offensive rating, 15.0 points and 6.9 rebounds in non-conference play — and a 115 ORtg, 20.1 ppg and 8.0 rpg against the Ancient Eight.
Yale has put everything together in Ivy play, combining last year’s strengths (tons of free throws, strong rebounding and an awesome Sears) with this year’s improved guard play. If the Bulldogs keep it up, they’ll have a great chance at their first NCAA tournament in a half-decade.
2. Princeton got exactly the game it wanted against Harvard. Playing small for most of Friday, the Tigers pushed Harvard to use four-guard sets even when resting its starters, which led to some odd lineups for the reigning champions (Brown-Miller-Saunders-Okolie-Travis?). With Harvard’s shotblockers on the bench, Princeton shot 15-26 inside the arc and finished with 1.09 points per possession against a top-10 defense nationally.
But Harvard built a 10-point lead at halftime in an unlikely way: Winning a three-point shootout. The Crimson’s outside shooting woes this year have been well-documented, and visitors often struggle at Jadwin Gym, but top marksman Corbin Miller got loose for 19 points on 5-8 shooting behind the arc. Princeton clamped down on Miller after halftime, but Jonah Travis’ efficient 14 points helped the Crimson hold off Princeton’s attempted comeback.
3. Brown announced Thursday that Leland King has left the team. King was the Bears’ leading scorer and rebounder, as well as their only true high-usage offensive threat. With an 0-4 Ivy record and King gone, things may look hopeless for the Bears. But they scared Yale and Cornell on the road, and they’ve played the league’s toughest schedule to date. The offense will be a delicate balance that asks more of everyone, but if the bad momentum doesn’t snowball, Brown should still get four wins or so.
Player of the Week: Justin Sears, Yale — See above. Sears used 38% of Yale’s possessions against Columbia, and he was the most efficient player on the floor. Cornell’s frontcourt overloaded its attention on Sears, but the junior still scored a game-high 19 points on putbacks and free throws, and his defense turned Shonn Miller into just a jump-shooter on the other end.
Rookie of the Week: Kyle Castlin, Columbia — Against Brown, Castlin scored 21 points on 8-13 shooting with nine rebounds and three steals, helping the Lions break open what was a close game into the second half. The Lions’ guard, who also had 10 points against Yale, has added an attacking dimension that Columbia’s offense sometimes lacks. He’s averaged an efficient 10.2 ppg, and he’s running away with the Rookie of the Year award.
The Week Ahead: The first Yale-Harvard showdown of the season takes place Saturday in New Haven. If the Bulldogs can hold their home court (and beat Dartmouth the night before), they might be two games ahead of the league after two full weekends. Princeton, the only other one-loss team, faces a tough trip to Columbia and Cornell.
- Yale (4-0) — Matt Townsend’s reliance on two-point jumpers has become a fun meme this season. But with Sears occupying Shonn Miller on Saturday, Townsend made a big impact in the paint against Cornell. More than half his 13 points came at the rim or from the free-throw line, and the Rhodes Scholar grabbed two offensive rebounds and had two assists.
- Harvard (3-1) — How will the Crimson match up against Yale defensively on Saturday? Harvard’s frontcourt should give Sears trouble, but point guard is a bad matchup on paper, with Siyani Chambers giving up four inches to 6’4” Javier Duren (who has been willing to post up smaller defenders). If Tommy Amaker gets scared of that matchup, he can put Wesley Saunders on Duren and switch Chambers onto the smaller Jack Montague — but that likely means sitting Miller for Agunwa Okolie, which will cripple the Crimson’s scoring against a stout Yale defense.
- Columbia (2-2) — Maodo Lo is back. The Chairman took over in the second half against Yale, making five straight jumpers (four threes) to lead the Lions back from a nine-point deficit. Lo finished that game with 20 points, then scored 15 more (on 4-8 shooting) against Brown, along with an encouraging five assists.
- Cornell (2-2) — Despite its high-pressure style, Cornell’s defense actually forced very few turnovers in non-conference play. But that has turned around in recent weeks: The Big Red has gotten takeaways in more than a quarter of opponents’ possessions (including 16 from Yale on Saturday), and more than half of those have been live-ball steals. With a struggling halfcourt offense, Cornell needs all the fast-break help it can get.
- Princeton (2-1) — Amir Bell had perhaps the best weekend of his rookie season. He took over for stretches of the second half against Harvard, making tough layups and scoring 17 points on 7-10 shooting. Though he scored only four points against Dartmouth, he bottled up Alex Mitola and grabbed seven rebounds.
- Dartmouth (1-3) — The Big Green averaged .81 points per possession in their road trip, shooting a combined 5-28 from three-point range. A trip to Yale on Friday won’t make things any easier, but after this weekend, Dartmouth finishes with six of eight at home.
- Penn (1-2) — The Quakers have crept into the top half of D-I in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com, which is especially impressive given that they start many possessions by running back after live-ball turnovers. Penn hasn’t topped 60 points in its last five outings, but its defense will keep it in most games.
- Brown (0-4) — Without King, someone needs to use possessions for the Bears, who have a lot of secondary-level scorers but no go-to players. So far, many of those shots have gone to Tavon Blackmon. The point guard played 78 minutes this weekend with a 28% usage rate, but he shot just 8-24 with nine turnovers and has a track record of being inefficient.