Inside this week: The results were rather boring, as home favorites rolled throughout the league. But here are three thoughts on how it transpired:
1. Princeton is back to crushing lesser opponents. Early in February 2015, Princeton collapsed at Cornell, blowing a 12-point lead in the final eight minutes to lose to Shonn Miller’s squad. That was the last time the Tigers lost to an Ivy League team that finished in the bottom half of the league. Since then, Princeton has won 16 straight games against lower-division opponents*, including a 72-56 win over Columbia and a 91-54 thrashing of Cornell this weekend. There have been a few nail-biters — a pair of one-possession games against Penn in 2016, close calls with Columbia in 2015 and 2017 — but Princeton’s average margin of victory overall has been 16 points.
*This assumes that current standings hold — i.e. Penn finishes in the top half this year, and Columbia and Cornell in the bottom half — which is of course not guaranteed.
The Tigers have often put up points against weak defenses. More impressive this weekend was their own defense, which held Columbia to 0.85 points per possession and Cornell to 0.78. Columbia star Mike Smith shot 3-14 at Jadwin while Cornell’s Matt Morgan was 6-13, and though the Tigers’ frontcourt is often undersized, it held Stone Gettings to only six points. Princeton should keep racking up wins against the bottom half of the league, which will give it a good chance to repeat as Ivy champions.
2. Matt Morgan had a rough weekend. By most players’ standards, 29 points in two tough road games would be something to be proud of. But for Morgan — who had been held below 21 points only once this year (at Syracuse) and who had averaged an even 20 ppg in his first two years of Ivy play — it was well below par. Morgan had two of his three least efficient games of the season, with an offensive rating of 75 at Penn and 98 at Princeton. Darnell Foreman and the Quakers gave him no space from distance, blocking two three-point attempts; Princeton collapsed on drives and forced him out to NBA range, allowing Morgan to get hot only when its subs came in.
The good news for Morgan: Penn and Princeton are two of the top three defenses in the league (along with Harvard), and there’s a steep drop-off after that trio. So there’s a good chance Morgan gets back to his high-scoring ways for the rest of Ivy play.
3. The final playoff spots on the women’s side are wide open. The one perhaps surprising result of the weekend came at noon on Friday, when Yale’s women snapped Brown’s 10-game win streak. The final score was 77-63, but the run of play was much closer: The game was tied at the seven-minute mark until an avalanche of turnovers and misses led to a late Yale run. The Bears have struggled in their last two D-I games without Taylor Will (a 17 ppg scorer before her season-ending injury), scoring a season-low 63 points Friday thanks to 18 turnovers (eight of which were Tamara Simpson steals).
Harvard and Brown were picked third and fourth in the preseason poll, but each has now lost their Ivy opener to Dartmouth and Yale, respectively (albeit on the road). Princeton and Penn look like strong favorites to reach the postseason after sweeping Columbia and Cornell with ease, but the Crimson, Bears, Big Green and Bulldogs all posted strong non-conference resumes and seem to have balanced playoff odds.
And-ones: The second class of Legends of Ivy League Basketball was announced. Makai Mason is still expected to return at some point. Former Brown forward Leland King and UCSB were in Hawaii for the accidental missile alert. “Princeton has Max Johns and Penn has a big Wang.” Columbia football player plays for national championship. Uber, but for The Palestra.
Player of the Week: AJ Brodeur, Penn — Brodeur’s numbers have taken a hit with his position change this year, but he led the Quakers in both games this weekend: 18 points, nine rebounds, six assists against Cornell; 30 points, eight rebounds and three blocks against Columbia. Brodeur’s production dipped as he faced more dedicated gameplans in Ivy League play last season, but in a new role with a different supporting cast, maybe this season will be the reverse.
Rookie of the Week: Jerome Desrosiers, Princeton — Desrosiers was bumped from the starting lineup by Will Gladson’s return (until Gladson left Saturday’s game early with another injury), but he made the best of his limited time, scoring 12 points against Columbia and 14 more against Cornell. Before the season, Mitch Henderson described the rookie as “kind of an Ian Hummer-type player […] a very physical post presence,” but so far he’s been the polar opposite: Nearly two-thirds of his shots have come from beyond the arc, where he shot 4-5 in each game this weekend.
Play of the Week: Watch Amir Bell cross up Mike Smith for a wide-open trey:
11:54 1st | Princeton 14, Columbia 9
Will Gladson sets a big screen and Amir Bell nails the 3. Tigers up five as we head for the midpoint of the first half in Jadwin. Amir has a game-high six points. pic.twitter.com/CioFdQaGts
— Princeton Basketball (@Princeton_Hoops) January 13, 2018
The Week Ahead: Yale (at Brown) and Harvard (at Dartmouth) face tricky road rematches in their travel-partner series. Expect at least one of the home teams to even the score; my money is on Brown, which is actually a slight favorite per KenPom. Elsewhere, Columbia and Cornell open their travel-partner series in the Big Apple; the loser will drop to 0-3 with a very slim path to the postseason.
- Penn (3-0) — If we were starting from a clean slate, I would pick Princeton as the league’s top team. But Penn has the head-to-head win in hand, giving it too much of an edge in the standings even with a road rematch still to come. Bart Torvik’s simulations agree, giving Penn a 58% chance of at least sharing the title and Princeton 50%.
- Princeton (2-1) — With 1055 career points midway through his junior season, Devin Cannady is poised to shoot up the scoring leaderboards. Based on his current average of 18.5 ppg, Cannady is on pace to end up in about eighth place in the Ivy League record book (depending a bit on how many postseason games he gets), and barring injury he is a sure lock to finish #2 behind Bill Bradley on Princeton’s list.
- Harvard (1-0) — The Crimson has held its last seven opponents below the national average of 1.05 points per possession, despite playing some quality teams in that stretch (most recently Wednesday’s 63-62 loss at Wofford). But playing mostly without Bryce Aiken, their offense has been awful, topping a point per possession only once in that span. Even with a healthy Aiken, the Crimson’s offense wouldn’t be good, but it would at least be adequate enough to challenge for the Ivy title.
- Yale (1-0) — Trey Phills had a career night Friday, scoring 23 points with seven assists and five rebounds. Brown gave the junior plenty of space — a frequent tactic against Yale — but he made the Bears pay, shooting 6-9 from the field and getting 10 points from the foul line. And it came on the 18th anniversary of his father’s tragic death.
- Brown (0-1) — Brown might have pulled off a road upset if not for uncharacteristically poor foul shooting (18-31). Desmond Cambridge, who entered as one of the league’s top five free-throw shooters, missed all three attempts after a shooting foul and finished 3-7.
- Columbia (0-2) — After struggling at Princeton, Mike Smith recovered to score 27 points at Penn (on 11-23 shooting). But despite their point guard’s heroics, the Lions managed just 0.91 ppp at The Palestra, getting little production from the rest of their roster outside of Quinton Adlesh.
- Cornell (0-2) — All point guards named Dev(o)n take heed: Matt Morgan is coming for you. He had highlight-reel blocks in transition on Devon Goodman on Friday and Devin Cannady on Saturday. (Devin Cherry is lucky he graduated before having to face Morgan in practice.) Morgan’s weekend was just as spotty on defense as on offense, however, as in when he gave up easy layups to three different players in Princeton’s opening 19-0 run.
- Dartmouth (0-1) — Dartmouth shot 11-20 from three-point range against Vermont, then went 8-13 in the first half at Boston College before fading late. The Big Green won’t get many stops, but shooting like that will scare any Ivy opponent.