What Happened Last Week: Princeton snapped Yale’s 12-game win streak, pulling even in the loss column. Columbia stayed in the race with a dominant home sweep. Harvard shocked Cornell with the season’s most improbable comeback.
1. Easiest Bubble Solver is a method of projecting the NCAA tournament field that Drew Cannon invented a few years ago. As the name implies, it has the benefit of being easy as well as objective: Sort all possible at-large teams by the average of their RPI and KenPom rankings. This method has been very accurate (missing about two teams per year) and also makes theoretical sense: The RPI, though flawed, is the NCAA’s official metric of what a team has accomplished based on wins and losses; KenPom is a sophisticated measure of team quality. These correlate reasonably well with the “resume” and “eye test” that the selection committee has historically balanced.
As of Sunday, EBS would project either Princeton or Yale to get an at-large bid. Whichever team does not win the automatic bid will lose at least once more (in the regular season or a hypothetical playoff), but that won’t necessarily knock them out of contention. In the Ivy League’s best-case scenario, if Princeton loses a playoff at 13-1, the Tigers would have an RPI around 32 and a KenPom rank around 50, above the historical EBS cutline.
Despite what EBS says, almost no bracketologists project a #2BidIvy as of today. In part, that’s because neither Yale nor Princeton had a “quality win” in non-conference play. In the above scenario, the Tigers would likely be 1-6 against top 50 teams (the only win coming over Yale), but all six losses would be road/neutral, and they would be perfect in all other games. If you’re reading this website, you probably agree that “quality wins” unfairly benefits major-conference teams. Regardless, it would be a fascinating test for the selection committee.
The craziest thing is, almost exactly the same scenario is playing out on the women’s side. By EBS, Princeton and Penn would both be at-large worthy today, and both teams have a very good chance to win out until their season-ending rematch. (KenPom doesn’t measure women’s teams, but I’ve used the similar Sagarin ratings.) If Princeton wins that to force a playoff at 13-1, but loses to Penn in the playoff, the Tigers would likely be in the 30s in both RPI and Sagarin. They’d have five losses, all road/neutral to good teams, and a blowout win over Duquesne (currently on track for a single-digit seed) to boot. But ESPN’s bracketology doesn’t even have them near the bubble.
2. It’s funny that we might get a strong #2BidIvy case this year, as it wasn’t even considered for most of the season (unlike the previous two). It seemed very unlikely that even one team would be capable of going 13-1 this year, much less two.
But 2016 has turned out to be the most bifurcated season in recent history. Yale, Princeton and Columbia are a combined 21-0 against the rest of the league (and Yale and Princeton are 15-0 against everyone else, including Columbia). No set of multiple teams has been perfect against the rest since 2003, when Penn, Brown, Princeton and Yale finished in an orderly, upset-free ladder.
3. Harvard-Cornell was just bananas. Cornell made eight of its first nine three-pointers, even though more than half those attempts came from 25+ feet (which is becoming its signature shot). Matt Morgan had 22 points at halftime, and the Big Red took a 21-point lead with nine minutes left, seemingly rolling to their third straight series win. And then they fell apart, scoring four points in eight and a half minutes as Harvard came all the way back. Morgan, naturally, drained a 26-footer to tie, but Tommy McCarthy hit the game-winner with six seconds remaining.
Cornell played well in its non-conference season, and as recently as three weeks ago things seemed bright. But after six straight Ivy losses — the last four at home — the Big Red is 2-8 in league play, and its flaws loom larger. Bill Courtney is on the wobbly chair after six years in the Ivy League’s second division.
Highlight of the Week: Maodo Lo from about 55 feet. (Nate Hickman knew it was good the whole way.)
Player of the Week: Justin Sears, Yale — Sears carried the Bulldogs in a trap game at Penn, scoring 31 points on 12-17 shooting while Yale could do nothing from long range. The Quakers forced him into tough shots in the first half, mostly from the 6-10 foot range, but Sears found his way to the rim in the second, often from offensive rebounds. The senior also had 15 points and 10 rebounds at Princeton. With a 119 offensive rating and the third-highest usage rate in league play, Sears is the clear Player of the Year favorite.
Rookie of the Week: Tommy McCarthy, Harvard — McCarthy had made 28% of his two-point shots in Ivy play, worst in the league among qualified players. But there he was as the clock ran down at Cornell, driving to the edge of the lane, tossing a teardrop over his head, and watching it fall for the game-winning basket. That shot capped McCarthy’s best weekend to date, with a combined 38 points and 11 assists in two road games. The rookie is often left to create at the end of the shot clock, so his shooting numbers are poor, but he has the league’s third-best assist rate and a knack for making tough three-pointers.
The Week Ahead: The last time Princeton played Columbia, the Tigers won on a prayer at the buzzer and two crazy comebacks. The last time they met at Jadwin, Maodo Lo made a billion threes, but Princeton scored the final 11 points to win. So Friday’s showdown should be entertaining, especially with Columbia’s season on the line (and possibly Princeton’s, too). Yale hosts Harvard the same night; though the Bulldogs have won three straight at Lavietes Pavilion, they haven’t beaten the Crimson at home since 2011.
- Yale (9-1) — Losing Jack Montague has been a big blow to the Bulldogs, who were already due for regression in their three-point shooting. They went 2-18 from distance this weekend, and they basically stopped trying by Saturday, attempting only six threes at Penn. Of course, they didn’t need to — they still scored 1.22 points per possession by bullying their way to the rim — but that might not last against teams that will make it harder for them to enter the ball to Brandon Sherrod and Justin Sears. Yale isn’t playing pretty basketball right now, but it’s making sure opponents don’t either.
- Princeton (8-1) — When was the last time a Princeton point guard tried to absolutely posterize an oncoming defender, as Amir Bell attempted on Nick Victor this weekend? (video via ILDN)
- Columbia (8-2) — Columbia torched Harvard for 1.43 ppp on Friday, the most the Crimson has allowed since 2009. The best way to break down their defense is with off-ball movement, and the Lions did that constantly, getting baskets from backdoor cuts and other actions. This clever two-man, screen-the-screener set freed up Alex Rosenberg for an open three-pointer: (video via ILDN)
- Penn (4-5) — Penn basketball published a neat video feature on its analytics team. The Quakers’ coaches and analysts discuss some of the stats they track, such as outcomes after ball reversals and skip passes. And if you squint, you can see some juicy internal secrets, such as the fact that Darien Nelson-Henry gets lots of touches in the paint.
- Harvard (3-7) — Read the Boston Globe’s off-court feature of Zena Edosomwan and his multimedia project exploring black identity at Harvard.
- Dartmouth (3-7) — Evan Boudreaux is on pace to accomplish a rare double: Leading the Ivy League in rebounds and free-throw shooting. His rebounding title is safe (11.1 per game in league play, three clear of the field), but he’ll have to keep swishing foul shots (88%) with Steven Spieth and others hot on his tail.
- Cornell (2-8) — After playing as a pure scorer last season, Robert Hatter was a distributor as well for the first half of this season, a large part of Cornell’s non-league success. But Hatter had only six assists in his first five games after returning from an ankle injury. He matched that total against Harvard, a welcome sign for the Big Red.
- Brown (2-8) — Brown’s defense has been historically bad (1.13 ppp allowed in league play, third-worst in the KenPom era), and the Bears play at a fast pace, which combine for some shocking per-game numbers: They’ve allowed 81.2 ppg in Ivy play; no team has topped 80 since Harvard in 1991. (Cornell is right on their heels at 79.1 ppg, thanks to its even faster tempo.)