Last Week in the Ivy League: Princeton fell to a disappointing 0-2. Brian Earl earned his first win as head coach, while Dave McLaughlin is still waiting. Penn got a name change. Yale pulled off the weekend’s biggest upset, though not in basketball.
1. Yale is legit. The Bulldogs lost four opening day starters from last year’s Ivy champions, then saw the fifth miss the season with an injury. Their top recruit hasn’t played a game yet. And they still have players capable of doing this (video via ILDN):
That’s a rookie guard, Miye Oni, rejecting 6-10 center Tim Kempton, the two-time reigning Patriot League POY (one of five blocks for Oni). Yale went on to beat a good Lehigh team in wild fashion. It lost at Virginia by the ugly score of 62-38 (though not as ugly as the last Ivy-UVA match), but even that was encouraging — the Bulldogs’ defense had its best game of the season, and they were within two points early in the second half before losing their legs (reminiscent of last year’s first Duke game).
2. Is it time for Princeton to panic? It depends on your standard. The Tigers were a preseason top-50 team, and we hoped they would be capable of challenging for an at-large NCAA bid. By that measure, yes, it’s time to panic. After a 76-67 loss at Lehigh (which was without all-star guard Kahron Ross), the Tigers are 0-2 and not playing up to their potential. An at-large bid is still possible — if they beat VCU or Cal and go 13-1 in the Ivy League, they’ll have a good case at 24-5 or 23-6 — but it’s a long shot.
Don’t overreact to two tough games, however. Princeton’s biggest weakness is defending strong centers, and it’s had to face two of the nation’s best (Eric Mika and Kempton). Lehigh shot an insane 10-16 on threes, and almost as well on midrange jumpers. The Tigers are still the Ivy League’s most talented team, and by far the deepest. The projected race has tightened, but they’re still the favorite.
3. The bottom tier has been up and down. On the right day, every team in the Ivy League can be frisky — Brown took No. 21 Rhode Island to the wire; Cornell blew out Lafayette on the road. But the lower division has also had its clunkers (Brown losing to Marist, Cornell losing to Colgate, Dartmouth getting blown out by Fairfield). None of those three teams is good defensively, but they’re capable of heating up on the other end. Expect a season like last year’s, when all three split their respective series.
Player of the Week: Alex Copeland, Yale — Despite coming off the bench, Copeland has been the Bulldogs’ most dynamic offensive player. With the hosts down by two points to Lehigh in the final minute, James Jones called a timeout and gave the ball to Copeland, who came through with a game-tying layup. The sophomore finished with 20 points and six assists without a turnover, showing off shifty moves off the dribble.
Rookie of the Week: Donovan Wright, Cornell — Sure, Wright is a sophomore, but after missing all of last year with an injury we’ll count him here. Wright shot 8-10 from three-point range at Lafayette, helping the Big Red win in an 82-75 shootout in his hometown. He also showed great speed for a layup in transition, proving that he’s not solely a shooter.
The Week Ahead: Thanksgiving splits the week into two halves, with seven teams in action Tuesday/Wednesday and six playing Saturday. Yale headlines the week once again, visiting Pitt on Tuesday (ESPN3) and Vermont on Saturday. Cornell has tough games at Monmouth and Houston, while the rest of the Ivies have better chances at victories.
- Princeton — As I wrote above, I still believe the Tigers are the Ivy favorite. But don’t count on their superior depth to bail them out: As much as we like to talk about the grind of back-to-backs in the Ivy League, depth simply hasn’t been decisive in recent years. Harvard was extremely shallow in 2013 and (in the backcourt) in 2015, but it edged out deeper contenders both times. Yale did the same to Princeton last year. Front-line talent wins, and the Tigers need to figure out how to make theirs count.
- Yale — The Bulldogs have a 14.8% turnover rate through three games, top-50 in the nation. That’s not sustainable given their young backcourt and style of play. Yale’s offense is run through its frontcourt, which requires tough post entries and big-to-big passes through tight spaces. The Bulldogs’ turnover rate was 19.9% last year, and I’d expect a number closer to that going forward.
- Harvard — Harvard played only NAIA Fisher; we’ll learn more about the Crimson when they play Holy Cross and UMass this week. Siyani Chambers sat out that game but was expected to return to practice.
- Penn — The Quakers’ visit to Miami wasn’t as close as the 74-62 final score — they were down as many as 23 before making a late run — but they were in the game for about 25 minutes. AJ Brodeur held his own in his first game against major completion, scoring 16 points with eight rebounds (but five turnovers) as the fulcrum of Penn’s offense.
- Columbia — After resting for six days, the Lions play Quinnipiac, Army and Colgate this week, all winnable games. We should learn more about Columbia, which is still something of an enigma after its opening weekend.
- Dartmouth — Rhode Island is great, and Fairfield is good, so a pair of blowout losses aren’t the end of the world. But the Big Green’s start hasn’t been encouraging: Evan Boudreaux doesn’t have enough help on offense, forcing him into contested shots from the post, and Dartmouth’s perimeter defense is still brutal. They should pick up their first win against Marist or at Longwood, but those are followed by three tough road games before the schedule turns soft again.
- Cornell — The biggest change Brian Earl has brought to the Big Red so far is a focus on defensive rebounding. Cornell was one of the nation’s worst teams in that respect last year, allowing opponents to rebound 36% of their misses, but they’ve cut that to 24% through four games. That’s no surprise — the Princeton teams Earl used to coach were always outstanding at cleaning their glass.
- Brown — I’ve kept teams 6-8 in their places because of inertia, but there’s not much separating them at this point. The Bears’ performance at Rhode Island was a good sign, but it doesn’t guarantee more success going forward, as proven by past years. They hung with then-SMU last year, and beat Providence two years ago, only to finish tied for last in league play both times.