What Happened Last Week: All eight teams began the 2015-16 season, going a combined 6-4. Three of the losses came to major-conference teams and two wins were over D-III opponents, leaving the Ivy League 4-1 against mid-majors. Expected contenders Columbia, Yale and Princeton won their openers, and Penn kicked off the Steve Donahue era with a two-game sweep.
1. Even on the first weekend of games, the highest-impact news came off the court. Princeton announced Saturday night that senior Hans Brase will miss the season with a torn ACL. Brase was an All-Ivy-caliber talent, with as large a role as anyone in the Tigers’ balanced offense and a perfect skill set for their system. His absence limits coach Mitch Henderson’s lineup flexibility — Princeton will now almost exclusively have four perimeter players around one traditional big man — and puts pressure on Pete Miller and Alec Brennan to pool together 40 minutes at center every night.
Part of the case for Princeton as preseason favorite was that no single injury could derail their championship hopes, unlike how Siyani Chambers’ torn ACL completely changed Harvard’s outlook (and how a similar incident to Justin Sears or Maodo Lo might affect their teams, knock on wood). That theory will now be tested as Princeton rebuilds its rotation around its guards and asks more of unproven players. The Tigers are no longer the Ivy League favorite, but they’re still in the tier of legitimate contenders for now.
As an aside: It’s far too early to go down this road yet, but Princeton and Harvard should both be loaded in 2016-17. The Tigers will return an entire team that was expected to be roughly top-100 this year, while the Crimson will pair Siyani Chambers with a recruiting class that currently ranks in the top 10 nationally (plus almost everyone from this year’s squad). March 2017 is so far away, but my #2Bidivy radar is already warming up.
2. The first shot chart of the Steve Donahue era is quite a change for Penn fans:
Donahue made it known that he would bring a more analytical mindset to the Quakers, including a specific emphasis on shot selection. That was evident in Penn’s offense from day one: Only 16% of its shots against Robert Morris were classified as two-point jumpers (and only 12% against Central Connecticut State on Sunday), half the 32% rate of last year’s Quakers. Most of the difference went to three-pointers instead — led by sophomore Sam Jones, who launched 21 treys this weekend (making 10), including several from 26 feet or further.
Even beyond shot selection, there were good signs for Penn’s offense — the Quakers were well-prepared for Robert Morris’ zone and topped a point per possession in each game. A spate of turnovers helped fuel the Colonials’ second-half comeback (which was negated by Darien Nelson-Henry’s game-winning layup in the final minute), but even those were mainly failures to execute sound decisions, rather than the silly errors that plagued Penn in the past.
3. Few freshmen have truly shaped the Ivy League in the past two years, but 2015-16 may be different. We knew rookies like Tommy Mccarthy, Corey Johnson and Jake Silpe would be leaders for young teams this year, but even experienced groups like Princeton (Devin Cannady) and Columbia (C.J. Davis) were led in scoring by freshmen. The high scorer was a rookie in six of 10 Ivy games, with Evan Boudreaux’s 25 points topping the league.
Player AND Rookie of the Week: Evan Boudreaux, Dartmouth — Racking up 25 points, six rebounds and three steals in one’s college debut is impressive under any circumstances — but especially when the opponent is a major-conference team like Seton Hall. Boudreaux shot 7-14 and drew 11 free throws, doing it all with only one turnover. The Illinois native was one of the highest-rated Ivy recruits in the Class of 2015, and he looks ready to fill Gabas Maldunas’ shoes in the Big Green’s frontcourt.
The Week Ahead: Columbia has two chances to upend a major-conference foe, visiting Kansas State Monday and Northwestern Friday (both on ESPN3). Others with high-profile games include Harvard (vs UMass, at Boston College), Brown (at Providence), Penn (at Washington) and Yale (at SMU), while Yale and Columbia have interesting dates with preseason Patriot League favorite Lehigh.
- Yale — The Bulldogs looked great at the Connecticut 6, soundly beating Fairfield 70-57 on Friday. The outcome itself isn’t terribly notable, but the way Yale got there was: While a foul-limited Justin Sears scored only six points, Makai Mason had 23 points and four assists in his first game as the starting point guard, wihle Brandon Sherrod, back from a year of a cappella, added 20 and seven rebounds.
- Columbia — On pure talent, starting Isaac Cohen over Kyle Castlin might not be the right decision. But Columbia’s starting lineup is already stacked with perimeter scorers in Maodo Lo, Alex Rosenberg and Grant Mullins, leaving few possessions for another creator like Castlin. Cohen has thrived throughout his career as an efficient, low-usage player, and his secondary skills are a better fit for Columbia’s starting lineup — while Castlin will be more effective when one or more starters are resting. The second-unit scorer is a common character in the NBA, but fewer college teams are deep enough to afford that luxury.
- Princeton — Perhaps Hans Brase’s top talent was his defensive rebounding; his 24.9% defensive rebound rate ranked in the top 40 nationally last season. But that’s not an irreplaceable skill — when compared to offensive rebounding, there are “diminishing returns” in defensive rebounding, as players often take defensive rebounds away from teammates rather than opponents. Friday’s game was one data point for that theory: Even without Brase, Princeton had a defensive rebound rate above 80% in its eight-point win over Rider.
- Harvard — The Crimson played Providence evenly for 26 minutes until the Kris Dunn show began. Dunn, a preseason national Player of the Year contender, scored all of the Friars’ points in an 11-2 run, then added five straight later in the half to help close out the game. Harvard’s offense, not surprisingly, had a few shot clock violations on the new 30-second count (and 22 turnovers overall), but it’s hard to picture any way they could have overcome Dunn, who finished with 32 points, six assists, five rebounds and eight steals.
- Dartmouth — Not only did we learn that Evan Boudreaux is capable of excelling against a good team, we also learned that he’s pals with star golfer Rory McIlroy. Of course, he’s not the only Ivy League hoopster with close ties to a multiple-time major champion:
- Penn — Since you’re almost done reading this, take a few minutes to watch Penn’s feature on senior guard Jamal Lewis, who is back on the court after recovering from a potentially lethal staph infection he suffered a year and a half ago.
- Brown — The Bears were the only ivy League team to lose to a mid-major this weekend, falling 77-65 at St. Peter’s. Brown managed only .84 points per possession, as every starter committed multiple turnovers and the team shot an ugly 7-33 from distance.
- Cornell — A blowout loss at Georgia Tech wasn’t too shocking, but the shape of it was — a 116-81 shootout in which seven Yellow Jackets scored in double figures. Defense was Cornell’s calling card last season, but only 13 D-1 teams have allowed more than 116 points in a regulation game since 2010-11 (per College Basketball Reference). Two years ago, without Shonn Miller (or Galal Cancer), the Big Red had the nation’s second-worst defense; if they’re anywhere near the bottom again, it’s going to be a very long season.