Ivy League Season Roundup: NYC Buckets’ Individual Awards

Inside this week: Wrapping up the regular season and handing out NYC Buckets’ individual awards. Don’t miss Ray’s dispatches from Cornell’s clinching victory and Columbia’s crushing defeat, and stay tuned later this week for in-depth Ivy League Tournament previews.

Harvard and Penn are your men’s champions. Penn topped Brown on Saturday to finish atop the league at 12-2 (then returned home to cut the nets after 2 a.m.); Harvard followed suit to split the hardware. The Quakers were in position to claim the title alone, holding a five-point lead on Yale with 45 seconds left Friday and a three-point lead in the final five seconds, but they managed to lose in regulation thanks to a controversial out-of-bounds call and the Bulldogs’ buzzer-beater. The Crimson survived their own scare Friday, outlasting Cornell in double overtime — and now we’ll see rematches of both games in the first round of the playoffs.

That’s because the Big Red snuck away with the final playoff spot on a thrilling weekend. For the second straight season, Columbia blew a golden chance to make the postseason, getting swept at Dartmouth and Harvard. Even after suffering a seven-game losing streak in February, Princeton still had a chance to qualify, but it lost a do-or-die game in the final period at Yale. That left the Big Red alone at 6-8, having taken care of business at Dartmouth. If any team is deserving of the 4-seed, it’s Cornell, who was competitive in every game over the final five weeks and who won as many road games as the bottom half of the league combined. Such a turnaround was unthinkable barely a month ago.

A few more stats to wrap up the regular season:

  • 39% of Ivy games were decided by one possession, the highest mark for any conference in the KenPom era (2002-present).
  • Nine of those games went to overtime. I could only find data back to the mid-1990s, but the previous high in a season was six (2004, 2006, 2011).
  • Princeton played five OT Ivy games alone, surpassing 2011 Penn for the modern (and probably all-time) record. The Tigers’ 1-4 record there decided its season.
  • The losing team scored 80+ points 13 times, 90+ five times and 100+ twice. All six games involving playoff teams last weekend went into the 80s, portending some fireworks at The Palestra.

This year’s Ivy League was drunk, and though it was highly entertaining, let’s not do that again for a while.

Princeton is your women’s champion. The Tigers trounced Brown to clinch the title and 1-seed (behind Leslie Robinson’s triple-double), then beat Yale at home to make it an outright championship. Princeton and Penn have been the clear top teams on performance, but don’t count on a rematch of last year’s title game just yet — they split the season series with their respective semifinal opponents, Yale and Harvard.

Our awards picks: (Leave your disagreements in the comments!)

Player of the Year: Seth Towns, Harvard

Perhaps no player improved more this season than Towns. After showing flashes of frustrating brilliance as a freshman, Towns became the unquestioned linchpin of Harvard’s offense after classmate Bryce Aiken’s injury, taking 32% of his team’s shots in Ivy play. He delivered, scoring 18.6 ppg with a true shooting percentage of 60%.

Despite his 6-7 size, Towns did most of his work from the outside, including more than his share of contested midrange jumpers. Those shots aren’t ideal — but they’re often the only ones available when opponents know who will be shooting, so Towns’ ability to make them helped Harvard tremendously. The Crimson scored just 0.94 points per possession when Towns was on the bench in Ivy play, but 1.11 with him, and they went from a disaster in January to above the Ivy average by season’s end.

Towns’ shooting against top competition. See my raw shot data at https://github.com/whitakk/IvyShots

Scoring is Towns’ forte, but not his only contribution: He became a primary ballhandler against pressure, and he added six rebounds and two assists per game. And he became a much better team defender — no longer falling asleep off the ball while still racking up his share of blocks and steals — helping the Crimson evolve into a defensive juggernaut.

Rookie of the Year: Desmond Cambridge, Brown

Cambridge is the easiest choice for this award — or any award — in several years; he scored 18.6 ppg in Ivy play, nearly twice as many as the next-best rookie. Though that stat is inflated a bit by high usage and a fast pace, Cambridge wasn’t merely a chucker — even with a late slump he finished with an adequate shooting percentage, and his low turnover rate improved his accuracy even more.

