Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Dec. 15

What Happened Last Week: Nearly half of the Ivy League’s nine games came against major-conference foes, and most of those were interesting: Brown upset Providence, Columbia scared No. 1 Kentucky, Princeton did the same to California, and Yale lost at Florida. (More on those games below.) The Ancient Eight was 3-2 in its other games, including wins by Harvard, Penn and Dartmouth.

Three Four Thoughts:

1. Don’t be surprised if Providence wants a break from scheduling cross-town rival Brown. After the Bears won at home in 2012 and were tied in the final minute last season, they upset the Friars again on Monday, 77-67. This was the Brown team that many of us expected to challenge for top three in the Ivy League, combining balanced scoring (boosted by 10-for-23 three-point shooting) with strong all-around defense.

Brown battled Providence from the 9:15 local tip, exchanging runs to end the first half all square. After Providence went on a 6-0 run to tie the game again at 44-all midway through the second half, it felt like the Friars would continue pull away — but Cedric Kuakumensah and Leland King banged back-to-back threes, and Providence never led again. Steven Spieth was terrific down the stretch, scoring on pivotal drives and securing all his free throws. After avoiding turnovers (their chief flaw this season) for most of the game, the Bears made things interesting with late giveaways and silly fouls, but they held on.

For perspective: UConn was an eight-point favorite in its supposedly “embarrassing” loss to Yale. Providence was favored by twice that (15.5 points) against the struggling Bears.

2. Double-digit defeats don’t get much better than Columbia’s 56-46 loss at Kentucky on Wednesday. The Lions opened with an 11-0 run and led for the first 26 minutes, ultimately finishing with the closest score of Kentucky’s 11 opponents to date (including Kansas, Texas and North Carolina). The top-ranked Wildcats took over with a 19-5 run in the second half — rebounding all nine of their missed field goals in that nine-minute stretch — but not before getting a serious scare from the Lions, much as then-No. 2 Michigan State did last year.

Columbia naturally plays at a slow pace and shoots a lot of three-pointers, but Kyle Smith and the Lions took those tactics to the extreme with a textbook high-variance gameplan. Against the nation’s best shot-blockers, the visitors took more than half of their shots from behind the arc, making a higher percentage of threes (10-for-23) than layups (6-for-15). On defense, Columbia was aggressive with rotations and help defense, challenging the Wildcats to beat them with patience and extra passes. Above all, the Lions kept the pace to a Joe Scott-like crawl, minimizing Kentucky’s ability to pull away; the game clocked in at 51 possessions, five fewer than the next-slowest Ivy contest this year.

After the game, ESPN2 ran a two-minute segment on the Ivy League, including a graphic of “Notable Ivy Wins.” This isn’t your older cousin’s Ancient Eight.

3. Princeton used a similar formula on Saturday at Cal, making eight first-half threes en route to a 37-28 lead. But the Tigers’ outside shooting dried up after halftime, as they made just two of 11 triples thereafter. That drought contributed to a nine-minute scoreless streak, in which Cal took its first and only lead with a 13-0 run; more than half the hosts’ points in that stretch came off turnovers, as Princeton gave the ball away with overeager passes on backdoor cuts and post entries. A power-conference victory could have been a defining statement for the Tigers, on the heels of a loss to St. Peter’s; instead, they fell to 3-8, with clear potential but still few victories.

4. Nothing went right for Yale in its 85-47 loss at Florida on Monday. In a dramatic departure from their game at UConn, the Bulldogs failed to protect the rim and allowed a 50% offensive rebound rate; meanwhile, they shot just 34 percent from the floor. But on the Gators’ hottest shooting night of the season (10-for-19 from three), even a perfect game from Yale might not have been enough.

One Chart:


Data via Hoop-Math.com

NCAA shot location data isn’t perfect — in particular, the distinction between “layup” and “jumper” is subjective and prone to bias — but it’s useful as a directional guide. Just as they did last year, Princeton and Columbia are taking nearly half of their shots from three-point range, along with very few two-point jumpers. Meanwhile, Harvard (45%) and Penn (42%) are the league leaders in shots at the rim. One-third of Brown and Dartmouth’s shots have been two-point jumpers, while Yale and Cornell are also near that mark.

Weekly Awards:

Player of the Week: Gabas Maldunas, Dartmouth — After playing his way back into shape from last year’s ACL injury, Maldunas appears to be back in form as Dartmouth’s go-to player. The senior posted double-doubles in both games this weekend, going for 13 points and 10 rebounds (plus five blocks) at UMass Lowell before adding 27 and 10 at Jacksonville State.

Rookie of the Week: Sam Jones, Penn — Jones became the latest Penn freshman to step up, knocking down five of six three-pointers en route to a game-high 19 points against Marist. After a slow opening game, Jones has made 14 of his last 25 treys, flashing a solid assist rate as well.

Looking Ahead: The schedule remains light, featuring only eight games as most Ivies finish exams. The headliner comes on Sunday, when Harvard visits 9-0 Virginia, which is ranked No. 6 in the AP poll and No. 3 in KenPom. The other top contenders face interesting mid-major tests, with Yale visiting Vermont and Columbia hosting Hofstra.

Power Rankings:

  1. Harvard — What would the Harvard narrative be like if one more shot had fallen against Holy Cross? The Crimson could be 8-0 and still nationally ranked heading into Sunday’s game at Virginia, which would be a much bigger deal on the national landscape. One shot would be a tiny change in Harvard’s 500-possession body of work, and yet it would have had enormous implications. (Side note: Harvard was particularly unlucky that Agunwa Okolie missed that game, one of the few times Harvard has needed to play four guards.)
  2. Yale — The Bulldogs’ upset last week inspired a final exam question in a UConn probability course, which just happened to be taught by a Yale alumnus. Hopefully, no basketball players took the class.
  3. Columbia — Cory Osetkowski had a few nice-looking possessions at Kentucky: He shot 3-for-4 with six rebounds and two assists against the nation’s most intimidating frontcourt, adding three assists.
  4. Cornell — The Big Red was idle this week, returning to action at Radford on Sunday. In the meantime, enjoy Cornell hockey fans trying to throw a 10-foot teddy bear onto the rink.
  5. Princeton — Of Princeton’s current rotation players, only Clay Wilson, a low-usage shooter off the bench, is a senior; starting forward Hans Brase is a junior, and the remainder are underclassmen. Even if the Tigers’ fortunes don’t turn around this year, they’ll be a factor in the league going forward.
  6. Brown — There may not be a Rhode Island college basketball tournament, but the Bears are doing their best to play one anyway, facing all three Ocean State foes this month. After beating Bryant and Providence, Brown can complete the sweep at Rhode Island on the 31st.
  7. Penn — The Quakers have won three straight games, but they probably can’t count on future opponents shooting 21%, as Marist did on Tuesday.
  8. Dartmouth — The Big Green’s last five games have come against teams ranked below 250 in KenPom, and they are 2-3 in that stretch. Maldunas had a strong week and Dartmouth looked good at UMass Lowell, but it’s been a rough start overall.