The Ivy League is Harvard and then what? That what we’re going to find out. Josh Verlin of City of Basketball Love and I worked together to give our best shot at what the league standings will look like when the final buzzer sounds on March 8th and one team earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Also, check out COBL’s conference primer.
1) Harvard (20-10, 11-3 Ivy League) — The Crimson get Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry back meaning that they are absolutely loaded this season. One would think Tommy Amaker’s biggest challenge during the regular season would be managing the minutes of his plethora of talent, but that’s not quite true. While the challenger isn’t known, chances are that due to the structure of the Ivy League one team is going to stay on Harvard’s heels the entire season. The Crimson can’t afford mental lapses like last season’s February 10th loss at Columbia. It’s in the frontcourt where Amaker will have to juggle a few more pieces as Casey, Steve Moundou-Missi, Kenyatta Smith along with freshman Zena Edosomwan could all play major minutes. Expect Harvard to figure it out. If the Crimson can find a way to wins at Colorado and Connecticut they could be looking at a Top 25 ranking, but it’ll probably all still add up to a double-digit seed come March.
2) Penn (9-22, 6-8 Ivy League) — The Quakers return everyone of significance from last season’s team. Looking at the overall record that might not seem too reassuring, but Penn proved in conference play that Jerome Allen has this team on the right track. The return of Fran Dougherty, who played just 12 games last season due to injury, is expected to help Penn in the frontcourt as will the development of 6’11” sophomore Darien Nelson-Henry. How much will Allen ask sophomore guard Tony Hicks to do this season? In 2012-13 the offense revolved around the 6’2” guard as he used 28.5% of Penn’s possessions while on the court, which was 91st in the nation. Hicks sometimes tried to do too much and that contributed to Penn turning the ball over on 22.7% of possessions during conference play – the worst in the Ivy League. All of Penn’s guard will have to take better care of the basketball if the Quakers are going to rise this far in the conference standings.
3) Yale (14-17, 8-6 Ivy League) — There are a few things you can count on every season. One of them is James Jones piloting his Bulldogs to a top four finish in the Ivy League standings. Jones will have to replace point guard Austin Morgan, but forward Justin Sears should have a breakout sophomore campaign after averaging 9.5 ppg in 15 starts as a freshman. Armani Cotton, one of the many Northfield Mount Hermon products in the Ivy League, had a 107.2 offensive rating last season. It’s on defense where the Bulldogs struggled last season, but a big part of the reason they finished sixth in defensive efficiency during conference play was because opponents shot 40.2% from three. That seems sort of fluky and Yale’s defense should improve a bit and help Jones keep his team in the top half of the standings.
4) Princeton (17-11, 10-4 Ivy League) — Replacing an efficient, high-usage superstar might be the hardest thing to do in college basketball. Even inside the egalitarian ideal of the flex Princeton offense Ian Hummer was the heartbeat of the Tigers’ offense. The last three seasons Hummer posted an offensive efficiency amongst the nation’s elite while using almost 30% of Princeton’s offense while on the court. His departure will open up opportunities for other players. The Tigers will once again be one of the tallest teams in the nation with Denton Koon (6’8”) playing on the wing with Hans Brase (6’8”) and Will Barrett (6’10”). Even the point guard, T.J. Bray, isn’t exactly short at 6’5”. That size is good for getting in the way on defense, but it was hard for the Tigers to force empty trips with turnovers last season. Only Brown’s opponents had a lower turnover rate during Ivy play. If Princeton’s offense regresses without Hummer, it’s the defense that’ll have to improve and that’s a tough bet to make at the moment.
5) Dartmouth (9-19, 5-9 Ivy League) — In all honesty, the bottom half of the Ivy League is a complete toss up, but at least Dartmouth has some positive momentum going in Paul Cormier’s fourth season in charge. The foundation is there with Gabas Maldunas, Malik Gill, Alex Mitola and John Golden. The loss of forward Jvonte Brooks to a football career hurts, but the Big Green are poised to finally take a step forward. In order to do so Dartmouth is going to need to find some help for Maldunas on the glass. It’ll be up to Golden or Connor Boehm to get more involved on the glass. Improving the team’s physicality on the court will be of the utmost importance to continuing at upward trend in Hanover, NH.
6) Brown (13-15, 7-7 Ivy League) — Predicting what Brown will do this season is one of the most complicated problems in the Ivy League. The Bears do return Sean McGonagill, their crafty 6’1” point guard, but the talent around him is sparse. Mike Martin will be counting on the development of two young forwards, Raphael Maia and Cedric Kuakumensah in order to remain competitive in the Ivy League. Few teams can match those two upfront, but the depth behind them is questionable at best. Brown though also won five of its final six Ivy League games last season. The Bears finished .500 in league play last season by ranking first in defensive efficiency thanks to a plan that was reminiscent of UConn under Jim Calhoun: Take away baskets at the rim, limit offensive rebounds and don’t go after turnovers. With two athletic forwards in the paint you can do that in the Ivy League. If Brown can repeat the plan they’ll surprise a number of people and might have the highest ceiling of any of the Ivy League’s lower half.
7) Columbia (12-16, 4-10 Ivy League) — A season that started out so promising ended in disappointment as the Lions lost five Ivy games by four points or fewer. The graduation of Brian Barbour and Mark Cisco leaves two humongous holes on the offensive side of the ball. There is still a bunch of talent here though. Grant Mullins shot 37% from three during his freshman season and proved to be one of the most efficient scorers in the Ivy League. Maodo Lo showed a lot of athleticism and an ability to get to the rim even at 6’3”. The Lions also get back a big missing piece in shooting guard Meiko Lyles. Two seasons ago Lyles had a 107.9 offensive rating as he knocked down 44% of his three-point attempts playing Robin to Barbour’s Batman. The cast may have changed, but Lyles should provide an efficient, floor-spacing option. Replacing Cisco may be a tougher challenge. Like Cisco before him Corey Osetkowski is around a mid-40s shooter on two-point attempts. Kyle Smith brought in a number of young big men. Can any of them step up and help the Lions escape the bottom of the Ivy League? Also, with one of the most guard-oriented attacks in the Ivy League will Smith continue to play at the slowest pace in the Ivy League? The questions are just beginning in Morningside Heights.
8) Cornell (13-18, 5-9 Ivy League) — Even before the news that Shonn Miller might miss the entire season, the Big Red were already paper thin upfront. Losing Miller to injury and veteran forward Errick Peck to Purdue has left Cornell undermanned in the paint. The focus then has quickly shifted to building for 2014-15, when Miller will presumably healthy and Cornell’s young guards will have another season of valuable experience under their belts. Expect to see Nolan Cressler and Devin Cherry get even more opportunities to make their mark this season. The Big Red though need to figure out how to contain teams on the defensive end. This is where the loss of Miller (and his excellent block and steal rates) might have the biggest impact. Cornell allowed the worst effective field goal percentage in conference play at 55.4% last season. If it’s that bad again this could be a long season Bill Courtney’s crew.