Inside this week: The five-week sprint of full back-to-backs gets off to a rocking start; Desmond Cambridge becomes the Ivy League’s next must-see player; and the injury outlook gets worse for two star point guards.
1. I’m still catching my breath after the first full weekend. Quadview on the Ivy League Network has never been more necessary than it was Friday and Saturday: All eight games were decided by single digits, and six went down to the final possession or overtime. Not only were they tight, but they were action-packed: Ivy teams averaged 1.12 points per possession for the weekend, with all teams except Yale providing offensive fireworks.
Penn improved to 5-0 with a home sweep; Harvard lost at Columbia yet again but held off Cornell to get to 5-1, staying in great position to make the playoffs; and Brown got the weekend’s biggest win, a 102-100 overtime upset at Princeton. But because nearly every game could have turned with a couple different bounces, it’s hard to be confident about anything we’ll see going forward.
2. This is Desmond Cambridge’s world now.Cambridge went from “Ivy Rookie of the Year favorite” to “Mid-Major Twitter Hero” in one weekend. He scored 29 points at Penn on Friday, then topped that performance with 32 (including seven threes) at Princeton on Saturday. It’s not as if Cambridge caught opposing defenders unaware; he simply shot over them anyway.
Desmond Cambridge needed no space to get his points pic.twitter.com/U5knS3x0yV
— Kevin Whitaker (@whitakk) February 5, 2018
Cambridge’s one weakness at Penn was his play down the stretch, when he forced a couple bad shots late in regulation and missed two crucial free throws in the final minute of overtime. But he atoned for that the next evening: The rookie hit a three-pointer over Myles Stephens and then made two free throws to tie the game late in regulation, blocked Stephens to force overtime, and eventually hit a wild three-pointer to win the game (see below). Here’s his weekend shot chart:
Brown is the buzzy team right now, and perhaps a slight (but odds-off) favorite to capture the fourth playoff spot. But don’t get carried away — remember last year, when the playoff outlook flipped back and forth seemingly every week until Penn’s comeback. The Bears gave up at least 1.15 ppp in each of their last three games, and in the one before that they almost lost to Dartmouth at home.
3. Harvard’s women are atop the Ivy League. That’s mostly an artifact of the schedule — the Crimson has played one more game than Princeton and Penn, giving it a half-game edge in the wins column. They’ve looked dominant in the last two weekends, winning four games by an average of 16.5 points; Katie Benzan scored 20 points in each of this week’s wins with 12 combined assists. But now the degree of difficulty accelerates: Harvard plays six of its final eight on the road, starting at Princeton and Penn this weekend. Elsewhere, Yale upset Princeton for the first time since 2009, giving the Bulldogs a leg up in the projected playoff race (due to their upcoming schedule advantage) despite trailing Dartmouth by a game.
And-ones: Bryce Aiken re-injured his knee at Columbia and didn’t play at Cornell the following day. Makai Mason also remained on the sidelines with his foot injury. Yale is below .500 through six games for the first time in James Jones’ 18-year tenure. Princeton beats Bama for a four-star quarterback recruit. Justin Sears’ game is “beautiful to look at”, someone said for the first time ever.
Weekly Awards: A Desmond Cambridge sweep — the week’s top player, top rookie, and of course the top play:
desmond cambridge whaaaaaat pic.twitter.com/qAkBANvqv1
— Kevin Whitaker (@whitakk) February 4, 2018
The Week Ahead: The top of the league should crystallize in the next six days. Princeton hosts Penn, needing a win to avoid falling to 3-3 and an uncomfortable position in the playoff chase. Then they both visit Harvard, where they will have a good chance to win if they can solve tricky matchup issues — Princeton against Chris Lewis; Penn against Seth Towns. And don’t sleep on their visits to feisty Dartmouth.
- Penn (5-0) — The Quakers were saved by a forest against Brown on Friday: 22 points from Caleb Wood and 21 from Antonio Woods. Both players showed some new skills: Caleb, in taking defenders off the dribble and hitting several floaters; and Antonio, hitting four of eight threes.
- Princeton (3-2) — Saturday’s game marked the Tigers’ first home ivy loss since 2015, and its first loss to the Bears anywhere since 2013. But Princeton fans shouldn’t freak out: Brown shot 13-21 from on threes and two of Princeton’s three stars were limited by foul trouble, yet the Tigers were still were one bounce away from winning.
- Harvard (5-1) — Per Sports-Reference, Rio Haskett has an offensive rating of 64 this season — the worst mark for any rotation player in the Ivy League since Dartmouth’s Mbiyimoh Ghogomu in 2010. With Aiken sidelined, Haskett has to play spot minutes as Christian Juzang’s backup at point guard, but he shouldn’t be on the floor more than necessary (and his minutes have been declining throughout the season).
- Brown (3-3) — Check out this tactical sequence from Brown’s game against Penn: Coming out of a timeout late in the first half, the Bears try to run a lob play for Cambridge, but the Quakers recognize it (the entire bench yells out “Lob!”) and snuff it out. So after another timeout early in the second half, Brown runs the same set — but when Penn overplays the lob pass again, Cambridge steps back for a wide-open three.
- Columbia (3-3) — Dartmouth ran a great intentional-FT-miss-to-three-point-attempt, but credit Kyle Castlin for staying aware and stuffing Brendan Barry’s game-tying shot:
— Columbia Basketball (@CULionsMBB) February 4, 2018
- Yale (2-4) — For years, Yale has resisted the trend toward spacing and small-ball, always keeping two big men on the court. Sometimes that caused matchup problems against smaller, quicker teams like Princeton, but the Bulldogs trusted their advantage inside would carry the day. So it was weird to see the matchups Friday night, when Princetonneeded to downsize in order to keep up with Yale.
- Cornell (2-4) — One of my favorite things this season is Matt Morgan’s behind-the-back passes to Stone Gettings on high pick-and-pops. He pulls this move a couple times a game, and not only does the misdirection give Gettings an extra sliver of space, but it’s so darned smooth:
Matt Morgan's behind-the-back passes are delightful pic.twitter.com/9WFGBYmwiO
— Kevin Whitaker (@whitakk) February 5, 2018
- Dartmouth (0-6) — The Big Green took Cornell and Columbia down to the final possession on the road, but the result was two more hard-luck losses. They did so without Chris Knight, who had scored double figures in the prior three games with five blocks.