Last Week in the Ivy League: Columbia got a huge sweep, moving solidly into the top four. Yale needed another exciting comeback to top Brown. AJ Brodeur led Penn to its first Big 5 win, closing non-conference play in the Ancient Eight.
1. #2BidIvy Watch is back! The Harvard women’s team swept Cornell and Columbia this weekend, extending its win streak to 16 games (16-1 overall). The Crimson entered the week 29th nationally in the RPI, which won’t necessarily fall in league play (the Ivy ranks 10th among conferences). If they can finish the season something like 24-3 (12-2 Ivy), they’ll have a strong at-large case.
And they might need it: Harvard hasn’t been dominant during their run — after a pair of one-possession wins this weekend, they actually have a worse average point differential than 7-9 Princeton and 10-6 Penn — so it’s not hard to imagine them falling in the first-ever conference tournament. (Jeff Sagarin’s ratings currently have Penn as only a half-point underdog in a hypothetical-but-plausible championship game at The Palestra.) It could mark the second straight year of #2BidIvy, albeit under very different circumstances.
2. Harvard was lucky to avoid a winless weekend in New York. The Crimson has swept its Empire State swing only once in the last four years (its peak year of 2014, and even that required overtime controversy). So it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that Harvard dropped Saturday’s game at Columbia despite cutting a 15-point halftime deficit to one possession. John has all the details from the Lions’ big win, which featured players who had been fairly quiet this year (Jeff Coby, Quinton Adlesh).
But even the night before, Harvard needed two big shots in the final minute to top Cornell. Brian Earl brought his anti-Harvard playbook over from Princeton, running backdoor cuts at every opportunity. Harvard’s high-pressure defense has always been susceptible to this action, but especially so when manned by a majority of freshmen: Backdoor passes were directly or indirectly responsible for 14 first-half points. Even after the Big Red slowed down, Harvard almost gave away its chance with a few unforced turnovers down the stretch — but Justin Bassey’s three-pointer gave the visitors a lead for good.
3. Is Penn back? The Quakers beat La Salle, a fringe top-100 team per KenPom, to snap a four-game losing streak. But they’re still 0-3 in the Ivy League, needing to rally this month to have a chance at making the four-team playoff. Penn’s midweek performance was encouraging — especially a transcendent game from AJ Brodeur (see below) — but not without caveats: The Explorers were without starting point guard Pookie Powell, one reason they struggled to 17 turnovers against Penn’s 1-3-1 zone. Even so, they found plenty of open three-pointers, most of which missed. La Salle’s defense has been poor all year, so the Quakers (and especially Brodeur) can’t count on scoring so well against Ivy competition.
Player/Rookie of the Week: AJ Brodeur, Penn — The Explorers left Broder single-covered for much of Wednesday night, and he responded with a career-best performance: 35 points on 22 shooting possessions, six rebounds, and three blocks. (And “only” one assist, although he all but deserved another on one first-half possession, when two help defenders were so scared of Brodeur’s rim run that they left Ryan Betley wide open for a layup.) Brodeur showed some new versatility, hitting three treys and pump-faking a defender to the moon before driving for an easy layup. He scored 13 straight Penn points in the second half, avoiding a Penn collapse when his teammates struggled.
Play of the Week: I’d planned to use one of Brodeur’s moves, but since the A-10 doesn’t seem to make game replays available, let’s go with this backdoor cut and dunk from Lukas Meisner:
Lukas Meisner! Elevation! Game tied at 20-20! pic.twitter.com/glHzmTeVXm
— Columbia Basketball (@CULionsMBB) January 29, 2017
The Week Ahead: Our first full weekend of back-to-back action across the league. The best game takes place at Harvard, where Princeton will try to win for the first time in seven years — with the bitter taste of last year’s defeat still fresh in mind. Friday night is headlined by Columbia-Yale, another shot for the Lions to make a big statement. But their date with Brown the following night might have even bigger implications in the race to make the Ivy League Tournament.
- Princeton (3-0) — The Princeton women have made six out of the last seven NCAA tournaments, so it’s surprising to see them (slightly) outside the top four seeds at this moment, having lost two of their first three games at home. The Tigers should still qualify for the Ivy playoff rather if they play up to their talent going forward (thanks to losses by Brown and Cornell this week, every team besides Harvard and Penn has at least two defeats), but at this point it’s no guarantee.
- Yale (3-1) — What struck me most about Yale’s game-winning 20-1 run against Brown was the emotion with which they played. (Check out the reactions to Miye Oni’s tie-breaking dunk below.) The Bulldogs fed off an electric atmosphere at John J. Lee Amphitheater on Friday, but they’ve done that in all sorts of venues this year, in part because they rely so heavily on momentum-boosting plays — including three blocks, two steals, two three-pointers and a drawn charge during that six-minute run.
— #IvyMadness (@Ivy_Basketball) January 28, 2017
- Harvard (3-1) — The Crimson’s freshmen have stolen the spotlight, but they can thank another underclassman for keeping them alive this weekend. Corey Johnson scored 17 points against the Big Red (including four two-pointers, nearly doubling his season total), then added 21 on 7-14 long-range shooting at Columbia. Ryan Wittman’s Ivy record of 377 career three-pointers is probably out of reach, but with 120 through 1.5-ish seasons, Johnson is on pace to pass Laurent Rivard for second place (and Harvard’s record).
- Columbia (3-1) — The Lions are riding high right now, but we saw a hot start coming thanks to their schedule. After staying at home next weekend, Columbia will close the season with six of eight games on the road (and the others against Princeton and Penn), where it will be much harder to earn a trip to the Ivy League Tournament.
- Penn (0-3) — Penn’s women lost to Temple on Wednesday, finishing the season winless in the Big 5 — a bit shocking after they won their first-ever city title just two years ago. The Quakers have had a rough non-conference slate, but they’re 3-0 in Ivy play and a real threat to repeat as champions.
- Brown (1-3) — In contrast to Columbia, the Bears have played by far the league’s toughest opening schedule (at Penn and Princeton, and home-and-home with Yale). Even a split in New York next week would leave them lurking in a nasty position, with a surging offense and six of eight games at home down the stretch.
- Cornell (2-2) — Down by two points with a seven-second gap between the game and shot clocks, Brian Earl decided not to foul Harvard on Friday night, ultimately getting burned by Bryce Aiken’s jumper. It would have been a questionable decision in any circumstances, but especially given the offense-dominated game and an opponent whose guards are especially good in isolation. (I was surprised given that Earl spent the last few years as an assistant under Mitch Henderson, one of the league’s most aggressive end-game foulers.) Tommy Amaker made a similar decision at Columbia the following night, although his almost turned out much better.
- Dartmouth (0-4) — Dartmouth’s women’s team fell to Columbia in four overtimes on Friday night — the longest game in Ivy women’s history, and the longest on either side since Princeton beat Cornell in five overtimes in 1979.