With three days until the start of the new season, let’s break down some national projections for the Ivy League:
CBS Sports named Columbia the league’s favorite, narrowly edging Yale (who came in first in league’s official Ivy media poll). The statistical projections of Ken Pomeroy and Dan Hanner favor Princeton instead, though the latter has the Tigers and Lions neck and neck. All systems agree that Harvard rounds out the preseason top four, and that Cornell brings up the rear.
1. Just two weeks before Opening Day, Penn announced that Tony Hicks will not return to the team for his senior season. (He will seek a graduate transfer for next year instead.) Hicks was the Quakers’ leading scorer in each of the last two seasons, and his 33% usage rate was the highest in Ivy play last year, but I still feel like his absence doesn’t change Penn’s fortune much this year. His established skill as a high-usage, low-efficiency combo guard was an awkward fit for new head coach Steve Donahue — whose teams need an efficient offense to succeed — and Penn has two promising point guards in sophomore Antonio Woods and freshman Jake Silpe.
Hicks would have raised Penn’s floor this season, as he could have stepped back into a big role if Penn’s backcourt suffers injuries or stagnation. And he could have been a weapon playing fewer minutes, perhaps off the bench. But Hicks didn’t seem happy with that role (per Donahue’s comments to The Daily Pennsylvanian), so he’ll search for a greater opportunity elsewhere.
2. Harvard opens its season at home against D-III MIT on Friday night. Hopefully the least experienced team in recent Ivy history can likewise use the rest of non-conference play as a low-pressure environment to experiment, try out lots of new lineups, and — wait, what’s that?
No, the next two months won’t be easy for the five-time defending champions. Saturday’s trip to Providence will pit freshman point guard Tommy McCarthy, playing his first D-I game, against consensus preseason All-America Kris Dunn. Harvard visits Kansas in early December, plays BYU in the Diamond Head Classic (with a few power-conference teams lurking in the bracket), and has other fun games against Boston College, Wofford and Vermont.
3. Columbia’s non-conference schedule could be pulled directly from the Syracuse archives: The Lions play 11 of their 17 pre-Ivy games at Levien Gym, plus another two in the NYC area. Their two longest trips are also their two major-conference tests, both in the first full week of the season, though neither is a traditional power (Kansas State and Northwestern). Columbia’s schedule isn’t soft — Lehigh, Wofford, St. Joseph’s and Stony Brook will test them well — but it doesn’t give them chances for big wins to boost their national profile, nor their statistical one.
But is strength of opponents the only dimension on which a team’s schedule should be evaluated? Harvard, for instance, has more opportunities for a signature win — but the Crimson plays only six non-conference home games, two of which are against non-DI teams. (A Harvard fan who goes out of town for holidays will see only one D-I non-league opponent.) On the other hand, a New York-based Columbia fan can see their team — the program’s best in a generation — 13 times before Ivy play even starts. That’s a good thing!
The Week Ahead: All eight teams open their seasons on Friday. Dartmouth (at Seton Hall, FS1) and Cornell (at Georgia Tech, ESPN3) get national broadcasts, while Penn kicks off the Steve Donahue era at home against Robert Morris. The most evenly matched contest, per KenPom, pits Princeton at Rider, a rematch of last year’s opener that now pairs two teams picked third in their respective league polls. Later in the weekend, Harvard visits Providence (Saturday, also on FS1), and Penn hosts Central Connecticut State.
- Princeton — In each of the last two seasons, Princeton has faced just one non-conference opponent that ended in KenPom’s top 100 (and both were at the low end). That should change this year, as the Tigers visit Maryland (#3 in the AP poll) and Miami (six spots outside the top 25) in late December. Their schedule still isn’t the strongest overall — Fairleigh Dickinson, Lipscomb and Liberty all roll over from last year — but they’ll have a couple chances to make a splash.
- Yale — The Bulldogs have even more, visiting SMU, Duke, Illinois and USC in a three-week span. We all remember Yale’s victory over UConn last season; don’t be surprised if they convert another one of their opportunities this year.
- Columbia — NBC Sports named Maodo Lo a first-team Mid-Major All-American last week, alongside Yale’s Justin Sears. Columbia’s first two D-I games are at Kansas State and Northwestern; if Lo starts this season the way he ended the last, he’ll find himself at the center of even more attention.
- Harvard — Zena Edosomwan Usage Rate Watch: The junior used 38% of Harvard’s possessions while on the court in Saturday’s scrimmage against McGill, (a surprisingly close 66-63 Harvard win). Edosomwan scored 21 points but committed four turnovers; perhaps most importantly, he committed only two fouls, allowing him to play 30 minutes.
- Dartmouth — Dan Hanner’s projection system (now at SI.com) has been the most accurate model in recent years, in part because it builds its projections up at the individual player level. Usually this approach yields similar results to other models’ — which are mostly based on team-level data, adjusted for how many players are returning — but Dartmouth shows how Hanner sees details others miss. Ken Pomeroy, for instance, projects the Big Green to fall to #229 nationally, because they lose key players and have a history of futility. But Hanner has Dartmouth at #189, because the Big Green can fill those holes with players like Malik Gill and Miles Wright, who were very effective in part-time roles last season.
- Penn — Jake Silpe is the biggest reason Penn fans don’t need to lose sleep over the loss of Tony Hicks. The three-star recruit from nearby Cherry Hill was the undisputed star of the Quakers’ intrasquad scrimmage last month, and with a clearer path to playing time now, he is perhaps the Rookie of the Year favorite.
- Brown — The Bears have been the Ivy League’s fastest-paced team in each of the last two seasons — by a large margin in 2014-15 — so perhaps the 30-second shot clock will give them an advantage? Many of those possessions last year were prematurely shortened by turnovers, however, so taking care of the ball will be critical for Brown’s maturing backcourt.
- Cornell — Robert Hatter made the game-winning shot in Cornell’s intrasquad scrimmage last month. The Big Red will need a lot more of that from Hatter, who might battle Edosomwan and Lo for the league’s top usage rate. Hatter isn’t an efficient scorer, but he’s proven capable of creating shots in volume, a skill Cornell needs this year.