Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Contenders Emerge

Last Week in the Ivy League: Milestones and milestones. Harvard and Yale are on the rise, while Dartmouth is still winless. Princeton lost another big game, and will be without a starter, but at least Mitch Henderson got into the Hawaiian spirit.

Three Thoughts:

1. Princeton lost another big game. Over the last season and a half, Princeton has played eight “Tier A” games (top-50 opponents, adjusted for location) and lost eight times. Against all other opponents, the Tigers are 26-3. Tuesday’s game against Cal — perhaps their last chance to get a big-name win this year — unfolded just like the others: Princeton hung around for a long time (staying tied into the final five minutes), but never got clicking offensively, falling to a late second-half run.

The Tigers managed just 0.77 points per possession, continuing a pattern:

princetonppp

What’s wrong with Princeton’s offense against great teams? Perhaps it’s their style of play, which relies a lot more on one-on-one drives than usual. (They were credited with only three assists against Cal, though the Hawaiian scorer was stingy in every game last week.) The Tigers are talented enough to beat poor defenders, but maybe more athletic teams can cut off driving lanes. Or maybe it’s just bad luck — if Devin Cannady, previously Princeton’s best player in big games, doesn’t shoot 4-15 on Tuesday, I might be writing a different story.

On the bright side, they won’t be facing lots of great defenses in an Ivy League that is tilting toward scoring. But Harvard and Yale have the athletes to play one-on-one defense, so Princeton will need to rediscover the motion and tricks it’s known for. (That task will get harder without Hans Brase, who will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered last month.)

2. Harvard is back in gear (at least on one end). After dropping their first four D-I games, Harvard beat Northeastern and Boston College to extend its win streak to three. The Crimson’s offense is rolling: Seth Towns is living up to his grand hype as a scorer, Siyani Chambers is pushing for easy transition baskets, and Chris Lewis dominated the Eagles’ frontcourt. Corey Johnson hit seven threes against Northeastern, most of which were deep and/or contested. Here’s the full shot chart from that game:

harvard_northeastern_shot_chart_20161206

But while recent Harvard teams were known for consistently strong defense, this year’s Crimson has far to go on that end. They look the part of a freshman-based team, missing switches, rotations, and box-outs. Midway through the second half against Northeastern, they left double-digit scorer Jeremy Miller wide-open for consecutive layups off of straight pick-and-rolls. Harvard’s players have the raw skills to be solid defenders, but the learning curve is long.

3. The top and bottom divisions are clear, for now. Here’s one cut of the non-conference season so far:

ivy_nc

Princeton doesn’t have a big win, but its losses have all been to very good teams away from home. Yale and Harvard each have one bad loss, but both are trending up in recent days. Even after a disappointing home loss to George Mason, which turned a close game into a laugher late, Penn still rounds out the top four after one month. Everyone else has at least two bad losses, without much to redeem them yet.

Weekly Awards:

Player of the Week: Siyani Chambers, Harvard — Playing with a young rotation of talented scorers has allowed Chambers’ full talent to shine. He doled out 11 assists apiece in back-to-back wins over Northeastern and Boston College, bringing his streak to three straight games in double figures. The six-foot speedster has assisted 50% of Harvard’s baskets when on the floor, third-best in the nation, and is on pace to earn some sort of All-Ivy honors for a fourth time.

Rookie of the Week: AJ Brodeur, Penn — Brodeur stuffed stats in a midweek game against Lafayette, finishing with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists. His ability to run the floor was part of a 38-12 run that turned a nail-biter into a rout. That game continued a pattern of the Quakers outclassing bad teams, something they haven’t been able to do in the past. Much of the credit for that goes to Brodeur, a high-level recruit who seems ready to be a Penn centerpiece for several years.

The Week Ahead: Not much happens, with most schools in exam season. But of the six games, a few are interesting: Penn visits a surging UCF team on Monday (ESPN3), while Princeton hosts St. Joseph’s in a big game Wednesday (ESPNU).

Power Rankings:

  1. Princeton — The Princeton-Liberty box score is just weird. The Tigers hit 17 three-pointers in a 60-possession game. Local product Aaron Young scored 18 points (after entering the game with three on the season) and Spencer Weisz tied a team record with 13 assists. Yet the Tigers only won by three points, thanks to a late Flames rally and 4-12 free-throw shooting. Princeton shot 37 threes to only 12 twos, continuing an unexpected theme of some teams (like BYU) daring the Tigers to beat them from outside.
  2. Yale — The Yale teams of the last three years were grind-it-out teams on both ends — terrific defensively, but often suffering through ugly possessions offensively, relying on junk points to stay afloat. This year’s Bulldogs are almost unrecognizable: They make some green mistakes on defense and rarely get to the free-throw line, but their offense is beautiful when clicking. Delaware had no answer on Sunday, giving up wide-open shots on nearly every possession.
  3. Harvard — As David Tannenwald wrote in this week’s basketball column, the Harvard-Boston College rivalry has changed over Tommy Amaker’s tenure. (Surprisingly, it even has its own Wikipedia page.) The first time the Crimson beat BC, the Eagles were nationally ranked. Wednesdays’ game didn’t make such big news — BC followed it up with a loss to 3-8 Hartford, and is now the nation’s worst Power 5 team per KenPom — but it was a nice victory for Harvard after dropping the series’ last two games.
  4. Penn — Much like on the men’s side, the consensus women’s favorites are off to a somewhat disappointing start. Despite returning all five starters, the Quakers are just 4-4, including close Big 5 losses to St. Joe’s and La Salle. Their defense has been as good as ever — they’ve held the last four opponents below 50 points in regulation — but scoring is a problem. They needed all of Michelle Nwokedi’s 21 points and 20 rebounds to squeak by Richmond 47-44 on Saturday.
  5. Columbia — I’ve occasionally scoffed at Columbia’s #OnlyHere marketing campaign, but this video was fantastic:

  1. Cornell — After resting last week, the Big Red plays at Wyoming on Saturday. No Ivy League team has played in the nation’s least populous state since 2004, when Princeton lost a vintage Joe Scott-era game 64-59 in double overtime.
  2. Brown — The Bears swept a Friday-Saturday back-to-back, but their Ivy weekends will be much tougher than the non-DI combo of Emerson and Johnson & Wales. (Though they struggled with the latter two years ago.) They now have the Ivy’s best overall record at 7-5, with three more home games on the way in which they’ll likely be favored.
  3. Dartmouth — Yikes. Dartmouth lost at home to Maine (ranked #332 by KenPom) on Saturday, falling to 0-8 overall. The Bears won a game in which three of their starters were scoreless (how often has that happened?) because Wes Myers scored 31 points off the bench. At this rate, the Big Green might be a clear underdog in every home game until the second half of Ivy play.

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