What Happened Last Week: Yale lost to a pair of power-conference teams. The Monstars stole Princeton’s shooting ability for a night. Penn’s Big 5 comeback fell short. Columbia almost Columbia’d, until Luke Petrasek saved the day.
1. We’ve been over this before, but James Jones needs to give Justin Sears a long leash with foul trouble. After the senior was called for a cheap offensive foul — his second — with 8:27 left in the first half at Illinois on Wednesday, Jones pulled him for the rest of the first half. In that time, the Illini scored several baskets near the rim, and their four-point lead grew to eight.
For a fearsome shot-blocker, Sears doesn’t foul much at all: He committed 3.4 fouls per 40 minutes as a sophomore and 3.1 as a junior (3.7 so far this year). Of 194 players with at least a 7.5% block rate in either of those seasons, Sears’ foul rates rank 13th and 24th (via the CBB Reference Play Index). So Jones doesn’t have to be as cautious with his star big man as other coaches might.
To his credit, Jones left Sears in the game after he picked up a third foul with 18 minutes left — and Sears finished the game with, you guessed it, three fouls.
2. Because of its slow pace and heavy reliance on three-point shooting, Columbia is a high-variance team. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that style — but the Lions’ non-conference schedule doesn’t fit it well. The upside of volatile tactics is that they’re more likely to upset better teams. If the Lions make their threes and get breaks on defense, they can beat almost anyone in the country.
But they don’t have a single non-league opponent currently KenPom’s top 50. If Columbia had faced a few top teams, it would have had good odds of pulling a big upset, and the narrative would be brighter. Instead, most of its opponents are worse, so the Lions’ variance is all downside. When they play well, they win in blowouts; when they play poorly, they are at risk of bad losses. They were seven seconds away from the latter at Manhattan this week before they finally won a close game.
Of course, scheduling is a two-way street — perhaps top opponents learned from Michigan State and Kentucky and stayed away from Columbia.
3. Improved ball security has boosted Brown and Penn’s offenses. The Bears (21.6% to 16.4%) and Quakers (23.6% to 18.1%) have each slashed their turnover rates by more than five percentage points so far, two of the nation’s 10 biggest jumps:
Columbia and Princeton, led by experienced backcourts, have cut their turnover rates to low levels. Cornell, Dartmouth and Yale are above the national average, as they were last year. Harvard is the only team to significantly regress, falling from 18.4% to 22.7%.
Player of the Week: Luke Petrasek, Columbia — A useful bench guy in his first two seasons, Petrasek has been the Ivy League’s breakout player this year. He scored a career-high 26 points at Manhattan on 11-17 shooting, none more important than the final three:
Petrasek was quieter at NJIT, but finished with five blocks and seven rebounds to go with his nine points. His scoring was efficient, continuing a theme this season — the junior’s true shooting percentage of 72.1% ranks eighth nationally among qualified players. He has the three-point touch to force defenders to the perimeter (14-27 this season), the dexterity to beat them off the dribble, and the 6-10 height to finish at the rim.
Rookie of the Week: Corey Johnson, Harvard — Johnson hit six three-pointers at Boston University on Tuesday, setting a season high with 18 points. A couple treys early in the game helped the Crimson build a big halftime lead, and his hurried shot from the corner in the final minute sank the Terriers’ comeback bid.
The Week Ahead: With most schools in the middle of fall exams, we only have six D-I games this week. The highlight is Princeton’s visit to No. 6 Maryland, shortly after Cornell visits Syracuse. Columbia hosts Robert Morris in a random 2 p.m. mid-week game today.
- Yale — The Bulldogs didn’t look like themselves against USC, allowing 14 offensive rebounds (47%) and earning only nine free throws. Credit the Trojans, a top-50 team per KenPom, for a well-played game, but Yale’s travel schedule — at Illinois on Wednesday, back to New Haven for a spell, then at USC on Sunday — might have sapped its energy.
- Princeton — The Tigers recovered from their brickfest at St. Joseph’s to beat Lipscomb on the road, but the biggest surprise was their rebounding. Not on the defensive end — where they rank first nationally in defensive rebound rate — but on offense, where Princeton, normally conservative about attacking the glass, nabbed 17 boards (43%).
- Columbia — After the way Maodo Lo ended last season — with three 30+ point outings in his last five games — the expectations for him were insanely high in 2015-16. So it’s more our fault than Lo’s that his performance has felt unremarkable so far. After dropping 20 points against NJIT, taking over as the Lions’ offense stalled in the second half, he’s fifth in the league in scoring (15.7 ppg) despite playing on the slowest-paced team, and he’s first in steals. His efficiency and usage are slightly down from last year, but his assist rate is up as he’s surrounded by even better talent. Lo is having a great year.
- Harvard — For the last two years, Agunwa Okolie has been Exhibit A for Harvard’s defense-first, ugly-offense reputation. But Okolie scored 15 points at BU (6-10 shooting), and while he won’t average that going forward, Harvard has finally figured out how to use him most effectively on offense — feeding him on cuts to the hoop for dunks or short floaters. The same can be said for Evan Cummins, who had 10 points Tuesday.
- Dartmouth — Another week, another out-of-nowhere contributor for Dartmouth. This time it was Mike Fleming, who led all bench players with 14 minutes and five points at Stanford, after totaling 13 and two for the entire season beforehand.
- Penn — Steve Donahue may have found a second pure shooter for his offense. Jackson Donahue — whose middle name for the next four years is No-Relation-To-Steve — hit four treys against Temple on Wednesday, including three straight in a second-half run that brought Penn back in the game.
- Brown — The Bears won the second half at Georgetown by 14 points, but that’s little consolation after entering intermission down 46-15. Brown doesn’t score many points from free throws or putbacks, so when their shooting is off — as it was in the first half, with a 25% effective field goal percentage — the results are ugly. Cedric Kuakumensah set the Ivy career blocks record in this game.
- Cornell — Cornell grad transfer Shonn Miller is third in scoring (12.0 ppg), second in rebounding (5.3), and second in blocked shots for 6-3 UConn, which was the first team outside the AP Top 25 last week. He’s also doing things like this: