What Happened Last Week: Penn got its biggest win of the Steve Donahue era. Princeton is down another starter. Dartmouth’s ignominious streak ended. Nearly half the league rested, what with finals and all that annoying stuff.
1. This isn’t the Princeton team we expected. A week after losing Hans Brase for the season, Princeton announced that fellow senior Henry Caruso will also miss the season with a toe injury. Caruso was the only returning first-team All-Ivy honoree to play this season (Makai Mason, the only other non-senior, injured his foot before the season), after leading the Tigers with 15.0 ppg last year.
Princeton has been one of the nation’s best defensive rebounding teams for several years. Even without their Opening Day starters at the four and five, it was still surprising to see them struggle against St. Joseph’s, allowing 19 offensive boards (41%) on their home floor. The Tigers led with four minutes remaining, but they collapsed down the stretch yet again to fall to the Hawks, 76-68.
Mitch Henderson has the luxury of replacing Caruso in the starting lineup with Myles Stephens, one of the league’s most versatile players. Despite seeing two All-Ivy candidates sidelined, the Tigers still might be the top title contender — but their margin for error is much, much smaller now. Until Amir Bell snaps out of a horrid season-opening slump, Henderson will ride Devin Cannady, Spencer Weisz, Steven Cook and Stephens as hard as he can. The fifth spot will rotate through Pete Miller, Alec Brennan and Will Gladson, who are all competent but lack Brase’s upside. Per KenPom, Princeton has played the nation’s 40th-toughest schedule to date (excluding non-D1 games), and it only gets tougher with trips to Monmouth and Bucknell this week.
2. Penn continues to rise. The Quakers got their biggest win in at least three seasons Monday, beating UCF 58-49 on the road. The final score was ugly, but that’s a function of the Knights’ style — their defense, headed by 7-6 center Tacko Fall, is one of the nation’s best. Still, the Quakers’ offense was hot early and good enough late, with AJ Brodeur orchestrating from the paint and Penn shooters knocking down threes. The Knights weren’t in peak form without point guard and leading scorer B.J. Taylor (they’ve slid from #70 to #94 in KenPom’s rankings this week), but it’s still a signature win for the Quakers.
It also cemented the Ivy League’s stratification into a top four and bottom four. Bart Torvik’s projections have Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Penn each at 89% or higher to finish in the top four (including ties), and nobody else with a 1% chance of winning the league. But are the Quakers on the level of Princeton, Yale and Harvard as a legit title contender? I’m not sold yet — their rank is based on an unexpectedly strong defense, never the specialty of Steve Donahue teams, and in particular a steal rate that skyrocketed over last year. They’re a strong favorite to make it to the four-team playoff at The Palestra, but let’s wait a bit longer before going further.
3. Dave McLaughlin finally got his first win. It was long overdue, given the Big Green’s talent and the close games they’ve played already; they’re better than their 0-9 start suggested. Defense keyed their 82-68 win over LIU Brooklyn on Sunday; they blocked five shots and held their opponent below a point per possession for only the second time this year. Miles Wright broke out of a season-starting slump with 25 points and no turnovers.
Dartmouth has a decent chance at winning its next game at Bryant on Thursday, and of picking off a better team in three straight home games afterward. But if none of those happen, expect more angst from Big Green fans, a couple of whom were even wishing for a coaching change if things don’t improve. That won’t (and shouldn’t) happen after only one season, but it’s amusing to imagine a world in which Dartmouth goes back to the drawing board and just rehires Paul Cormier a third time.
Player of the Week: AJ Brodeur, Penn — Brodeur’s stat line Monday isn’t impressive on first glance — 10 points on 5-13 shooting — but consider that he was giving up 10 inches to his primary opponent, who is reportedly one of the world’s 40 tallest humans. Then consider that Brodeur anchored the Quakers’ stout defense, blocking four shots and collecting three steals. He had three assists and maneuvered around Fall for two key layups down the stretch, leading the Quakers to an upset. With 14 ppg, more assists than turnovers and a top-100 block rate, Brodeur is a real candidate to be the league’s top player, not just its top rookie.
Rookie of the Week: Miye Oni, Yale — The Ivy League’s breakout star of the first month, Oni hit seven three-pointers (several of which were tightly contested) for 22 points in a rout of Central Connecticut. He ranks in the Ivy League’s top five in three-pointers, rebounds and blocked shots, an odd assortment fitting Yale’s blank-slate rotation this year.
