1. 52 weeks ago, Harvard led Dartmouth by double digits and was cruising to a season sweep … until the Big Green went on a stunning 26-2 run. So when the Crimson’s lead started falling midway through Saturday’s second half — from 11 down to five, then two, then gone, all without Harvard scoring a point — it wasn’t hard to predict how the story would end. This year’s Dartmouth run finished at 25-4, and it was eerily similar not just in timing and importance, but how it happened: Malik Gill dug down into the lane and caused havoc, the Big Green hit a few key threes, and Harvard’s offense imploded. The only difference was the location.
Gill didn’t even play in this season’s first meeting, and he was scoreless Saturday until the moment Harvard took its 11-point lead. But then he exploded in typical Gill fashion, poking the ball away from taller opponents, making key passes and leading the Big Green in transition. After a loose ball bounced high into Dartmouth’s half with 7:20 remaining, Gill raced ahead of the pack for an uncontested layup, giving the hosts a lead they did not relinquish.
Harvard managed only 50 points on 68 possessions, its least-efficient game of the season. Patrick Steeves was ineffective amid foul trouble in his second career start, and the Crimson’s shooters slumped. But the chief culprit was foul shooting, where they went 6-20, including 2-10 for Zena Edosomwan.
2. We saw why Columbia was hailed as a top contender before the season: No team has higher shooting potential. The Lions didn’t do a lot right at Cornell — they missed several layups, committed sloppy turnovers, and got only four offensive rebounds. But they went 13-24 from three-point range, and when you do that, nothing else really matters. Maodo Lo went 4-6, including a trademark 26-foot bomb, while Luke Petrasek was also 4-6 and C.J. Davis went 3-4.
As great as they are, the Lions won’t shoot above 50% from distance every night, which is why I (and others) have been skeptical of their chances to win the grueling 14-Game Tournament. They have drawn lots of free throws this year, which will help when the shooters slump. They held Cornell below a point per possession in each game, but the Robert Hatter-less Big Red is the worst offense they’ll see in Ivy play.
3. Justin Sears had another rough game against Brown, and it didn’t matter one bit. By the time Yale’s star scored his first points, a dunk four minutes into the second half, the Bulldogs were up by 21 and on their way to a 90-66 rout. Brandon Sherrod (24 points) and Sam Downey (18) picked up Sears with terrific fromtcourt play, and Yale outscored Brown 58-32 in the paint. These are the Bulldogs we expected to see against the Ivy’s bottom tier — ruthless and dominant.
Player of the Week: Brandon Sherrod, Yale — Sherrod shot a perfect 9-9 from the field at Brown, adding six free throws for a career-best 24 points. The senior famously took last year off to sing with the Whiffenpoofs (and as Ray wrote yesterday, he might not be the best singer in his own family). But he’s shown no signs of rust this year, scoring an efficient 10.3 ppg and ranking seventh in the league in total rebounds (7.6 per game).
Rookie of the Week: Evan Boudreaux, Dartmouth — Boudreaux led the Big Green with 18 points and 13 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season. He showed more of his range, taking nearly half his shots from beyond the arc and making two, including a key one early in Dartmouth’s run. The Illinois native is now fifth in the league with 15.9 ppg, and his free throw shooting (79%) stands out among big men.
The Week Ahead: For the first time this season, Ivy League title contenders play each other head-to-head — but we have to wait until Saturday, when Columbia visits Harvard and Yale hosts Princeton. The Lions can’t look that far ahead yet, as they first face Dartmouth, which swept Columbia by double digits last season. Likewise, the Crimson’s shaky ballhandling will be tested against Cornell on Friday.
- Yale (2-0) — Not only did the Bulldogs score 90 points on 72 possessions — they did so while shooting below their average from three-point range (5-17) and the free-throw line (15-25). Yale made two-thirds of its two-point shots, led by Sherrod’s perfect night but also including 8-11 from Sam Downey, who now has the nation’s third-highest offensive rating (139) per KenPom.
- Princeton (1-0) — In a sense, Justin Sears was all that stood between Princeton and last year’s Ivy League title. The Tigers led in the second half of both meetings with Yale, but they were ultimately swept thanks to Sears’ combined 53 points; they finished two games out of the playoff at 9-5. On paper, the matchup is just as challenging this year, as they’ll be giving up size to either Sears or Sherrod. What does Mitch Henderson have up his sleeve for Princeton’s biggest game yet?
- Columbia (2-0) — Here comes the toughest stretch of Columbia’s season: Consecutive back-to-backs in New England. The ‘baseline’ is 2-2 — wins at Dartmouth and Brown, losses at Harvard and Yale — which would leave the Lions in decent shape if they held serve at home down the stretch. Stealing a third road win could put them in pole position, but a 1-3 record and panic time are also very much in play.
- Harvard (1-1) — Harvard now ranks dead last in the nation in free throw shooting (59.2%). It’s rare to see the Hack-A-whoever gambit in college basketball, but Kyle Smith thinks outside the box, and his team is built to do it — Columbia is deep enough to give fouls and good enough offensively to make the trade-off worthwhile. Fouling Zena Edosomwan, a career 53% free throw shooter, is probably close to break-even, but watch out if Chris Egi (10-34 for his career) steps onto the floor.
- Dartmouth (1-1) — Harvard wasn’t the first team to struggle at the line against Dartmouth — Big Green opponents have made only 61% of their free throws, third worst in D-I. That’s likely to increase, which will put pressure on a defense that forces a lot of steals but has been below-average in most other respects this year.
- Cornell (0-2) — For most of his career, David Onourah has been a classic defense-and-rebounding player. But he scored 10 points for Cornell on Saturday, making a few hook shots and dribbling for his own monster dunk after a steal at halfcourt. Onourah creates his own chances on the offensive glass, but if he becomes a more featured player in Cornell’s offense, his rocky hands (25 turnovers, five assists) and free-throw shooting (41% career) will be bigger issues.
- Penn (0-1) — Sam Jones is slumping: The sophomore, who looked like Penn’s top shooter entering the season, is 5-31 from long range in his last five games. If he finds his form, he’ll pair with Jackson Donahue (6-15, 19 points vs. Saint Joseph’s) for a threatening three-point duo.
- Brown (0-2) — Cedric Kuakumensah was limited to 26 minutes with foul trouble, and even when he was on the floor, he wasn’t his usual disruptive self. He blocked only one shot, and when he was in the game, Yale shot 19-29 on two-pointers. The Bears need Kuakumensah to be foul-free, because they have no way to replicate his presence.