Last Week in the Ivy League: Scrimmage season: Yale trounced a Big Ten team (just don’t ask which one). Penn got a transitive victory over Drexel. League play is two months away, but Princeton is already going after Columbia.
1. Projections show a logjam for the final playoff spot. Sports Illustrated published its national projections (using Dan Hanner’s system), and Columbia, Dartmouth, Penn and Cornell were separated by a total of 13 slots. As John noted last week, the consensus around the league has those contenders split into two tiers, with Columbia/Penn ahead of Dartmouth/Cornell.
But I’m not so surprised: The Big Red and Green have maybe the four best returning players of that group (definitely Evan Boudreaux and Matt Morgan; possibly Miles Wright and Robert Hatter). All four have the league’s newest coaches (though only Dartmouth’s Dave McLaughlin and Cornell’s Brian Earl lack D-I head coaching experience). I’ll rank them below, but I think it’s a true four-way race. For what it’s worth, KenPom and Bart Torvik each have Columbia a bit ahead of the pack.
2. A change of pace for Columbia? Here’s the Lions’ new head coach, speaking to Columbia’s magazine shortly after his hiring:
“I come from a history of playing up-tempo and I prefer to play that way. Now, are you going to go from A to Z in four months, when that has not been Columbia’s style? I don’t know. […] But that’s what I would like.”
But wait, that’s not Jim Engles — that was Kyle Smith after his hiring in 2010. After one fast-paced season, his Lions went back to being one of the nation’s slowest teams. In the preseason, tempo talk is cheap.
Engles has also promised to push the pace, and his claim is more credible — his NJIT teams were regularly near the top 100 nationally. Ken Pomeroy expects the Lions to be faster than average, one of the biggest jumps from last year.
At the very least, Engles has a sweet new avatar:
3. Steve Donahue is quickly molding his Quakers. Last year’s roster didn’t really fit Donahue’s style, but the second-year coach has found his pieces. Three starters in Penn’s exhibition were new — freshman AJ Brodeur, juco transfer Caleb Wood and Fairleigh Dickinson transfer Matt MacDonald — and the result looked like Donahue-ball: Four perimeter players around one heavy-lifting big man, meh defense, and lots of shooting. That lineup could get a lot of action this season.
The Week Ahead: Finally, real basketball! Six teams open their seasons on Friday night, headlined by Harvard playing Stanford in Beijing (11 pm, ESPN2). That same evening, all three new head coaches make their debuts on the road. Yale visits Washington on Sunday, the start of a grueling November for the young Bulldogs. Princeton is the last team to tip, waiting for a huge Monday clash at BYU (10pm, ESPN2).
- Princeton — If Princeton split into two teams, would both make the Ivy League Tournament? Let’s say Team Orange is Cannady-Bell-Stephens-Caruso-Brennan and Team Black is Rayner-Weisz-Cook-Brase-Miller, with reserves sprinkled in. Depth would be an issue over a full season, but for one game, I’m taking both of those squads over anyone besides Harvard or Yale.
- Harvard — At the risk of reading too much into an exhibition game, keep an eye on Christian Juzang: He wasn’t expected to be one of Harvard’s top freshmen, but he played the second-most minutes against MIT. Chris Lewis and Seth Towns started, and Bryce Aiken is also sure to get plenty of opportunities from Harvard’s vaunted rookie class. This ranking assumes Zena Edosomwan is healthy — he looked fine last month, but sat out the MIT exhibition and battled injuries last year. Even the deep Crimson can’t afford to lose a Player of the Year candidate.
- Yale — The Bulldogs should make it a true three-team race, but I can’t rank them ahead of Harvard. Compare the returning cores: Is Mason-Dallier-Downey better than Chambers-Johnson-Edosomwan? If so, it’s a very slight edge. As awesome as Jordan Bruner looks, Harvard’s freshman class is much deeper. And I don’t see much of a gap between the rest of the rosters. Yale could certainly end up ahead of Harvard, but I don’t see the case for predicting that today.
- Penn — Fourth place is the hardest call, with half the league having a good argument. In the end, I trust Penn’s offense more than any other unit left. Brodeur and Wood seem legit, which gives the Quakers a solid starting five. Their defense won’t be good, but they can score enough to win games.
- Columbia — The Lions have the most upside in this tier: Their frontcourt can really score, Nate Hickman is making highlight reels, and young point guards have potential. But defense should still be an issue, and the history of teams that lose so much talent is not good. If Kyle Castlin is not available, as rumored, there isn’t a single proven player in the backcourt.
- Dartmouth — A pair of Ians could make an impact right away, but new coach Dave McLaughlin will need to figure out how they fit. Ian Sistare comes in as a combo guard, but this team is in need of a strong point guard who can distribute. If Sistare isn’t that guy, Guilien Smith or someone else might need to make a leap forward. Ian Carter is also highly regarded, but his natural power forward position overlaps with Evan Boudreaux’s. Is he strong enough to play up front alongside Boudreaux (who needs a solid partner defensively), or quick enough to defend at the three?
- Cornell — The Big Red returns everyone from last year, and Brian Earl will help the team tactically from day one. But there is just so much ground to make up — they were outscored by .17 points per possession last year, by far the league’s worst. Matt Morgan can’t be better offensively than he was last year (can he?), and Darryl Smith won’t shoot ten billion percent Shot selection will help on offense, and regression on defense, but that’s not enough to make up the entire gap between last place and the top four.
- Brown — This is the same core that’s finished tied for last in two straight seasons, and it won’t improve without help from somewhere new. The best bet might be Blake Wilkinson, whose path to Providence started at Utah way back in 2011 and wound its way through an LDS mission and a Beehive State junior college. In the best-case scenario, he’s a scoring threat and a strong power forward, getting the Bears away from the small lineups that were killed defensively last year. Otherwise, they’re pretty much just running back last year’s playbook without Cedric Kuakumensah.