Inside this week: A long-lost star returns, the playoff races heat up, and we dive deep on the national 3-on-3 tournament that launches this postseason. Don’t miss our weekend coverage of Princeton’s nightmare collapse , Penn’s unlikely hero at Columbia, and Yale’s impressive win at Dartmouth.
1. Believe it or not, Makai Mason is back. After 23 months of waiting — and after weeks of will-he-or-won’t-he reports — Mason finally returned to action in a game that counted. He wasn’t at full capacity at Harvard on Saturday (playing 21 minutes off the bench), and his stats were not spectacular (eight points on nine shooting possessions, one assist). But he showed his old tools, driving aggressively with his right hand to draw contact and making a few smart passes.
One play in particular illustrated Mason’s potential: His lone assist, a pick-and-roll throw-back to Miye Oni for three. Oni, as the focal point for opposing defenses, probably hasn’t seen that much space to catch and shoot five times all season — he’s had to work hard off the ball or pull up himself to get outside shots, part of the reason his three-point accuracy has fallen from 40% as a freshman to 33% this season. Mason’s return will give Oni and all his teammates better opportunities.
In other injured-#11-wearing-All-Ivy-point-guard news, Bryce Aiken was cleared to play Saturday; he did not appear in that game but his return may be imminent.
2. Princeton’s women handled Penn again, but another rematch at The Palestra seems likely. Penn has won the last two Ivy League championships, but Princeton jeopardized that streak on Tuesday, dispatching the Quakers 60-40 to complete a season sweep and go a game up in the standings with four remaining. As in January’s first meeting at The Palestra, the Tigers’ frontcourt bottled up Penn’s stars, and Princeton found ways to score nearly a point per possession against the Quakers’ fearsome defense. Rookie Abby Meyers, a highly touted recruit, scored 17 points off the bench, while Leslie Robinson carved up Penn from the high post for 10 assists:
Both leaders handily swept Columbia and Cornell on the road, taking a two-game lead on the field. They sure seem on track for another meeting in the Ivy League Tournament final, which would be the third straight year a Princeton-Penn game determined the conference’s automatic bid.
Elsewhere, Dartmouth’s Andi Norman hit the biggest shot of the season so far, a three-pointer with five seconds remaining in overtime to give her team a 64-62 win at Yale. The Big Green trailed by 13 points entering the fourth quarter, and a loss would have dropped them two games out of the #4 spot with poor tiebreaker position. Instead, following a 77-60 win at Brown the following day — and the Bulldogs’ win at Harvard — Dartmouth is in a three-way tie for third at 6-4. Yale is in good tiebreaker shape thanks to its win over league-leading Princeton; a Dartmouth-Harvard deadlock would likely go to the ratings tiebreaker, which itself is very close as of today.
3. The 3-on-3 tournament at the Final Four will be super fun. Each of the 32 leagues will be represented by four seniors at the inaugural event, which will take place just before the national semifinals in a nearby gym. It’s a great idea, and especially great to represent every conference. I’m not a huge fan of the one-player-per-team restriction, but I understand it. I’m also curious how the committee of national media members will choose teams: Will they consider 3-on-3-specific skills and how players fit together, or simply reward the top-performing seniors? How deep will they go on mid-majors?
Given this year’s thin senior class, the Ivy League representatives should probably be Amir Bell, Miles Wright, Darnell Foreman and Nate Hickman (or maybe Kyle Castlin if he doesn’t want grad transfer eligibility). That team lacks size, which isn’t a dealbreaker in 3-on-3 competition (Serbia’s world championship squad isn’t much bigger). But it also doesn’t have great shooters, who are extra valuable in games scored by ones and twos.
Here’s how other recent Ivy teams could have looked, ranked best to worst:
- 2010: Ryan Wittman, Jeremy Lin, Alex Zampier, Matt Mullery
- 2012: Zack Rosen, Greg Mangano, Doug Davis, Keith Wright
- 2016: Maodo Lo, Justin Sears, Agunwa Okolie, Cedric Kuakumensah
- 2017: Steven Spieth, Spencer Weisz, Siyani Chambers, Luke Petrasek
- 2015: Wes Saunders, Javier Duren, Gabas Maldunas, Devin Cherry
- 2014: Brandyn Curry, T.J. Bray, Sean McGonagill, Fran Dougherty
- 2013: Ian Hummer, Brian Barbour, Matt Sullivan, Austin Morgan
- 2018: Amir Bell, Miles Wright, Darnell Foreman, Nate Hickman
- 2011: Kareem Maddox, Jack Eggleston, Peter Sullivan, Porter Braswell
I’m already looking forward to 2020, when a team of Seth Towns, Miye Oni, AJ Brodeur and Mike Smith could legitimately win the whole thing.
