Ivy League Weekly Roundup: A Nightmare Start

This is a pretty depressing week to have an Ivy League Weekly Roundup column. We entered the preseason with hopes of a multi-team title race, star power throughout the conference, and realistic chances for quality wins. But on the first day of basketball, the league lost three potential All-Ivy candidates — one indefinitely, one for the season, and one for good. That set the stage for a weekend in which the Ancient Eight nearly went winless in D-I play, an inauspicious start to the season.

The Ivy League isn’t alone. Friday’s top games nationally were Texas A&M-West Virginia, which had two key players suspended, and Georgia Tech-UCLA, which was overshadowed by alleged NCAA violations, LaVar Ball and Louis Vuitton. The biggest college basketball story throughout the season will be an FBI investigation. Sports are never just about actual sports, but it feels especially so right now.

Three Thoughts:

1. Yale should still reach The Palestra, but it’s probably no longer a title contender. Makai Mason will miss at least the first six weeks of the season with a new foot injury. Jordan Bruner is out for the year after tearing his meniscus in a preseason scrimmage. Without two of their top three-ish players for the forseeable future, the Bulldogs have lost their preseason luster.

Mason is on a timeline to make it back for Ivy League play, but given his setbacks so far, it’s hard to be optimistic about a quick return. And though the senior was a top Player of the Year candidate, Bruner might have been an even bigger loss: Without one of the league’s top shot-blockers under the rim, Yale allowed Creighton and Wisconsin to shoot a combined 43-53 at the rim en route to 1.23 points per possession apiece.

Even without a natural point guard, Yale should still have a solid offense, especially with Blake Reynolds showing signs of a breakout season. But Reynolds isn’t a shot-blocker, and unless Paul Atkinson rapidly climbs up the proverbial learning curve, the Bulldogs don’t have anyone to defend the paint.

2. Dartmouth looked okay without Evan Boudreaux. Not ‘good’, but ‘okay’. A day after the star forward announced he would sit out this season to play the next two years as a grad transfer, Dartmouth lost in overtime at Quinnipiac, about what would have been expected anyway. Don’t look at the Big Green’s poor rebounding on Saturday and assume Boudreaux would have been the answer — Quinnipiac has been one of the nation’s top offensive rebounding teams for a decade. Dartmouth’s ceiling is lower now (it’s hard to see a realistic path to the Ivy tournament), but its experienced backcourt looked good enough to keep the team competitive.

3. Prospects are brighter on the women’s side. Columbia (at Providence) and Dartmouth (vs. Boston College) earned wins over power-conference opponents, albeit ones traditionally near the bottom of their leagues. Princeton hammered George Washington, a perennial top-100 team. Defending champion Penn doesn’t take the court until Wednesday, but its schedule ramps up starting on Thanksgiving with games against Georgia Tech, No. 6 Notre Dame, Villanova and possibly No. 3 Baylor. Of 20 finalists for the top power forward in the nation, three hail from Ivy schools.

And-Ones: Yale is heading to China in 12 months. Rio Haskett celebrates. Cody Toppert (Cornell ’05) is a G-League head coach. Penn’s first #35 ever. The @DartmouthMBK account is back in midseason form. A nation-wide scoring record. Jim Engles: “I looked around and was like, damn there’s a lot of people here.” The dream of the seven-way Ivy football tie is now dead.

Weekly Awards:

Player of the Week: Bryce Aiken, Harvard — Harvard-UMass games are always exciting, and this year was no exception: Minutemen guard Luwane Pipkins hit two bonkers, game-tying three-pointers at the end of regulation and again in overtime. After the first, Aiken missed an open layup that would have won the game — only to make a much more difficult clincher five minutes later. The shot capped a 30-point performance in which Aiken was the Crimson’s only consistent scorer and playmaker.

Rookie of the Week: Jimmy Boeheim, Cornell — Boeheim had an up-and-down debut, taking a team-high 13 shots but only making four. The first was the only one anyone will remember, however — a three-pointer at the Carrier Dome, in front of his father’s bench, to open his college career:

Play of the Week: We might not see a more beautiful BLOB all season than this pinpoint alley-oop from Rio Haskett to Chris Lewis:

The Week Ahead: Princeton plays two of the week’s top games, hosting BYU on Wednesday night (though the Cougars are without a top player in Nick Emery) before visiting St. Joseph’s on Saturday. Penn gets its first Big 5 test against La Salle before hosting frisky Navy. Harvard visits new nemesis Holy Cross (which owns a bizarre three-game win streak over the Crimson), while Yale (at Albany) and Columbia (at Penn State) play big games Friday night.

Power Rankings:

  1. Harvard — If Chris Lewis had instead chosen to attend MIT, one of his other finalists, Harvard might well have suffered a Black Line Upset on Friday. Lewis, a proud robotics enthusiast, had 13 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and two assists in a game that was as close as four points in the final two minutes. Lewis was also excellent against UMass (15 points, three blocks, two steals), and he’s every bit as essential to the Crimson as Aiken is.
  2. Princeton — A 10-point loss at Butler isn’t concerning on its own — that described basically every big non-conference game the Tigers played last year, when they went 14-0 in Ivy play — but Sunday’s details were not so good. Princeton wasted a 9-for-15 three-point shooting night because it leaked 1.25 points per possession, unthinkable for a team that relied on its defense a year ago. It’s not surprising that the Tigers were rusty on switches and rotations (which are essential to their scheme without a strong rim protector) but they were consistently burned on even 1-on-1 situations, especially their highly touted rookies.
  3. Yale — Oddly Yale’s ordinal position hasn’t changed in my rankings, but it’s now in a virtual tie for fourth rather than first. At least Sam Downey is still optimistic about the frontcourt.
  4. Penn — After all the offseason drama about lineup changes, the majority of this game featured a lineup that could have come straight from last winter. The Brodeur-Rothschild tandem frontcourt experiment didn’t last past the first media timeout of each half, and Antonio Woods started but saw only eight minutes. Steve Donahue will keep tinkering against different matchups, but it doesn’t appear he’s found the magic key yet.
  5. Columbia — Mike Smith was electric at times against Villanova, but he needed 21 shots to get his 19 points and three assists. Though Smith is the engine of Columbia’s offense, he hasn’t been effective when shooting so much; he needs help from players like Kyle Castlin, who was effective in his return.
  6. Cornell — Players not named Matt Morgan shot 10-43 from the floor in a blowout loss at Syracuse, including only two threes. Morgan didn’t have a great night either, aside from a couple classic long-range shots that fell, but he’ll need more help even on his best days.
  7. Brown — The Bears shot just 23% on threes, one of few possible takeaways from a D-III laugher. We’ll learn more when they visit Quinnipiac this evening.
  8. Dartmouth — Chris Knight could be a game-changer for the Big Green defensively. The rookie blocked four shots in just 18 minutes (though he picked up four fouls along the way), adding nine points and five rebounds.

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