We continue our conference check-ins with a look at the Ivy League and the NEC. For our previous post on the America East and Patriot League, go here.
Ivy League Standings
1) Harvard, 5-1
2) Princeton, 4-1
3) Yale, 3-3
4) Cornell, 3-3
5) Penn, 2-3
6) Brown, 2-4
7) Dartmouth, 2-4
8) Columbia, 2-4
The Rundown: It’s a tad silly to break down the overall standings with more than half of the conference games yet to be played, but with no postseason tournament, this is the most critical regular season in college basketball you’ll find. What a difference a reliable point guard can make, as freshman and former three-star recruit Siyani Chambers (13.5 ppg, 6.1 apg, 46.5% 3PT%) has run Tommy Amaker’s offense masterfully. Sophomore Wesley Saunders has turned some heads with the best efficiency rating, as per BBState, in the conference along with Princeton’s Ian Hummer. Chambers and Saunders have been excellent, don’t get me wrong, but Harvard’s fast start out of the gate has been mostly achieved through smoke and mirrors. Four of the Crimson’s five Ivy wins have been as narrow as they get, and with the second worst defense and the worst rebounding unit in the conference, Harvard and their six to seven man rotation could eventually regress back to the mean. With only eight games left, the luck could stay on Harvard’s side, but if their recent blowout loss to Columbia is any indication, then this is a flawed team currently residing at the top. Princeton remains the likely favorite to represent the conference in the NCAA tournament, although it’s anyone’s game with a cluster of teams only two to three games behind the first place Crimson. Yale handed Princeton a surprising home loss over the weekend and has played themselves back into the race. After losing 14 of their 17 non-conference games, Penn and their league leading defense – 94.7 points allowed per 100 possessions – has held Ivy opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 44.7%. Now if only the offense could score – Penn has cracked the 70 point barrier in just three games this season. It’s clear they miss the superb production of Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernardini.
Mark Your Calendars: Harvard at Princeton, Friday, March 1st
By the time the calendar turns into March, Harvard may be completely exposed and trailing the Tigers, making this showdown an absolute must win for the Crimson. Currently, Princeton’s offense has made quick work of opposing defenses, scoring a sizzling 116.2 points per 100 possessions in league play. Quite possibly the frontrunner for Ivy League Player of the Year, Ian Hummer (15.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.3 spg) finds himself nationally ranked in most KenPom categories. The 6’7″ senior has been very efficient with the basketball and will obviously pose a difficult matchup for Harvard. Another key: the Crimson are fourth in the country in three-point percentage at 41.3%, so you can bet Mitch Henderson will make guarding the perimeter a focal point in the Tigers’ game plan.
Interesting Tidbits: In the 14 game tournament, teams that struggle out of the gate always find themselves in a precarious position midway through the conference season. Columbia may be in the basement at the moment, but if any team has a chance to make up a three game deficit with eight conference games remaining, it’s Kyle Smith’s Lions. The tempo-free numbers indicate Columbia has been unlucky, as they’re 0-4 in league games decided by two possessions or less. One of the deeper teams in the league has the senior leadership in Brian Barbour and Mark Cisco to make a run, yet they’ll need to dominate their upcoming road trip versus Brown and Yale before they can expect to legitimately challenge Princeton and Harvard. Two teams are tied with Columbia at the bottom, but KenPom doesn’t like Brown and Dartmouth’s profiles all that much. Expecting either team to climb back into the race is foolish, especially when you consider the basketball droughts each program has suffered through. Brown hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1986, while Dartmouth last made the Big Dance in 1959. They’re coming up on 54 years!
Top Four Teams:
1) Bryant, 9-2
2) Robert Morris, 9-3
3) LIU Brooklyn, 8-4
4) Sacred Heart, 7-4
The Rundown: Bryant is in the driver seat to improbably earn the #1 seed in the NEC postseason tournament, or at the very least, grab a #2 seed guaranteeing the Bulldogs two home playoff games. Smithfield, RI and Moon Township, PA are 576 miles apart, therefore it would behoove the east-most team in the NEC (Bryant) and the west-most team (Robert Morris) to stay at home throughout the playoffs. LIU concludes with a favorable schedule (36-46 combined record of LIU’s remaining opponents), but they’ll need a little luck to leapfrog the two teams ahead of them, even if they have the current tiebreaker on Bryant. (Just imagine where LIU could have been without the suspensions.) After the top three, the #4 seed is up for grabs among four teams, although my money is on the defensive minded Wagner Seahawks, who have four home games at Spiro remaining. Sacred Heart will likely get to 8-4 after their home game with St. Francis (PA), but the Pioneers will then embark on a brutal conclusion to their regular season with Robert Morris, Bryant, Quinnipiac, CCSU, and LIU Brooklyn awaiting them. Quinnipiac hosts Robert Morris on Thursday. A triumph will get the up-and-down Bobcats back into the discussion for a home playoff game as they’re only a half a game back of Sacred Heart at the moment.
Mark Your Calendar: Robert Morris at Bryant, Thursday, February 28th
It seems so long ago when Bryant dropped 84 points on the Colonials in the NEC opener. Since then, Bryant has obviously proven they belong, as they’re first in the NEC in effective field goal percentage (58.1%), assists per field goals made (63.3%), and points per possession (1.16 PPP). Bryant has the most prolific offense the NEC has seen in recent years, yet Robert Morris has kept pace despite suffering from a myriad of injuries. Plus, when you have Velton Jones in your corner, every game is certainly within reach. Andy Toole’s Colonials have played better defense of late, holding their last three opponents to under 1.00 PPP, so you can expect Toole will preach defense and attempt to slow down the tempo to Robert Morris’ advantage come February 28th.
Interesting Tidbit: Only eight of the top 12 teams in the conference make the playoffs, and currently three teams are fighting for the final playoff spot. St. Francis Brooklyn is in the driver seat over Mount St. Mary’s and Monmouth, but they’re barely in control. A February 23rd showdown in Emmitsburg between St. Francis and the Mount could end up serving as a de facto play-in game. The Mount has four games left in the friendly confines of Knott Arena, but none of those games are considered pushovers. Monmouth appears to be running on fumes offensively, especially without the possession eating Andrew Nicholas suiting up anytime soon. Unfortunately for FDU and St. Francis (PA), both teams are practically done regarding the postseason.