What Happened Last Week: December in the Ivy League doesn’t get much more eventful than this. Yale upset Connecticut for the league’s biggest regular-season win in a couple years; Harvard survived double overtime at Vermont despite a scoring controversy (more below); and the conference was a perfect 8-0 over the weekend. That offset a much gloomier beginning, in which Columbia, Dartmouth and Princeton lost to foes ranked outside KenPom’s top 300.
1. Yale led for most of its game at UConn on Friday, but after the Huskies took a 44-40 lead with 22 seconds left, it looked like the Ivy League would again fall just short in its quest for a signature power-conference victory — much as Yale did at Providence the prior week, and much as Harvard did at Colorado and UConn last year. But Justin Sears halved the deficit from the free-throw line, and then Jack Montague did this:
Hampered by a sprained left ankle, Huskies star Ryan Boatright had a poor game, but the Bulldogs still did quite well to limit the Huskies to 44 points on 57 possessions. Neither team shot well from distance, and the Bulldogs’ biggest edge came on the glass: They held UConn to only one offensive rebound while grabbing 13 of their own, including eight by Sears alone in a 12-point, 15-board performance.
2. In a tricky road test, Harvard outlasted Vermont in double-overtime, thanks to clutch game-tying threes by Siyani Chambers (late in regulation) and Corbin Miller (late in the first overtime) and the usual heroics of Wesley Saunders (25 points, six rebounds, seven steals). But the great game took on a surreal atmosphere due to a second-half scoring error: With 12:37 left, Kurt Steidl made a jumper from well inside the arc that was correctly ruled a two-pointer on the floor, but the official scorer logged it as a three.
The Crimson noticed the error later in the half, but the officials said they could not review the error because a request must be made by the next stoppage of play (which had already passed). From my best parsing of the NCAA rulebook, I don’t feel this interpretation was correct. Section 11-2.1.b.1 (p.98) does restrict when a shot can be reviewed to determine whether it should be worth two points or three; but while it’s not 100% clear on this point, it suggests this applies when the refs on the floor make the wrong call. Saturday’s case seems to fall more directly under 11-2.1.b.2, which allows the refs to use replay to “rectify a scoring mistake by the scorer” — with no limitation on when this may occur.
Harvard won anyway, but the extra point loomed large when the game was tied at the end of regulation.
3. The top two contenders’ games this weekend were 45-44 and 44-44* at the end of regulation. This year’s championship race should be exciting, but it might not be easy on the eyes.
Free-throw percentage and three-point shooting percentage are two key indicators of “luck” on the defensive end. Teams have very little control over how well their opponents shoot from the line, and though it may be less intuitive, the same is largely true of three-point percentage (as Ken Pomeroy has shown). Thus, teams that have “allowed” a high shooting percentage on free throws and three-pointers are likely to improve in those categories going forward, while those on the other end should regress.
Princeton has been one of the nation’s unluckiest teams in this regard — only seven squads have allowed a better three-point percentage than the Tigers’ 44.7%, and they are also the Ivy’s unluckiest team on free throws. Those factors are a big reason why the Princeton’s defensive numbers so far have been poor. On the other hand, Columbia’s 23.9% three-point percentage allowed is the eighth-lowest nationally, and is certainly unsustainable. Harvard opponents won’t keep shooting below 60% from the line, and Yale has been a bit fortunate as well.
Player of the Week: Cedric Kuakumensah, Brown — Kuakumensah led the Bears with 17 points on 11 shooting possessions against American, then followed with a similarly efficient 20 points and 15 rebounds in a victory over Bryant. The two-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year blocked seven shots over two games.
Rookie of the Week: Darnell Foreman, Penn — The Quakers’ guard has started all seven games of his career, but he had his most productive games this week. Foreman scored nine points in a victory over Navy, then added 11 points and eight rebounds against Binghamton; he has already established himself as a pesky defender, with a steal rate ranked in the top 100 nationally.
Looking Ahead: Yale plays another high-profile game tonight at Florida; if the Bulldogs pull off another upset, things might get really interesting for #2BidIvy. Brown faces Providence today (on FS1), Columbia takes on top-ranked Kentucky on Wednesday (on ESPN2), and Princeton visits California on Saturday. The schedule overall thins out as most schools enter exam season, with only nine games this week.
- Harvard — Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers rank first and third in the league in minutes played, each averaging about 37 per game. That’s not necessarily a problem — they also ranked first and third, with roles reversed, while leading the Crimson to an Ivy title in 2012-13 — but a reminder that one ill-timed injury could dramatically change Harvard’s outlook.
- Yale — Several analytics-minded fans bemoaned Yale’s reliance on inefficient two-point jumpers against UConn, so Sears had some fun with them on Twitter after the big victory:
Thanks for all the love everyone. Matt Townsend and I will be in the gym tomorrow working on our midrange J.
— Justin Sears (@Jussears5) December 6, 2014
— Justin Sears (@Jussears5) December 6, 2014
- Columbia — Is Columbia the new Princeton? Not only have the Lions slowed their pace to a crawl — their fastest game this season was 61 possessions, and only four teams have a slower adjusted tempo (per KenPom.com) — but they’ve taken 48% of their shots from beyond the arc (sixth-highest in the nation), much like the Tigers of last decade.
- Cornell — The Big Red faced UMass Lowell in a showdown of two of the nation’s most surprising teams. Cornell won 71-60 at home, a result that would’ve also matched expectations before the season, when both teams were ranked about 60 spots lower nationally.
- Princeton — Steven Cook showed promise late last year as a shooter and defender, and his performance on Saturday embodied the loftiest hopes of Princeton fans. The sophomore scored 28 points on 16 shooting possessions (5-for-7 from three) and added seven steals, leading the Tigers to a comeback win over Stony Brook.
- Brown — The Bears’ performance against American on Wednesday showed the importance of pace-adjusting stats: They allowed 66 points, which marked the second-fewest of their eight D-I games to that point … but actually the second-most on a per-possession basis.
- Penn — Are things looking up in Philadelphia? The Quakers snapped their winless streak with comfortable victories over Navy and Binghamton, and freshman Mike Auger may return soon, per City of Basketball Love.
- Dartmouth — The Big Green held a seven-point lead over Longwood with less than a minute remaining; per KenPom.com, their win probability was about 99%. Yet Dartmouth still lost in regulation, thanks to three empty one-and-ones and two poorly timed fouls.