Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Previewing the Openers

Last time, I wrote that this Ivy League season was the most boring one of this decade so far. The very next day, Dartmouth gave Notre Dame a close game and Princeton won at USC. So now I’m going to declare it the worst season of all time and watch what happens this week. Continue reading “Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Previewing the Openers”

Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Rankings Galore

Inside this week: With few games taking place, we’re looking at the big picture: Putting this year’s non-conference slate in historical context; peeking ahead to Ivy League play; and ranking the women’s Ancient Eight. Continue reading “Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Rankings Galore”

Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Winless Weekend; Lions Stir

Inside this week: The Ivy League went 0-7 on Saturday, including losses to nationally ranked Kentucky, Miami and TCU. Harvard’s up-and-down season continued, while Columbia took two strong opponents to the wire. And non-conference play is going much better for the Ivy women. Continue reading “Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Winless Weekend; Lions Stir”

Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Series Streaks and Scoring Stars

Half the league picked up their first wins, but 10 days into the season, no team is above .500 in D-I play. Inside this week: Two weird losing streaks continue, scorers keep scoring, and Penn fans demand cheesesteaks. Continue reading “Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Series Streaks and Scoring Stars”

Ivy League Weekly Roundup: A Nightmare Start

This is a pretty depressing week to have an Ivy League Weekly Roundup column. We entered the preseason with hopes of a multi-team title race, star power throughout the conference, and realistic chances for quality wins. But on the first day of basketball, the league lost three potential All-Ivy candidates — one indefinitely, one for the season, and one for good. That set the stage for a weekend in which the Ancient Eight nearly went winless in D-I play, an inauspicious start to the season.

The Ivy League isn’t alone. Friday’s top games nationally were Texas A&M-West Virginia, which had two key players suspended, and Georgia Tech-UCLA, which was overshadowed by alleged NCAA violations, LaVar Ball and Louis Vuitton. The biggest college basketball story throughout the season will be an FBI investigation. Sports are never just about actual sports, but it feels especially so right now. Continue reading “Ivy League Weekly Roundup: A Nightmare Start”

Ivy League Roundup: From #IvyMadness To March Madness

Don’t Miss: All our Ivy League Tournament analysis — thrilling semifinal wins for Princeton and Yale, and the small margins that decided them; Princeton clinching an NCAA bid, which was a long time coming, and Penn’s women doing the same; and why the two tournaments should continue to be played together. Continue reading “Ivy League Roundup: From #IvyMadness To March Madness”

#1 Princeton 71, #3 Yale 59: Tigers Are Dancing Again

Princeton’s 25th NCAA tournament bid was a long time coming.

Over the course of Mitch Henderson’s first five seasons (2012-16), his Tigers had the Ivy League’s best scoring margin. But they never made the big dance, watching from home as Harvard and Yale earned every bid instead. Princeton had close calls, finishing one game back in 2013 and 2016, two out in 2012 and 2015. Last year’s squad was the best runner-up in Ivy history, a legitimately great team that faced an even greater challenger in Yale.

Freed of such competition this year, the Tigers rolled through the Ivy League at a perfect 14-0, backed up by an efficiency margin of +0.22 points per possession (up there with the best of the modern era). But there was a new hurdle — the first-ever Ivy League Tournament — which became bigger when host Penn earned the 4-seed.

Princeton was six seconds from going home empty in the semifinal, but it survived. After another tight half Sunday afternoon, the top seed was unstoppable after halftime for a 71-59 win. Six years to the day after earning their last NCAA tournament bid, the Tigers are finally dancing once again.

“I heard from a lot of coaches that have won their league, friends of mine that have a tournament. After we won yesterday, multiple different guys said how hard it is, when you’re the champ, to win your first-round game. And man, that was true,” Henderson said. “You’re the target, and it’s hard to work against that, mentally. So this feels really good.”

Defense fueled Princeton’s unbeaten Ivy season, as well as its semifinal victory over the Quakers. But in the final, the Tigers won in their old-fashioned way — by simply shooting lights-out. Coming out of halftime with a two-point lead, they scored 21 points on their first 11 possessions, controlling the game for good. Yale managed 1.05 points per possession — second-best of Princeton’s 16 Ivy opponents this year — but it surrendered a blistering 1.27.

For the second straight night, Myles Stephens was the Tigers’ hero. Princeton’s local product showed early on why he was the Defensive Player of the Year, stuffing shifty guard Alex Copeland. His impact was even stronger on the other end, where the sophomore scored a game-high 23 points off of tough drives, cuts and threes.

Steven Cook cuts down the net.

But the core of Princeton’s championship team was years in the making. Steven Cook and Spencer Weisz, both first-team All-Ivy selections, bridged the Tigers’ old and new eras — from patience and passing to one-on-one scoring; from sweet-shooting offense to shutdown defense — and led the way to the Ivy league’s first 16-0 season.

“They have a veteran crew. When Steven Cook and Spencer Weisz and Pete Miller were freshmen, they were not a very good defensive team. Those guys have learned, they got better and better, and that’s what you do,” Yale coach James Jones said. “They’re a senior-laden team. That’s what propelled them to all their close wins. It’s almost impossible how they won some close games — like last night, how did they win that?”

Weisz had a poor shooting weekend (6-24 in total), but he made plays his usual way, inching into the lane and finding shooters for eight assists against Yale. Cook finished with 15 points, from three treys and a powerful baseline dunk-and-one. With so many threats on the floor, opponents have nowhere to hide a weak defender or a lazy rotation — as Yale learned at the worst time.

“Offensively, we try to take advantage of mismatches. Spencer and Steve, also Amir [Bell] — we put each other in position to make plays, and my teammates do a good job of that,” Stephens said. “Whether it’s posting up or driving to the rim, kicking out or finishing at the rim, we really try to take advantage of that, and that helped us in this weekend.”

Yale gave its best effort in the first half, leading by as many as seven points. The Bulldogs were smart, feeding Sam Downey in the post and making crisp passes to beat double-teams. And they were also flashy, dunking on consecutive possessions and getting their own ferocious blocks.

But the Tigers were too much to handle in the second half. Three of the last four Ivy League representatives won their first-round game in the NCAA tournament, and Princeton looks every bit as capable.

“The way we’re playing right now, I think it’s hard to stop us,” Cook said. “If we keep playing as consistently on offense and the defensive end, I think wherever we end up in the tournament, we can be trouble.”