And-ones: Penn and Harvard officially clinched playoff berths. Visualizing Princeton’s freefall and the wild postseason race. #TMMLegacy lives on at Dartmouth. The nation’s longest win streak belongs to … Grambling?? The next coaching fad to improve performance: Remind your players that they’re all going to die someday.
The Week Ahead: Penn and Harvard meet in a rematch at The Palestra on Saturday; the winner will very likely claim at least a share of the Ivy League title (and will also have the inside track to the 1-seed in the conference tournament). The Crimson won the first meeting in Massachusetts by feeding Chris Lewis in the post, but the Quakers will surely make adjustments.
Brown visits Columba and Cornell, which will clarify the playoff race between all three teams (currently tied for fourth place). The Lions should be favored at home, a win they sorely need to even the season series; I have no idea what will happen in Ithaca. Yale could get dragged into the drama if it gets swept on the road, or perhaps even with a split (depending what happens elsewhere).
Princeton will try to snap its slide against Harvard on Friday (ESPNU). KenPom lists the Tigers as a two-point favorite — anyone want to take that bet?
- Harvard (9-1) — Harvard’s win over Brown was its 18th straight in the series, the longest active streak in the Ivy League. Princeton and Penn have the league’s 10 longest such streaks all-time (the longest is Penn’s 30-game win streak over Dartmouth from 1968-83), but Harvard has now tied Yale (18 straight over Dartmouth in the ‘60s) for the longest series win streak among the other six.
- Penn (9-1) — After spending a month on the bench, Devon Goodman saved Penn’s first-place position with 23 points at Columbia, then played 26 more minutes (with five assists but only four points) at Cornell. I wrote last Monday that Donahue could shake up his rotation again, as he’s done consistently through the last two years, but I certainly didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.
- Yale (5-5) — Yale was nearly outscored by Chris Lewis himself in the first half, eclipsing him 16-14. Lewis finished the game with 18 points and 10 rebounds, getting most of his buckets on long hook shots over Paul Atkinson. He’s had double-doubles in both games against the Bulldogs this season — a problem if they meet Harvard again in the playoffs.
- Columbia (4-6) — KenPom publishes a metric called “luck”, which measures how many games a team actually wins compared to the expectation based on its performance rating. The Lions are now dead last nationally, and by a pretty wide margin. Bad luck in close games is nothing new for Columbia — it has been below-average for seven straight years and ranked in the bottom 20 nationally in 2015 and 2013.
- Brown (4-6) — In case you needed more reason to watch Brown’s games at Columbia and Cornell this weekend, nine of the Bears’ 10 Ivy contests have been decided by single digits. Desmond Cambridge was as active as ever after injuring his ankle the prior weekend, but he wasn’t so successful, shooting 8-32 across two games.
- Cornell (4-6) — Not surprisingly, Matt Morgan made key shots throughout Cornell’s dramatic comeback over Princeton — a four-point play to take the Big Red’s first lead, a catch-and-shoot jumper from a baseline inbounds to take a one-point lead with ten seconds left, and a hanging floater-and-one late in the third overtime to put the game away. Morgan’s race for a third straight Ivy scoring title will go down to the wire — he’s now exactly tied with Seth Towns for the league lead, one total point ahead of Desmond Cambridge and six above Stone Gettings.
- Princeton (3-7) — Free throws are usually to blame in a collapse, and Friday was no exception: In blowing a 22-point lead and losing in triple overtime, Princeton shot 5-11 from the stripe, including an airball from Amir Bell that would have won the game at the end of regulation.
- Dartmouth (2-8) — Chris Knight took over down the stretch of Dartmouth’s win against Brown, scoring 10 of the Big Green’s final 12 points and assisting on the other two. Knight also has the league’s second-highest block rate in conference play, and Dartmouth might wonder where it would be had the rookie been healthy for one-possession losses at Cornell and Columbia.