Half the league picked up their first wins, but 10 days into the season, no team is above .500 in D-I play. Inside this week: Two weird losing streaks continue, scorers keep scoring, and Penn fans demand cheesesteaks.
1. The Ivy favorites met their kryptonites once again. The Penn women’s basketball team went 13-1 in Ivy play last year, 22-8 overall, and would have reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament if not for an all-time collapse; Binghamton finished fifth in the America East and ranked around the 200s nationally by most advanced metrics. So, in retrospect, one of the strangest results of the season was the Bearcats’ 61-48 win over the Quakers — at The Palestra, no less — in mid-November.
Penn, once again the Ivy League favorite this season, was out for revenge at Binghamton in its season opener — but it ended the same way, a 77-72 Bearcats victory. The Quakers’ normally stout defense surrendered 1.12 points per possession due largely to 22 offensive rebounds. Penn recovered to beat Lafayette on Saturday, but with Georgia Tech and possibly Baylor lurking in a Thanksgiving tournament in the Bahamas, the Quakers could be in for another lackluster non-conference season overall.
Harvard, the favorite on the men’s side, continued an even longer-running streak with its fourth straight loss to Holy Cross. The Crimson was doomed by a 33% turnover rate, but this wasn’t like three years ago when the Crusaders simply stole the ball time after time; their pressure helped throw Harvard off a bit on Thursday, but most of the turnovers came from simply sloppy play. That’s a sign of correctible errors for the Crimson, not a deeper inability to handle pressure — as proven at Manhattan two days later.
(Over the last one-plus seasons, Harvard’s highest turnover rates have come against Holy Cross, Holy Cross, Princeton and Princeton. On a related note, Holy Cross is coached by former Princeton coaches Bill Carmody and Joe Scott…)
2. Stars are shining on the women’s side. Home games against top competition are a rarity, and Brown guard Shayna Mehta made the most of her chance on Sunday. Against Cal, an NCAA Tournament team last year that was picked fifth in the Pac-12 preseason poll, Mehta dropped a career-high 33 points (including nine three-pointers, tied for the most in the nation this season) helping the Bears stay close in an 89-79 loss. Mehta is no stranger to big games, having taken over a de facto postseason play-in game at Cornell in March, one of her 14 career games with 20+ points.
Camille Zimmerman became Columbia’s all-time leading scorer this season, and the senior still has at least 25 games left to rise up the Ivy record books. At her current rate of 22.8 points per game (in line with last season’s average), Zimmerman would finish her career comfortably in fourth place on the Ancient Eight’s all-time scoring leaderboard with around 2,090 points. Throw in a late-season scoring surge — or an appearance in the Ivy League Tournament — and she could pass Harvard’s Hana Peljto for third, though the top two (Penn’s Diana Caramanico and Harvard’s Allison Feaster) are out of reach.
3. Yale is still on track for another top-half finish. Ray wrote this after seeing the Bulldogs lose a close game at Albany, and I’ll second his point here. After seeing blowout losses to Creighton and Wisconsin last weekend — admittedly great teams — it was understandable to wonder if they would even be good this season without Jordan Bruner and potentially Makai Mason. But Yale made its case emphatically on Monday, blowing out South Carolina State 86-54.
Yes, South Carolina State is terrible, and the Bulldogs were playing at home. But beating any D-I opponent by 30 points shows talent. Since 2010-11, 28 Ivy teams have won games by 30+ points, and only four of them finished in the bottom half of the league:
And-ones: Meet Penn’s newest recruit: 12-year-old Tommy Johnston. Penn fans kept making halfcourt shots, but they were very disappointed to miss out on free cheesesteaks. The “Good Lions” fell to the Nittany Lions after hanging close at halftime. Eight under-the-radar players to watch. Princeton’s women’s soccer team beat No. 1-seed UNC to reach the final eight, and two Ivy men’s teams reached the second round. “The Game” was televised on CNBC, because of course.
