What Happened Last Week: Harvard did what Harvard does in tournaments. Santa brought blowout wins for Princeton and Dartmouth, overtime heartbreakers for Brown and Penn, a blown first-half lead for Cornell, and rest for Columbia and Yale.
1. Given how it plays overseas, Harvard might want to consider moving its new arena to the satellite campus in Shanghai. After sweeping the Battle 4 Atlantis (Bahamas) in 2011 and the Great Alaska Shootout in 2013, the Crimson extended their win streak outside the contiguous U.S. to eight games with victories over BYU and Auburn in the Diamond Head Classic. In the final, they led No. 3 Oklahoma at halftime, fell behind by 20 when the Sooners caught fire, and then closed three-quarters of that gap before losing 82-71.
Harvard followed its playbook: Defense, post play, and outside shooting. Zena Edosomwan had a monster tournament (see below), and the Crimson shot 42% on threes:
Earlier in the year I thought Tommy McCarthy, as the team’s only natural point guard, would make or break Harvard’s season. But that hasn’t been the case — the rookie was in frequent foul trouble this week, but the Crimson didn’t miss a beat, outscoring Auburn by 17 points without him and playing Oklahoma even. Lineups with Corbin Miller, Corey Johnson, Agunwa Okolie, Patrick Steeves and Edosomwan looked particularly fearsome, with three sharpshooters around one center, Okolie’s tough on-ball defense, and length at every other position.
Harvard’s offense won’t look this good when Edosomwan is in foul trouble, three-pointers don’t fall, or turnovers accumulate. But the Crimson have shown this month that they’re a legit Ivy League contender alongside Yale, Princeton and Columbia.
2. Don’t look now, but Princeton has crept into the top 100 teams nationally in KenPom’s adjusted tempo at 71.4 possessions per game. The Tigers never ranked above 300 before 2012; but Mitch Henderson has liberalized the Princeton offense, giving his players freedom to attack off the dribble early in the shot clock. They used a lot of quick-hitting drive-and-kicks against Bucknell, making 10 three-pointers and scoring 48 points in the paint. All told, the hosts scored 89 points on 73 possessions, winning comfortably despite a sloppy defensive second half.
The Ivy League and Patriot League are common non-conference foes, but this year’s fight is a mismatch: After Princeton’s win last Tuesday, the Ancient Eight is winning the series 9-3, outscoring their opponents by 12 points per game. The main culprit is the Patriot League’s porous defense, which has allowed 80 points per game to Ivy teams.
3. Cornell got off to a strong start against mid-major darling du jour Monmouth, leading 23-10 after 10 minutes and sticking within one possession into the final seven minutes. But turnovers killed the Big Red — especially with three starters in foul trouble — and the Hawks used second-chance points to pull away.
Of course, Monmouth’s bench did Monmouth bench things:
Player of the Week: Zena Edosomwan, Harvard — Edosomwan had 23 points and 17 rebounds in Harvard’s overtime win over BYU, and 13 and six against Auburn, but he saved his best work for the final: 25 points, 16 rebounds and two assists against the nation’s #7 defense (per KenPom). Edosomwan has become much more effective on offense — he has more assists than turnovers, a far cry from his 1:4 ratio last year — and has cut his foul rate, allowing him to play full games. The junior is averaging a double-double for the season and on track to be a legitimate Player of the Year candidate.
Rookie of the Week: Corey Johnson, Harvard — Johnson was recruited with a reputation as a pure shooter, and that’s what he’s been for the Crimson. The Ottawa native shot 4-9 from three-point range in the first two rounds of the Diamond Head Classic, then went 3-6 against Oklahoma while battling foul trouble. For the season, 82% of his shots have come from beyond the arc, and he’s made them at a 42% clip; only two Ivy players have made more treys.
The Week Ahead: Penn plays No. 17 Villanova tonight (FS1), and Princeton visits No. 13 Miami on Tuesday (ESPN3). Yale and Columbia return to action after long layoffs; the Bulldogs take short road trips to Central Connecticut State and Hartford, while the Lions tune up with Howard before traveling to Stony Brook. Also check out Brown vs. Rhode Island (Wednesday, ESPN3), and Harvard hosting Vermont (Saturday).
- Yale — Both Yale’s opponents this week have Pomeroy ratings in the mid-300s, so if history is any indication, the Bulldogs will take care of business. All five of their losses came on the road, to teams in or near the top 100; Yale has won the rest of its games by double digits.
- Princeton — The Tigers’ fast pace isn’t just an offensive phenomenon; their defense also helps keep games crisp. Princeton has started applying more pressure on that end — a wise strategy for a perimeter-oriented team, especially when Pete Miller is protecting the basket — and leads the nation in defensive rebound rate, preventing foes from extending possessions with second chances.
- Harvard — As you probably know by now, senior Patrick Steeves didn’t play a single game until this season due to injuries. Even though I’m aware he’s turned into a legitimate threat for the Crimson, I still did a double-take when ESPN’s main college basketball account tweeted Steeves highlights on Tuesday night:
- Columbia — Saturday’s trip to Stony Brook will be a fascinating test for the Lions: How will they scheme to stop Jameel Warney? One of the nation’s best big men, the then-junior scored only 12 points against Columbia in last year’s season opener, but he bounced back for 25 in the rematch. The Lions could use the practice for the likes of Zena Edosomwan and Justin Sears in Ivy play.
- Dartmouth — The Big Green hasn’t beaten a team in KenPom’s top 250, but they have looked dominant in their four victories. They had 1.20 points per possession in Tuesday’s blowout of Longwood, scoring effectively on the break and getting three-pointers from six different players.
- Penn — Steve Donahue’s most successful offenses have been built on ball movement and outside shooting — so games like Tuesday’s are concerning, as Penn shot 3-18 from distance and had only seven assists. After a 4-1 start, the Quakers have lost five straight to D-I opponents, and it won’t get any easier tonight.
- Cornell — Ken Pomeroy published an insightful post last week showing that three-point shooting is hard to predict early in the season. Surprisingly, two-point shooting and free-throw shooting are almost as good at predicting future three-point shooting as actual three-point shooting at this point in the season. That’s bad news for Cornell, which ranks 113th nationally in three-point accuracy (36%), but 243rd in two-point shooting and 299th in free throws. Robert Hatter is one candidate for regression: The junior has made 39% of his treys this season, but shot only 29% last year despite getting more catch-and-shoot opportunities. Cornell takes nearly half its shots from long range, so any decline will have an big impact.
- Brown — I wrote last week that Brown wouldn’t suffer too much from Justin Massey’s transfer back to Florida Atlantic, due to their guard depth. I was probably wrong, at least in the short term. With Corey Daugherty sidelined for a third straight game, Brown’s starters combined for 80 of 83 points — in a double-overtime game! — and all played at least 40 minutes. Foul trouble and fatigue will eventually push the Bears deeper into their bench, especially once back-to-backs begin in Ivy play.