Last Week in the Ivy League: Yale survived a scare from its travel partner, while Columbia wasn’t so lucky. Harvard kept rolling with a strong second half. The Bulldogs have strong opinions about Russell Westbrook. I joined Ivy Hoops Online’s podcast.
1. Miye Oni will be giving Ivy coaches nightmares for the next 3.5 years. Just like last week, Oni shook off a slow start to become a second-half killer. The rookie drilled four three-pointers in the final four minutes, going shot-for-fearless-shot with Steven Spieth down the stretch of a thrilling Friday night game.
— IvyLeagueDigitalNet (@IvyLeagueNet) January 21, 2017
Yale coach James Jones might not be immune from those nightmares: After his fourth trey, Oni celebrated by jawing at Brown coach Mike Martin, drawing a technical foul. Not only did that knock Oni out of the game, it allowed Brown to overcome a four-point deficit in the final seconds, capped by Spieth’s seventh three-pointer. Alex Copeland bailed out his teammate by drawing a touch foul and making the game-winning free throw.
2. The Columbia bandwagon hits a Big Red roadblock. The Lions’ win at Cornell last week, combined with Penn’s struggles, seemed to give them the inside track on a top-half finish. But Columbia dropped the return at Levien Gym. It was a classic travel-partner rematch, in that both teams made adjustments: The Lions’ zone tightened, forcing nearly a turnover per minute in the first half; the Big Red shored up its defense in the paint. Neither team came close to a point per possession, a mark they surpassed easily in the first meeting.
Both teams are squarely in the playoff hunt at 1-1, and they have four home games coming up. But they’ll need to improve, because neither looked the part of a top-four team Saturday.
3. From a postseason perspective, Penn was the weekend’s biggest winner. If a couple shots fell differently, the Quakers could have fallen two games behind both Brown and Columbia, their likely competition for fourth place. Instead, Penn is back to being roughly a co-favorite for that slot, depending on whose model you believe. But the Quakers, losers of four straight, have to turn their season around.
Player of the Week: Steven Spieth, Brown — Spieth kept the hosts in a close game down the stretch, scoring Brown’s final 13 points, including a game-tying three with seven seconds remaining. That gave him a career-high 33 in total, including seven three-pointers. The senior ranks among the Ivy’s top ten in points, assists, rebounds and steals, and he threw in an all-time backhanded compliment to his older brother (“great athlete — if you want to call golfers athletes”) in a fun ESPN.com feature last week.
Rookie of the Week: Mike Smith, Columbia — Smith chopped his long locks before Saturday’s game against Cornell, which was almost unfair — he was perhaps the league’s fastest player even when his hair was dragging him down. He’s averaged 17 ppg over the last month, and more impressively for a freshman, he’s dished 26 assists with only six turnovers. Smith scored a career-high 24 points on Saturday, often by speeding by everyone else on the court:
— Kevin Whitaker (@whitakk) January 23, 2017
Play of the Week: Jordan Bruner’s massive block down the stretch at Brown (right after Miye Oni’s big shot):
— #IvyMadness (@Ivy_Basketball) January 21, 2017
The Week Ahead: Penn wraps up the Ancient Eight’s non-conference schedule, hosting La Salle on Wednesday. Half of the league plays its first back-to-back weekend in New York, headlined by Harvard’s visit to Columbia on Saturday. Yale plays Brown on a second straight Friday night, hosting the rematch.
- Princeton (3-0) — Princeton closed the Yale game with a super-small lineup of five guards/wings, and I’d expect to see that in close finishes going forward. The Tigers need to keep giving minutes to true centers to keep everyone else fresh, but the five-out lineups get their best players on the floor, and are perhaps a solution to Princeton’s early issues closing out games.
- Harvard (2-0) — The Crimson completed a comfortable sweep of Dartmouth, behind a combined 34 points off the bench from Seth Towns and Zena Edosomwan. Does that say more about the Crimson or the Big Green? We’ll start to learn this week.
- Yale (2-1) — Sam Downey led Yale with 26 points and 13 rebounds, taking advantage of a mismatch against the smaller Bears. The senior has continued to score efficiently in a bigger role this year, making 52% of his two-point shots, and no player in the league is better at making infuriating, contested post floaters look easy.
- Penn (0-3) — After a 78-71 loss to St. Joseph’s on Saturday, Steve Donahue said that two positions in his starting lineup are up for grabs. That’s perhaps rare this late in the season, but consistent with the Quakers’ rotation thus far — they’ve used seven starting lineups, second-most behind Harvard in the Ivy League.
- Columbia (1-1) — Luke Petrasek has been a streaky scorer throughout his career. After dropping a season-high 31 points last weekend, he managed just eight at home against the same Cornell team, missing all six three-pointers.
- Brown (1-2) — Brown plays at a fast pace, and it has the nation’s top free-throw rate. That’s dangerous for thin Ivy opponents that can’t afford foul trouble — perhaps including Yale for this week’s rematch.
- Cornell (1-1) — Jordan Majewski (a must-follow for mid-major hoops) floated the theory that Cornell is better without Robert Hatter, one I’ve also seen elsewhere. Recall that last season, the Big Red had its best Ivy weekend with Hatter sidelined. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but he needs to stop gunning from outside — there’s no reason for a career 30% three-point shooter to take five per game.
- Dartmouth (0-2) — The schedule does Dartmouth no favors this year. After starting with a home-and-home against Harvard, the Big Green plays four of its next six on the road, hosting only Princeton and Penn. KenPom now gives Dartmouth a 2.7% chance of finishing winless in Ivy play — still small, but notable in a league that hasn’t had an 0-14 team since Columbia in 2003.