Last Week in the Ivy League: Brown went 3-0, and Mike Martin is self-aware. Penn played a big game, but not as big as Patrick Steeves’ homecoming. Yale fell off its hot pace. Columbia lost a close game, but what else is new?
1. What’s wrong with Dartmouth? The Big Green has the last two Ivy League Rookies of the Year, and some preseason projections had it right on the border of being a top-half team. But after an 0-3 road trip that included a dispiriting loss at Longwood (the Lancers’ first D-I win), Dartmouth is one of only five D-I teams still winless nearly a month into the season.
Though the Big Green’s offense has struggled against better teams, it was fine against Marist and Longwood — but it surrendered 1.16 points per possession in those games. Dartmouth’s perimeter defense is simply getting beat on straight-line drives off the dribble, and its help defense is no deterrent at the basket. Last year’s team compensated for the same flaws by forcing lots of turnovers, but Dave McLaughlin comes from a Northeastern system that preached conservatism. If he doesn’t loosen the reins, Dartmouth’s defense will continue to struggle.
2. Penn hosted the reigning champions. And lost 82-57, but that’s not really the point. The Palestra was electric for Tuesday’s Penn-Villanova game, the first time an Ivy League team hosted a reigning champ since the same matchup three decades earlier. 7,787 fans packed The Palestra to tip off this year’s the Big 5 slate, including lots of Penn students, an atmosphere Steve Donahue would like to see more often. The No. 2 Wildcats were too good, making three-pointers from the start over the Quakers’ zone. But the nation got to see Penn play at their historic gym — including AJ Brodeur’s dunk — which is special for any mid-major.
3. A Brown-Bryant game went viral. You wouldn’t expect that matchup to make national news, but that’s exactly what happened on Monday night. Bulldogs freshman Ikenna Ndugba went viral with the epitome of a rookie mistake, celebrating a 91-90 loss after the buzzer because he thought his team had won. But as John Ezekowitz noticed, that wasn’t even Ndugba’s costliest error — seconds earlier, he declined to challenge Tavon Blackmon’s game-winning drive, believing that Bryant had a larger lead.
Ndugba and Bryant redeemed themselves in a Bulldog battle two days later, upsetting Yale 79-70.
Player of the Week: Matt Morgan, Cornell — Morgan was in classic form Wednesday, scoring a season-high 34 points to beat a solid Northeastern team. The sophomore needed only 20 shooting possessions to get his points, hitting seven of 13 three-pointers. He’s quietly averaging 19 ppg, tops in the Ivy League, and not far off last year’s historic pace.
Rookie of the Week: Joshua Howard, Brown — Though undersized for the position at 6’6”, Howard has emerged as the Bears’ starting center. The son of former Michigan and NBA star Juwan, he scored 18 points on efficient shooting in a one-point win over Bryant, then added 19 and six rebounds against St. Francis Brooklyn two days later. He’s making the position work defensively, with a 4.2% block rate and some steals, allowing the Bears to blitz teams on the other end.
The Week Ahead: Princeton visits Cal in Hawaii tonight, its final chance to earn a marquee win. Brown also visits Providence, which is always an adventure. Harvard has a mid-week Beantown back-to-back against Northeastern and Boston College. Ivy teams should handle most of their weekend games, but Princeton could have its hands full at Liberty, which nearly upset VCU earlier this year.
- Princeton — Hans Brase injured his knee in the first half at VCU and did not return; Will Gladson is expected to start in his place tonight. Brase is a great player, but his absence might not hurt the Tigers too much; they need more defense from their frontcourt, something Gladson or Pete Miller might be better-suited to provide. Their success depends much more on Spencer Weisz and Henry Caruso finding their old form.
- Yale — The Bulldogs will have a size advantage over most Ivy opponents, so expect the rest of the Ancient Eight to study Bryant’s game footage carefully. As Ray wrote, the (other) Bulldogs didn’t start anyone above 6’5”, but they attacked the rim, forced turnovers, and snuck 16 offensive rebounds. It’s a formula Brown, in particular, would do well to emulate in January.
- Harvard — Rookies Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns started together for the first time Saturday, but don’t expect it to be the last. They have by far the Crimson’s two highest usage rates (32% and 29%, respectively) and are already the team’s most dynamic scorers. Michael James tweeted that lineups of Aiken, Towns, Siyani Chambers and Corey Johnson around one big man have been the team’s best so far; early-season samples are small, but that’s the lineup I and others expected would be Harvard’s core rotation before the season. As long as they stay healthy, those players should carry the Crimson going forward.
- Penn — AJ Brodeur has at least one local fan in Villanova coach Jay Wright. After scouting an opponent in high school, Wright told Steve Donahue, “I saw your guy. He’s good. He’s really good. The kid’s going to be really” (per Mike Jensen of the Philadelphia Inquirer).
- Columbia — It was disappointing to see Jim Engles bench Nate Hickman with two fouls for the final 13 minutes of the first half Monday. Hickman has emerged as a star — he would go on to score 18 points after halftime — and the Lions were outscored by five points in his bench stint in a game they would go on to lose by two. As a guard, Hickman is less prone to foul trouble (he averages 3.7 per 40 minutes), and he didn’t pick up his fourth until the final minute. He needs to be given a longer leash. (Also read John’s deep-dive on the Lions’ season!)
- Cornell — 22 of the Big Red’s 29 baskets were assisted against Northeastern — a far cry from last season, when they were one of the most selfish teams in the country. Cornell hasn’t been so successful every game this year, but Brian Earl’s system is starting to pay dividends.
- Brown — The Bears are the only Ancient Eight team with a winning record, but don’t get too excited — they haven’t beaten a top-250 team yet (per KenPom). Brown’s non-conference schedule is loaded with cupcakes (including a non-DI back-to-back this weekend), which makes perfect sense for this year. KenPom projects the Bears to finish 10-6 out-of-conference — within striking distance of a postseason bid even with a poor Ivy League finish.
- Dartmouth—The Big Green’s slide should end soon; after visiting Vermont on Wednesday, their next four games are all winnable (vs. Maine; at Hartford, LIU Brooklyn and Bryant). But with five of their first eight Ivy games on the road — and the other three against Harvard, Princeton and Penn — they’ll have a tough path once league play begins.