Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Princeton’s Comeback Shakes Up Race

What Happened Last Week: Just when we thought Columbia-ing was a thing of the past, Columbia Columbia’d in epic fashion. Yale and Princeton got road sweeps heading into Friday’s showdown. (Stay tuned for an Ivy League midseason mega-report later this week.)

Three Thoughts:

1. Basically nothing about Princeton-Columbia made sense. Both teams are known for explosive, hot-shooting offenses, so of course they combined for only four three-pointers in a low-scoring first half. Both teams clean the defensive glass while going after few of their own misses, so of course they totaled 29 offensive rebounds, including many in big spots. Pete Miller made nine times as many shots as Henry Caruso (finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds), while Columbia’s leader in plus-minus scored zero points (Isaac Cohen, +15).

And of course, there was the ending. Princeton was down by eight points with two and a half minutes left in regulation, but the Tigers drew fouls and made tough floaters. Then Devin Cannady happened: The rookie made two three-pointers in the final 10 seconds, including a contested 28-footer to force overtime. The visitors trailed by as many as seven points in overtime, but they came back again by attacking the basket, pulling out a smash-and-grab 88-83 win.

Columbia didn’t ‘blow’ this game, at least not in the way we usually use that term: It made most of its free throws (3-4 down the stretch) and totaled only six turnovers. But after 37 stout minutes, its defense collapsed at the worst time: Princeton scored 17 points on its final eight possessions of regulation (including 10 in the last 30 seconds), and eight on the last three full possessions of overtime.

Now the Lions are two games behind Yale, no longer controlling their own destiny. They still have a path to the title — win at Jadwin in two weeks, beat Yale in the season finale, and hope Princeton (or someone else) knocks off the Bulldogs in a rematch. But that’s a narrow path.

2. Per KenPom’s win probability calculator, Princeton’s odds of winning at Levien bottomed out around 2% in regulation. It was almost a carbon copy of the Tigers’ comeback at Penn last month, right down to Cannady’s starring role. If those wild wins propel them to a title, it won’t be unprecedented — most Ivy League champions need some breaks along the way. Princeton went 6-0 in close games in 2011, including a buzzer-beater in the playoff; Harvard had two overtime wins in 2013; and the Crimson needed Hanover magic to force a playoff last year.

3. Of course, the Tigers are still a game back in the loss column, because Yale held off Dartmouth and dominated Harvard. After last season, Bulldogs fans won’t count their chickens until they’re hatched, raised, slaughtered and set on the dinner table. But if they beat Princeton at Jadwin on Friday — a place they’ve won two of the last three years — they’ll have a two-game lead with five to play, and they’ve shown no signs of slipping.

Weekly Awards:

Player(s) of the Week: The Class of 2019 — This weekend belonged to the rookies, and it felt wrong to pick just one. Cannady had the highest-leverage heroics, scoring 13 of his 23 points in the final minute plus overtime of Princeton’s comeback win. Evan Boudreaux was the top scorer, going for 46 points and 23 rebounds in a weekend split. Matt Morgan had 28 points against Penn, raising his Ivy-leading average to 25.3 ppg (Boudreaux is second, four points clear of the field). Jackson Donahue dropped 25 at Cornell, showing that he’s not just a shooter. Even Corey Johnson got in on the action, hitting eight three-pointers. The Ivy League is loaded with talent for the future.

The Week Ahead: Harvard faces a tough road trip to Columbia and Cornell; Penn, which has been feisty at home, will get a chance to spoil Yale’s season. But the highlight is Yale at Princeton, with huge title implications. Yale won the first meeting in New Haven, and it’s won six of seven in the series. If the Tigers don’t figure out how to slow down Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod now, they’ll likely never get another chance.

Power Rankings:

  1. Yale (8-0) — Just to be safe, the Bulldogs might want to stay away from their counterparts on the women’s team for a couple weeks. Yale’s women blew 20-point leads at home to both Dartmouth and Harvard this weekend. They still rate as the league’s third-best team in Sagarin’s rankings, but they’re now just 2-6 in Ivy play.
  2. Princeton (6-1) — Princeton has struggled at Cornell in the past, but it had no such issues Friday, running up a 33-8 lead. No Tiger scored more than 13 points, but they still totaled 1.21 ppp, committing just 11 turnovers against the Big Red press.
  3. Columbia (6-2) — Maodo Lo has taken some criticism for taking an uncontested layup with eight seconds left instead of trying to kill more clock, but I disagree. Myles Stephens was about six feet from Lo on the catch, so he’d have probably killed 2-3 more seconds by going to the corner. Cannady took his game-tying trey with five seconds remaining, so Princeton could have gotten a similar shot anyway — and it would have won the game outright if Lo (77% for his career) had missed a free throw.
  4. Penn (3-4) — Really! Penn is in the upper half of the Ivy League, thanks to its 92-84 win at Cornell Saturday. The Quakers have won three of their last four games, and they were competitive in three of their four losses (vs Princeton, at Brown, at Columbia). Darien Nelson-Henry had a double-double in both games this weekend, and perhaps more impressively, six assists each time.
  5. Harvard (2-6) — Harvard was one of the nation’s top three-point shooting teams through its non-conference schedule, but it’s currently dead last in Ivy play. Patrick Steeves (43%) and Corey Johnson (36%) have been adequate, but Corbin Miller (21%) has been slumping. The Crimson’s shooting should turn around, and with it their league-worst offense.
  6. Dartmouth (2-6) — How did Dartmouth lead Yale for most of Friday’s game? By making tough shots. The Big Green — mostly Boudreaux and Connor Boehm — shot 9-for-16 from 5-10 feet, shots that are usually well contested. The Bulldogs’ other Ivy opponents have made less than one-third of their attempts in that range.
  7. Cornell (2-6) — No team uses more of the court than Cornell. The Big Red took 12 NBA-range three-pointers against Penn, and they were remarkably successful, making seven and drawing a foul on an eighth. Jojo Fallas was the sharpest shooter, sinking all four of his attempts from 25+ feet.
  8. Brown (2-6) — Brown’s defensive efficiency in Ivy games: 1.04, 1.27, 1.11, 1.28, 1.03, 1.15, 1.16, 1.21 ppp. Defensive rebounding was a chief culprit this week, as Harvard and Dartmouth combined for 32 offensive boards. The Bears’ offense is good, but not good enough to carry the league’s worst defense.

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