Player of the Week: Matt Morgan, Cornell — Morgan did what he does best: 26 points against Binghamton, 23 at Colgate, 25 at UMass Lowell. The Big Red won only the first game, but that can hardly be blamed on the star junior, who had an offensive rating above 100 in each contest and totaled 10 assists against five turnovers. Morgan is uniquely talented at scoring in high volume, so expect more 20+ point performances in his future.
Rookie of the Week: Desmond Cambridge, Brown — Cambridge scored 12 points in the Bears’ victory at Quinnipiac, following up with 10 at St. Francis Brooklyn on Sunday. Overall, it’s been an underwhelming start for the Ivy League’s rookie class, but Cambridge and several others will have opportunities to break out going forward.
Play of the Week: Yale’s injuries have made Miye Oni more of a target for opposing defenses, so I really liked this set that got Oni a wide-open three from the corner, where he’s especially dangerous (clip via ESPN3):
— Kevin Whitaker (@whitakk) November 20, 2017
The Week Ahead: It’s a holiday week, which means MTE season. Harvard faces stiff competition in the Wooden Legacy, starting with No. 22 St. Mary’s in the first round Thursday (ESPNNews). The Gulf Coast Showcase isn’t as strong, but Penn could draw interesting tests against Towson or Missouri State in later rounds. Yale-Vermont and Penn-Monmouth headline an intriguing Saturday slate.
- Harvard — Rookie Danilo Djuricic was one of the Crimson’s few bright spots against Holy Cross, finishing with 14 points, seven rebounds and five blocks. If that rim protection holds up throughout the season, he (especially when paired with Robert Baker) gives Harvard a credible Plan B up front when Chris Lewis sits.
- Princeton — In a disappointing loss at St. Joseph’s on Saturday, all Tigers besides Cannady/Bell/Stephens totaled eight points on 3-20 shooting (2-15 from three, zero free throws), seven rebounds and little else, while contributing to an ugly 1.18 points per possession allowed. Their shooting will improve, but if Princeton’s role players are going to be mere spot-up shooters and defend poorly, it will be a very grueling season for the top three.
- Yale — With absences taking a toll on the Bulldogs’ depth, I was surprised to see their bench account for more than half their points in Tuesday’s blowout win. Noah Yates, a former Yale football player-turned-undersized big man, had a career-high 16 points with four treys.
- Penn — “Max Rothschild: 6-19” is a stat line I did not expect to see this season. Only eight Ivy players took 19 shots in any game last year, and they were the league’s top scorers: Morgan, Boudreuax, Weisz, Cannady, Aiken, Downey, Brodeur, and Mike Smith. Granted, Rothschild had two overtime periods, but all but two shots came in regulation as La Salle’s defense sold out to stop AJ Brodeur. Rothschild isn’t a good enough player to thrive on that level of usage, and he looked fatigued after playing the entire second half and most of the overtimes, getting three of his last four shots blocked.
- Columbia — Mike Smith has taken at least 21 shots in two of Columbia’s first three games, something only four other players in America have done. Smith is the Lions’ centerpiece now — and his stats are boosted by Jim Engles’ fast-paced system — but he hasn’t shown he can handle that level of shot volume; he made only seven baskets in each of those games, finishing with an offensive rating well below 100.
- Cornell — UMass Lowell’s 1.29 ppp against Cornell on Sunday was its fifth-highest total in five years of D-I play. The Big Red’s offense can be fun, but it’s not going to win many games with defense.
- Brown — Zach Hunsaker was a leading shooter in junior college last year, but he’s missed 12 straight threes, including bagels in both D-I games thus far. Hunsaker has shown other solid skills, but outside shooting could kick the Bears’ offense to a new gear.
- Dartmouth — Ray broke down the Big Green’s life after Evan Boudreaux, including the space it opened for Chris Knight, one of the few bright spots so far among Ivy freshmen.