Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Journey to The Palestra Begins

Last Week in the Ivy League: The #PathToThePalestra officially replaced the #14GameTournament. Favored Princeton and Harvard won their openers, but not without a bit of drama. Yale gets its start this week, making the league’s toughest road trip.

Three Thoughts:

1. Deep breath, Princeton. Saturday’s tilt at Jadwin Gym went exactly as Penn hoped. It was an ugly, defensive battle, in which even the victors shot 35% for less than a point per possession. Steven Cook, the Tigers’ top player to date, sat half the game with foul trouble and a twisted ankle. And Princeton’s second-half woes struck again, when a 39-18 lead vanished in less than nine minutes. Everything seemed ripe for Penn to avenge two close losses last year with a comeback that, while not quite Black Tuesday, would go down in the rivalry book.

But the Tigers bounced back, outscoring Penn 17-8 in the final seven minutes. Princeton’s frontcourt has struggled against some top players this year, but Pete Miller and others held AJ Brodeur to just six points and denied the Quakers easy shots inside. The hosts continued to miss threes (3-19 for the night) and other open shots, but while on the ropes in a tie game, they solved Penn’s 1-3-1 zone for the first time for a Devin Cannady jumper. Cannady also hit a back-breaking circus layup down the stretch:

2. Tommy Amaker is still toying with his lineup. Twelve players saw first-half action in Harvard’s Ivy League opener, suggesting that the Crimson’s rotation is still far from settled. Amaker pared it down to 7-9 in the second half with slightly better results, but any combination seemed good enough at Dartmouth on Saturday. (All 12 scored in the game, with none topping 14 points in a 74-58 win.) Chris Lewis led a dominant Crimson frontcourt, shooting 7-8 from the field on several pretty hook shots while adding two blocks and five rebounds. All in all, this was a ho-hum victory for Harvard.

3. I don’t like the new Ivy hoops hashtag. Hidden in the press release announcing the Ivy League basketball tournament was an easily overlooked statement: “The teams that finish with the best records from the 14-game, regular-season conference schedule will continue to be recognized as Ivy League champions.” As someone who feels the regular season really matters — and not just as a prelude to the postseason — I was happy to see that news. But the message is undercut by the #PathToThePalestra hashtag, which now looks like official league branding (replacing the outdated #14GameTournament).

This is a silly thing to complain about. But it speaks to a bigger hobby horse of mine, across all sports, that too much emphasis is placed on the postseason. The new hashtag isn’t wrong — regular-season games determine who makes the playoffs, which is a big deal. But to look ahead to March when it’s only January (or to tune out entirely, now that an NCAA bid isn’t directly on the line) is to reject the idea that regular-season games matter on their own merits. I believe they do, and I believe that outlook is more fun.

Weekly Awards:

Player of the Week: Darnell Foreman, Penn — Foreman came off the bench to keep Penn alive on Saturday, scoring or assisting half of the Quakers’ 52 points. His ability to push the pace caught the Tigers off guard, and he alone was able to consistently penetrate, finishing or finding open shooters. The junior created most of the points in Penn’s 26-5 second-half run, and he added seven rebounds.

Rookie of the Week: Justin Bassey, Harvard — With his classmates in the backcourt struggling, Bassey stepped up at Hanover on Saturday, matching a career high with 14 points. Already regarded as a top defender, Bassey added six rebounds, three assists and two steals on top of 6-9 shooting. He got those points in many ways, hitting outside shots, teaming up with Siyani Chambers on cuts and throwing down this dunk:

The Week Ahead: Four more teams make their conference debuts. Yale and Brown visit Penn and Princeton, which is once again the most difficult back-to-back road trip in the Ivy League. Even a split would be great for the Bulldogs (or Bears), who open with perhaps two of the three toughest league games. Elsewhere, Columbia visits Cornell in the first Ivy head coaching appearance for both Jim Engles and Brian Earl.

Power Rankings:

  1. Yale — The Bulldogs will step into the Princeton-Penn cauldron having played only one top-250 opponent in nearly six weeks. They’ve been impressive in the meantime, but this weekend presents a better test for a young team.
  2. Princeton — Games like Saturday’s matchup against Yale are where the Tigers will dearly miss Hans Brase. If the senior was healthy, he could have given Princeton versatility at the four or five; instead, the Tigers will have an undersized guard defending someone like 6’9” Jordan Bruner. They’ll need to make mismatches — and Yale’s inexperience — pay off on the other end.
  3. Harvard — After starting the year strong, Seth Towns is in a major slump. The rookie has posted an offensive rating above 100 just once since November, and he’s shot a combined 10-34 over the past four games. Towns still has a green light to shoot (a 28% usage rating), and he’ll need to keep playing minutes, especially against Ivy opponents with smaller lineups.
  4. Penn — After being forced to withdraw for a year due to academic issues, Antonio Woods is back at Penn for the coming semester, per an Instagram post last weekend. He said he will not play basketball this season, but the news puts him on track to return to the team next year and (more importantly) get his academic career in order.
  5. Columbia — I’m a few weeks late, but check out the Columbia Spectator’s story about Keemotion, a video technology service the Lions have been using under Jim Engles.
  6. Dartmouth — The Big Green’s defense was strong for 20 minutes, but it faltered in the second half, allowing 1.28 points per possession. Many of those came on uncontested dunks or layups at the rim, as Harvard’s guards and big men were able to beat their defenders with strong cuts.
  7. Brown — Expect some wild games from Brown in Ivy play. The Bears were on the wrong side of a 20-3 run that turned a close game into an NJIT blowout, until they cut a 16-point deficit to two in the final seven minutes. That comes not long after a back-and-forth Maine game in which Brown went from down 14 to up 10 within the second half.
  8. Cornell — Matt Morgan returned to action for the Big Red’s non-DI game against Fisher College, starting and playing normal minutes. That’s great news for Cornell, which needs their star sophomore for Ivy play starting this week.