Ivy League Preseason Rankings, Awards Forecasts

This is the tightest race at the top that I can remember entering a season. For me, it comes down to a toss-up between three body parts tugging in three different directions:

Preseason Rankings:

  1. Harvard (full preview): My gut says Harvard. This is the league’s deepest team, and its stars are on the steep phase of the learning curve. The pieces fit better than last year, when they were already title contenders. Plus, it’s Harvard, which for most of this decade has just had everything go right.
  2. Princeton (full preview): My brain says Princeton. Do the math: The Tigers lost two All-Ivy-caliber players; Harvard and Yale each lost one (though Yale gets another back). Is that difference enough to overcome the gap between 16-0 and 10-5 or 10-6 (including the Ivy tournament), with a similarly wide efficiency margin? Throw in a freshman class that projects as well as anyone’s and a program known for player development, and it’s logically hard to pick against Princeton.
  3. Yale (full preview): My heart says Yale. Between the Bulldogs’ talent, flair, and competition, they could have such a fun season. There are reasons for skepticism, but then I step back and look at the players in this lineup — Mason, Oni, Bruner, Copeland, and some interesting rookies — and feel silly not picking them. (Update: With Bruner out for the season and Mason sidelined indefinitely, the Bulldogs are tougher to judge. Without Bruner, they’re a clear tier below the top two. Even without Mason, I’d still have them in the top four somewhere.)
  4. Penn (full preview): Penn has a lot of questions in its rotation, and I suspect its starting lineup will once again change several times between November and March. But the Quakers should have enough depth and talent to get back to the Ivy League Tournament.
  5. Columbia (full preview): Jim Engles has a lot of options to play with, especially in the backcourt. A deep freshman class will likely determine whether the Lions take a step forward or backward from last year’s fifth-place finish.
  6. Cornell (full preview): We would have the Big Red one spot higher if we knew they were whole. But Stone Gettings has been limited this preseason, and others have been in and out of health trouble. I would like to see what Brian Earl can do with a full team in his second season as head coach, but I fear it’ll be another injury-marred year.
  7. Dartmouth (full preview): The Big Green’s path to success this season is to outscore everybody. Evan Boudreaux and a few shooters will give them a chance, but we haven’t seen this Dartmouth core put it all together. (Update: Without Boudreaux, slide Dartmouth down to eighth, although they’ll still have a chance to be feisty.)
  8. Brown (full preview): It’s been a while since the Ivy League has seen a truly impact transfer, but the Bears need to hope they have one in highly touted Zach Hunsaker. Obi Okolie will miss at least the opening weekend with a foot injury, further hurting a Brown team that is short on returning talent.

Player of the Year: Makai Mason, Yale

Despite injury questions, Makai Mason is our pick to be Ivy League Player of the Year. (Photo via Yale Athletics)

It’s a gamble picking someone with injury questions for the league’s top honor. After missing his junior season with a foot injury, we still haven’t seen him fully healthy — he sat out the team’s Blue Madness scrimmage and said he was doing “about half the reps” in practice. There’s a chance that lingering issues derail his comeback (and if so, likely Yale’s championship hopes as well). (Update: Mason is out indefinitely from Opening Day.)

But as long as he’s on the court, Mason will be one of the league’s top players. He’s already the most famous, landing on NBC Sports’ mid-major All-America third team and topping many other Ivy awards projections. Mason memorably scored 31 points in Yale’s first NCAA tournament victory ever (over Baylor, a perennial top-25 team for whom he’ll play next year). Before that, he averaged 16 points and three assists in Ivy play; he was even better against major-conference competition, averaging 17 and five over four such regular-season games.

Plus, Mason is undeniably tough — recall how he excelled after taking an elbow to the head in the 2015 playoff, and hit a hobbled game-tying jumper as a sophomore to keep Yale in first place down the stretch. Even if he’s less than 100%, he’ll find ways to be effective.

First Team All-Ivy:

  • Makai Mason, Yale
  • Myles Stephens, Princeton
  • Bryce Aiken, Harvard
  • AJ Brodeur, Penn
  • Matt Morgan, Cornell

If Myles Stephens continues to be a go-to scorer, as he was down the stretch last year, he might be the league’s best player. Defense should keep him in this group even if his offense slips from that level. Bryce Aiken already owns some hardware, having won Rookie of the Year honors in a crowded field. He’ll now be on the ball full-time, so expect his counting stats to rise accordingly. AJ Brodeur’s move to power forward raises all sorts of questions: Will he overpower smaller defenders, or will he struggle with a more crowded paint? Can he chase quicker players around the perimeter? The sophomore is talented enough to make it work, no matter what position he plays. Matt Morgan is uniquely gifted at scoring on high usage, and he might be asked to use that skill even more this season.

Second Team All-Ivy:

  • Evan Boudreaux, Dartmouth
  • Devin Cannady, Princeton
  • Miye Oni, Yale
  • Seth Towns, Harvard
  • Mike Smith, Columbia

Evan Boudreaux has drawn the short end of the awards stick so far, as he was probably the last cut from the All-Ivy first team in each of his first two seasons. His 15 double-doubles last year were the most for an Ivy player since at least 2011 (per the Basketball-Reference Play Index). (Friday update: He’ll sit out this season, in hopes of grad transferring with two seasons of eligibility.) Devin Cannady is matched only by Morgan in his ability to get hot from everywhere on the court. He’s been an insanely efficient scorer in his first two seasons, thanks to 43% career shooting on threes, but he’ll rue one miss in the waning seconds that could have beaten Notre Dame in last year’s NCAA tournament. Miye Oni lit up NBA radars at the Nike Skills Academy this summer. Few Ivy wings can match his length, athleticism or fearless shooting, never mind all three at once. Seth Towns has also been mentioned in the same breath as the NBA, thanks to his 6-7 frame and ability to drive or shoot. His offensive potential is limitless, but he’ll need to improve the other half of his game, especially on help defense. Mike Smith started every game at the point as a freshman, and his 3.5 full-season assists per game are tops among Ivy returnees. Smith, listed at a generous 5-11, saw his efficiency fall as he was asked to do more in league play, but he should be back with adjustments this season.

Also considered: Chris Lewis, Harvard; Amir Bell, Princeton; Joshua Howard, Brown; Ryan Betley, Penn

Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Stephens, Princeton

Stephens was the anchor of the league’s top defense a year ago, and there’s no reason to expect much different this season. He held his own while guarding players of all sizes, keying Princeton’s aggressive, switching style team-wide. Stephens’ length makes him a legit shot-blocker at only 6-5, and expect his rebounding rate to increase this season with the graduation of the Tigers’ other leaders.

Also considered: Justin Bassey, Harvard; Chris Lewis, Harvard; AJ Brodeur, Penn

Rookie of the Year: Jaron Faulds, Columbia

Full disclosure: We’ve been forecasting this award for three years now, and none of the players we’ve picked have come close to winning. But Faulds, Columbia’s highest-rated recent recruit, has the mix of talent and opportunity required to post big rookie numbers. The Lions graduate four of the six big men who played much last year, leaving plenty of room in the frontcourt — and among them was top scorer Luke Petrasek, which means there will be more shots to go around. Faulds, a 6-10, 225-pound forward who enters a league that has generally been downsizing, could take advantage.

Also considered: Sebastian Much, Princeton; Paul Atkinson, Yale; Danilo Djuricic, Harvard; Rio Haskett, Harvard; Jerome Desrosiers, Princeton; Chris Knight, Dartmouth

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