Inside this week: The Ivy League went 0-7 on Saturday, including losses to nationally ranked Kentucky, Miami and TCU. Harvard’s up-and-down season continued, while Columbia took two strong opponents to the wire. And non-conference play is going much better for the Ivy women.
1. It’s time to pay attention to Columbia. Despite going 0-2, the Lions had perhaps the best week of any Ivy League team so far, forcing overtime at UConn and then taking Albany to the wire upstate. As befitting their deep roster, the Lions’ heroes varied: Wednesday it was Lukas Meisner, blowing past his career high with 25 points in transition and from outside while adding 11 rebounds and four assists against the Huskies. Saturday it was rookie center Jaron Faulds, beating Albany’s front line for 17 points with size and touch, as well as star point guard Mike Smith, who hit several big threes en route to a career-high 27 points.
Columbia’s 1-6 record is unimpressive, but the Lions have played all seven games on the road thus far, including four against top-100 opponents. With five of their next six at home, all against below-average teams, Columbia’s fortunes should turn. At this point, they still look like the fifth-best team competing for four playoff spots, but the Lions are a serious contender.
2. Oh, Harvard. The Crimson’s rough start continued with a 16-point loss at Northeastern, which is a good mid-major but hardly outstanding. Despite heroics from Bryce Aiken and Chris Lewis, their teammates combined for 15 points, while the Huskies scored 1.22 points per possession. Saturday’s loss at Kentucky dropped the Crimson to 3-6 with three sub-200 losses, a record we haven’t seen from an eventual Ivy champion in quite some time. Both major projection systems have Harvard ranked fourth in the Ivy League, behind Yale, Penn and Princeton in some order (T-Rank actually has Penn first).
Yet, the Crimson’s visit to Lexington also showed their potential. Harvard was competitive through 30 minutes until a 13-0 Wildcats run, and a late rally pulled the Crimson within 79-70 at the buzzer. Seth Towns looked like his star reputation, scoring 25 points. Harvard finally made some threes — though they still sit a tick below 30 percent for the season — boosting an offense that increasingly relies on outside shots.
So although they’ve lost nine of their last 11 D-I games, dating back to the end of last season, it’s hard to give up on the idea of the Crimson as Ivy favorites — especially since the other top contenders have their own issues.
3. The Ivy League women are off to a much better start. While the Ancient Eight men went 0-7 this weekend, their counterparts were 6-1. Their success isn’t limited to traditional powers: Brown won the Rhode Island state tournament, and earlier in the week Columbia got its first ACC victory ever. Halfway through non-conference play, the Ivy League ranks ninth nationally in the Sagarin efficiency ratings, with Brown joining Princeton in the top 100 and just one team outside the top 200.
And-ones: #IvyMadness tickets are on sale. Evan Boudreaux is visiting big-time schools. Carlie Littlefield pulls the off-the-back BLOB. Big 5 or Philly Six? National Signing Day gets earlier and earlier. Bill Bradley talks taxes. A game-winning own basket to clinch this season’s biggest upset yet.
Player of the Week: Matt Morgan, Cornell — Morgan had what by now feels like a carbon copy of previous weeks: 24 points in a win at Duquesne; 24 more in a loss at Northeastern. In a feat as impressive as it is quirky, Morgan has scored between 23 and 26 points in each of his last six games. Just as importantly, he’s had an offensive rating above 110 in every one, pulling the Big Red to a 3-3 record in that span despite defensive struggles.
Rookie of the Week: Desmond Cambridge, Brown — Cambridge scored 16 points at Rhode Island and a team-high 17 against Central Connecticut this week, though the Bears lost both games. Cambridge has been the biggest beneficiary of Mike Martin’s up-tempo, perimeter-oriented offense, taking at least 10 shots in all but one game this year — more than half from three-point range — and averaging 14 ppg.
Play of the Week: This broken play wasn’t exactly pretty, but Brendan Barry made the most of it:
— Dartmouth M Hoops (@DartmouthMBK) November 29, 2017
The Week Ahead: Columbia kicks off its long homestand with three games, including a local clash against Stony Brook on Thursday night. Brown makes its annual cross-town trip to Providence on Wednesday, one of five games that all have some intrigue. Yale’s visit to St. Bonaventure, which just got star point guard Jaylen Adams back from injury, headlines a quiet weekend as finals season begins.
- Harvard — With Towns and Lewis having streaky seasons, playmaking duties often fall solely on Aiken. The sophomore has the league’s highest usage rate in D-I play (31.2 percent). Poor three-point shooting has held down his numbers, but that trend should revert through the season, especially if he cuts down a bit on tough, off-the-dribble shots.
- Yale — Usually, teams that suffer multiple injuries have to run a very thin rotation (like Princeton last year), because they aren’t deep enough to backfill their bench with talented players. But the Bulldogs have still gotten decent production from their reserves — especially in Wednesday’s win over Bryant, in which Yale’s bench outscored the Bulldogs’ 21-3.
- Princeton — Will Gladson made his season debut in a loss at Lehigh on Wednesday — but in the very next game at Miami, he landed awkwardly after a hook shot and left the game favoring his braced right knee. Gladson gave the Tigers nice part-time minutes as a rookie, and though he hasn’t yet been an efficient scorer, Princeton could really use his size in some matchups if health allows.
- Penn — The Quakers came one Donte DiVincenzo fingertip away from holding Villanova without a single offensive rebound in 27 chances. For the season, Penn has allowed just a 22 percent offensive rebound rate (19th nationally), the clearest strength of its two-big lineup.
- Columbia — Gabe Stefanini had a breakout game at Albany, scoring 11 points with seven rebounds and three assists. The Italian guard joins Faulds, Tai Bibbs and Myles Hanson in a rookie core that should keep the Lions relevant for the next four years.
- Cornell — Juco transfer Steven Julian has taken less than 10 percent of Cornell’s shots while on the floor, one of the league’s lowest rates. But he makes those shots count:
— Cornell Big Red (@CornellSports) November 28, 2017
- Brown — The Bears have, a bit surprisingly, gotten very little from their frontcourt recently. Travis Fuller, Joshua Howard and Matt DeWolf combined for 14 total points in two games this week, and they helped allow 15 offensive rebounds (a 47 percent rate) in an ugly home loss to Central Connecticut.
- Dartmouth — Sophomore James Foye played 12 minutes on Tuesday without a single shot, rebound, assist or anything else – the Ivy League’s largest trillion since 2011-12. That one also came from the Big Green, a 13-trillion score line by Mack McKearney in a loss to Harvard.