Like many rookies, Cambridge had his ups and downs — but oh man were his ups high. There was the 61-point weekend at Penn and Princeton, which featured crazy contested shots and the game-winner at Jadwin. There was his impressive head-to-head play against Miye Oni in Brown’s upset of Yale. And perhaps my favorite, the clutch mega-block when Brown almost shocked Providence:

Defensive Player of the Year: Chris Lewis, Harvard

The Crimson had the Ivy League’s top defense, and Lewis was their leader at the center. The sophomore is an excellent rim protector, blocking a league-best 1.6 shots per game. He’s also mobile enough to defend pick-and-rolls — a rare commodity in this year’s Ancient Eight — and seemingly gets steal-and-breakaway-dunk on the perimeter every game. Harvard allowed 0.95 ppp with Lewis on the floor, the lowest mark of any Ivy regular.

The fair knock against Lewis is playing time — he managed only 27 minutes per game in league play, in part because of his propensity for foul trouble. But his value when on the court is high enough that he’s still our pick.

Also considered: Justin Bassey, Harvard; AJ Brodeur, Penn; Myles Stephens, Princeton

First-team All-Ivy: 

  • Seth Towns, Harvard
  • AJ Brodeur, Penn
  • Matt Morgan, Cornell
  • Miye Oni, Yale
  • Chris Lewis, Harvard

Even when his numbers don’t stand out — as was the case early this season — AJ Brodeur is at the top of every scouting report. By the end of Ivy play, his numbers were pretty stand-out as well, ranking in the top ten in points, rebounds, blocks, steals and shooting percentage. Brodeur’s shots come and go in Penn’s egalitarian system, but the Quakers went to him over and over down the stretch of their biggest game (vs. Harvard), getting eight points on four possessions. Matt Morgan easily won his second scoring title with 20.5 ppg in Ivy play; next year, he’ll be favored to join Bill Bradly and Buck Jenkins as the only players with three. Oh, and he was even better in the non-conference slate. He’ll have a good shot to pass Jim Barton for second on the Ancient Eight’s all-time scoring list. Miye Oni got off to a slow start in Ivy play, but he was at his best by the end, hitting clutch shots, blowing by defenders and leading the league’s most fearsome fast breaks. Oni had the league’s largest on-off splits, and it’s no coincidence the Bulldogs won all nine Ivy games in which he scored double figures. With Makai Mason’s injury, Oni reinvented himself into a pseudo-point guard on the fly, dishing four assists per game — none bigger than the game-winner against Penn, where many other stars would have taken a tough shot themselves.

Second-team All-Ivy:

  • Mike Smith, Columbia
  • Myles Stephens, Princeton
  • Desmond Cambridge, Brown
  • Stone Gettings, Cornell
  • Devin Cannady, Princeton

Mike Smith was the engine for Columbia’s league-leading offense. His 4.4 assists per game were best in the league, and Smith only got better as the year progressed, posting a 108 offensive rating in Ivy play with only three games below triple digits. Myles Stephens surged down the stretch, averaging 22 ppg over the final two weekends in a vain attempt to lead Princeton back to the postseason. Stephens won’t repeat as Defensive Player of the Year, but Princeton’s struggles on that end weren’t his fault — the Tigers surrendered a respectable 1.05 ppp with him on the floor in Ivy play but 1.16 without him. Stone Gettings built on a breakout sophomore season to reach new heights, averaging 18 ppg in conference play as a junior. (Fun fact: the Ivy’s two highest scoring totals this season, Gettings’ 39 points and Morgan’s 34, came in the same game against Delaware — and Cornell still lost.) Devin Cannady had the lowest offensive rating of his career as a junior, but that’s a backhanded insult (is that a thing?) when the number is still 114. Despite looking a bit banged-up midseason, Cannady led the Ivy League in minutes and scored 16.7 ppg for the full season.

Also considered: Ryan Betley, Penn; Justin Bassey, Harvard; Brandon Anderson, Brown

Coach of the Year: Steve Donahue, Penn

By tradition, this award goes to the coach whose team most over-performed expectations, and that squad this year is the Quakers, who shared the title after being picked fourth preseason. But what actually makes Donahue deserving is how his team did it. Penn doesn’t have a single scorer who can consistently bail the team out in any matchup, nor does it have one individual lockdown defender. Instead, Donahue build systems that amplified each player’s skills — building an efficient offense with balance, off-ball movement and disciplined shot selection, and doing the same on defense by tinkering with matchups and forcing opponents to score in twos rather than threes. Donahue has taken the Quakers from worst to first in only three years, the fastest we’ve seen any program rise in a long time.

Women’s Awards: I can’t go as deep on the women’s side, but I’d take Bella Alarie for MVP and Tamara Simpson for DPOY, joined by Camille Zimmerman, Michelle Nwokedi and Katie Benzan on the first team, and a second team something like Cy Lippold, Taylor Rooks, Shayna Mehta, Leslie Robinson and Eleah Parker (ROY).

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