Play of the Week: Alex Copeland had a game-high 23 points against CCSU, but none sweeter than these two (video via ILDN):
The Week Ahead: It’s another light week, with eight games total before the holidays, but the lack of quantity is made up for with quality. Princeton will have to figure out its new rotation in time for a big game at Monmouth (Tuesday, ESPN3), which has won eight straight, and a trip to Bucknell two days later. Yale takes on Temple (Thursday, ESPNU), its final big game before Ivy League play starts next month. And Harvard returns from two weeks off with a showdown at Houston (Friday, ESPN2), one of the top teams in the AAC.
Power Rankings: Women’s Edition
Since there were so few games this week, let’s use this space for an update on the women’s side:
- Harvard (8-1) — Kathy Delaney-Smith, the winningest basketball coach in Ivy League history, has been amassing talent at Harvard for several seasons. Yet the Crimson hasn’t won a title since 2008, finishing within a game of the champion only once in that span. That could change this year, as Harvard has won eight straight games. A 10-point win at Kansas got the most headlines — Kansas is probably the worst team in the Big 12, but a Big 12 team nonetheless — though a 73-62 win over 7-3 Temple the prior week might have been more impressive. The newest class of heralded recruits is already contributing, but it’s been a true team effort, with no Harvard players among the league’s top 10 scorers.
- Penn (4-4) — The unanimous preseason favorite has started slowly. Losing at No. 18 Duke to start the season was certainly forgivable, but a home loss to 3-6 Binghamton was very disappointing. After two more Big 5 losses, the Quakers have yet to win a home game, and they’re averaging about .92 points per possession. Michelle Nwokedi has been the league’s top player so far, averaging 18.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, but she needs help on offense. The defense has been as strong as ever (allowing .83 ppp), and last year’s champions still have the most proven talent.
- Princeton (4-6) — This was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Tigers, who lost four starters from last year’s NCAA team, and true to form they’ve had an inconsistent start. Princeton has lost to local rivals it’s owned for years (Rider, Fordham), which seemed to indicate a new order. But it also throttled Rutgers and Seton Hall, albeit programs in down years of their own. They’re back below .500 after a loss at 9-1 Kansas State (a rematch of the 2012 NCAA tournament), but Jeff Sagarin’s ratings actually have them as the top Ivy team, a function of blowout wins (e.g., 65-27 over Lafayette). Bella Alarie, a four-star recruit per ESPN, already leads the team in scoring and rebounding.
- Yale (8-3) — The Bulldogs had a mini-James Jones-like streak of their own, finishing in the top four every year from 2010-15 but never coming close to a title. Another season in that range might be on the way. They’re off to a strong start, including an overtime win over Albany, which reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. But they haven’t been able to reach the standards set by Penn, Princeton and Harvard in recent years. Jen Berkowitz leads the league in shooting percentage, and tops the Bulldogs in most categories.
- Cornell (6-3) — Cornell was the only team to pick off Penn last year, but it finished Ivy play at just 6-8. Most of the architects of that upset have returned, and the Big Red should be strong enough to scare everyone again this season. Cornell doesn’t have a standout win, but it has two of the league’s top three in assists (Keri Moran, Megan LeDuc) and a good chance to win its final four non-conference games.
- Columbia (8-2) — Megan Griffith has Columbia on the right path in her first season. A former Lions captain and 2007 alumna, she was hired from Princeton’s coaching staff this offseason, and Columbia has its best record through 10 games ever. It’s come against a very soft schedule — the only team they’ve played with a winning record is Providence, a thrilling overtime win — much like last year, when the Lions went 11-4 in non-conference play but 1-13 against the Ancient Eight. Junior Camille Zimmerman is averaging a league-high 20.9 ppg, including the game-winning layup over the Friars.
- Brown (6-3) — The women’s Ivy League has rated a bit stronger than the men in recent years, and this year is on the same trend. That’s been in large part due to the strength of the bottom of the league. Seven teams have a positive point differential so far this season, including the Bears, the top scorers at 72 ppg. After a three-game losing streak, Brown recovered to win the Ocean State Tip-Off Tournament, beating Providence in the final.
- Dartmouth (4-6) — Dartmouth is historically one of the league’s top programs, but it spent six straight years below .500 starting in 2010. So when they surged last year to finish 7-7, alone in fourth place, it could have marked the first step back to its past level. The Big Green has disappointed so far, though it’s played a slightly tougher schedule than most Ivy peers (only slightly — all but Princeton’s are much easier than average, per Sagarin). But it went 5-11 out of conference last year, so another February run is possible.