What Happened Last Week: Yale beat Columbia to become the last unbeaten team as Brandon Sherrod set an NCAA record. Princeton stayed a game back with two killer first halves. Home teams went 7-1, and even the loss was a near upset.
1. Winning at John J. Lee Amphitheater, where Yale is perfect this season, is tough under any circumstances. When the Bulldogs shoot 56% on threes, it’s darned near impossible. In a battle of Ivy unbeatens on FS1, the hosts did just that, relegating Columbia to second place. Blame the Lions’ defense if you wish, but when Blake Reynolds and Justin Sears are a combined 3-4 on threes, it’s not your night. (Just ask Sears’ father!)
Of course, the Lions couldn’t stop Yale inside either. Brandon Sherrod extended his streak to an NCAA-record 30 straight field goals before missing late in the first half; he finished a mere 6-8, scoring the majority of his 25 points from the free-throw line. Justin Sears was 7-10 for 27, and the pair added a combined 15 rebounds with only two turnovers. The Bulldogs demolished Cornell on Saturday, and they look awfully good right now at 6-0 — but six road games remain, and they can’t keep making more than half their threes forever, right?
2. For Penn and Princeton, this weekend was a throwback to the good old days: The southernmost schools swept Harvard and Dartmouth for the first time since 2008. The Tigers’ half was no surprise; they were favored by double digits in both contests, and they blew them open early with hot shooting and strong defense. (Per KenPom, Princeton’s win probability never dropped below 85% in either game.) Penn snapped an 0-3 start with a sweep of its own, pulling away from the Crimson and Big Green in the final minutes. The Quakers didn’t shoot particularly well from outside in either game, but they outscored both opponents in the paint and took advantage of Zena Edosomwan’s absence to dominate Harvard on the glass.
3. Before conference play, many of us envisioned a parity-filled season in which 10-4 might be good enough for a share of the title. But Yale, Princeton and Columbia have already banked a 13-0 record against the rest of the league, and the gap between the two tiers seems to be growing. Yale ranks 57th in KenPom’s ratings (the highest non-Harvard team since Cornell in 2010), while Princeton is #70 and Columbia #118; no other Ivy League team is in the top 200. Harvard, Cornell and Dartmouth, who looked feisty earlier, just had awful weekends on the road.
Don’t expect the top three to run the table for a full season — Columbia (vs Cornell, at Harvard) and Princeton (at Penn) have had close calls already. But it might take 12 wins to win the league, so Columbia and Princeton have little margin for error.
Player of the Week: Steven Cook, Princeton — Cook has been an impact player for Princeton in the past, but he entered the weekend on an underwhelming streak, having averaged 4.3 points and less than one assist in his first three Ivy games. That changed with a return to Jadwin, as Cook needed only 28 shooting possessions to score 48 points this weekend. The junior’s three-point shooting, cold since January, returned to form (8-15), and he added seven assists against two turnovers.
Rookie of the Week: Jake Silpe, Penn — The Quakers’ heralded recruit had eight assists and five steals in a back-and-forth win over Dartmouth while scoring 13 points, including a layup-and-one in the final two minutes to take the lead for good. He stuffed more stats in a win over Harvard (nine points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals) despite spending the second half in foul trouble. Silpe’s learning curve has been long, but in six games as the full-time point guard (after Antonio Woods’ departure) his assist rate is 30%, which would put him in the top 100 of D-I.
The Week Ahead: This week’s big showdown will take place Saturday in Levien Gym, where Princeton visits Columbia. A loss won’t knock either team out of the race — especially Princeton, which still gets Yale and Columbia at home — but it could leave them without control of their own destiny. (Don’t sleep on the Tigers’ Friday trip to Matthews Arena, where they lost last year.) Yale visits Dartmouth, where nothing could possib-ly go wrong, before visiting Harvard, which will pose much less of a matchup threat if Zena Edosomwan is still out.
- Yale (6-0) — Chris McComber is a 6’8”, 244-pound center known for his post defense, not his ability to switch onto smaller guards. So it’s really not fair to gawk at this clip of Jack Montague sending him flailing with a wicked crossover (before dishing one of his eight assists). But I just can’t stop:
- Princeton (4-1) — Princeton’s women were in danger of taking a second league loss on Sunday, going to overtime with Harvard at Lavietes Pavilion. The Tigers couldn’t get stops in the second half, but their defense finally picked up in overtime for a 92-83 win. Though both teams have several tests remaining, we’re still on track for a Penn-Princeton showdown March 8 at Jadwin, in which the Tigers might need a win to force a playoff.
- Columbia (5-1) — Columbia Defense Watch: The Lions forced turnovers on 25% of Yale’s possessions, and 18% of Brown’s. That brings their overall rate in Ivy play to 23%, in a virtual tie with Princeton for the Ivy’s top spot. Both teams scored well over a point per possession, but mostly because both shot above 50% on three-pointers. As expected, the Lions struggled to contain Yale inside — allowing 67% shooting on twos and 36 free-throw attempts — but were still in the game thanks to 11 steals, seven from Maodo Lo alone.
- Cornell (2-4) — After missing four weeks with an ankle injury, Robert Hatter returned this weekend, playing 24 minutes per game off the bench. Hatter was back to his gunning self, posting a 40% usage rate at Brown and 29% at Yale, but he had an effective field goal percentage of just 31%. Matt Morgan totaled 39 points with better efficiency, and he’s still on a path to a historic scoring average.
- Harvard (1-5) — It’s pretty much impossible to separate the bottom four teams right now; all have had their moments at home, but none has a road win in Ivy play. I think the Crimson still has the highest ceiling — certainly if Zena Edosomwan returns (Tommy Amaker said Friday the center is out indefinitely), maybe if they figure out how to play without him — but after losing two stars to injury, on top of four seniors last year, Harvard just isn’t very good right now.
- Penn (2-3) — From this season’s beginning, a top Penn storyline has been Steve Donahue’s heavy reliance on three-point shooting. But that’s not really happening in Ivy games. 35% of the Quakers’ shots have been treys, down 10 points from non-conference play (and a hair below the D-I average). Jackson Donahue and Sam Jones still shoot early and often — and from as far out as 26 feet — but post players Darien Nelson-Henry (37 total points, 16 rebounds) and Max Rothschild (18 and 17) were more important in this weekend’s sweep.
- Dartmouth (1-5) — Evan Boudreaux scored 44 total points this weekend, but he had to work harder than ever for them — he committed seven turnovers at Penn and shot just 5-15 at Princeton. The rookie’s offensive rating was in the 90s for both games, snapping a nine-game streak in which he’d been above 100 (while scoring at least 15 points every time). It won’t get any easier Friday, when Yale’s big frontcourt visits Leede Arena.
- Brown (2-4) — Despite playing five of their first six games at home, the Bears have yet to hold an Ivy opponent below a point per possession; they rank a distant last in defensive efficiency, allowing 1.14 ppp in league play. Their improving offense is legitimately fun to watch — it almost shocked Columbia on Saturday, thanks to 59% shooting on threes — but as long as they keep leaking points, they’ll struggle to win on the road.