Let’s start with that Miye Oni dunk. If you’re reading this, you’ve almost surely seen it already, but you’ll click below to watch it again, because it was that good. Giving credit for the circumstances — 1:30 left in a one-possession game, national TV on Championship Week, and a chance to play for an NCAA tournament bid on the line — I’d wager that it was the biggest dunk in Ivy League history. Continue reading
What Happened Last Week: Princeton is 14-0, thanks to another Harvard-killing shot (now with Titanic music!). Penn is the 4-seed, thanks to its own Crimson-beating game-winner. On the women’s side, Penn is the repeat champion, and Brown won a de facto play-in game to punch its Palestra ticket. Continue reading
Even as things appeared to be spiraling out of control a month ago, Penn coach Steve Donahue continued to maintain that he believed in his team. Every coach says that, of course, but there was something a little different about the way Donahue said it. Or maybe he’s just more convincing than most.
Anyway, the facts (real ones) are that the Quakers were 0-6 in the Ivy League after a loss to Princeton at The Palestra on Feb. 7, some four games behind Columbia for the fourth and final conference tournament berth. The real culprits in that slide were not the defeats to Princeton, but a home loss to Brown and one at Dartmouth.
Devin Cannady’s minutes increased this season, as happens with many players who move from freshmen to sophomores in college basketball. His numbers have not, however. Last season, he torched opponents by shooting 45.6% on three-pointers (48.3% in Ivy League play) and 48.5% overall.
This season, although Cannady moved up from 11.6 to 12.6 points per game, he was shooting 37.9% from behind the arc and 41.0% overall. Amazingly, Princeton was winning anyway, 11 straight heading into Friday night’s game at Yale, which included a game two weeks ago at Harvard in which he was shutout on 0-8 shooting, and a 6-point performance at Penn three days later. In the first meeting against the Bulldogs, Cannady had seven points on 2-11 from the field as Yale nearly stole it before falling 66-58.
Offense isn’t everything, of course, and Cannady has helped the Tigers grab a two-game Ivy League lead in other ways, but there is one conference game that leaps off his stat page: the opener against Brown, where Cannady shredded the Bears for 29 points on 10-14 from the field, 7-9 from three. The result was a 97-66 bludgeoning for Princeton that set the tone for what it has done since.
If you looked closely at Lee Amphitheater Saturday night, you could see into the future. And you didn’t even need a Delorean to do it.
Harvard ended Yale’s 22-game, two-year long home winning streak in impressive fashion, 75-67, before a sellout crowd that was into the game from the opening tip. The Crimson (14-7, 6-2, identical to Yale) were led by freshman Bryce Aiken with a career-high 27 points. Like most freshmen, Aiken has had some growing pains this season, but Saturday his full array of talent that ACC and Big East schools wanted was on display: shooting, getting to the rim, putting opponents on skates (as the kids say these days), even a four-point play from the corner that was huge in the Harvard victory.
Aiken, of course, is just one piece of a freshman class that includes Chris Lewis, Justin Bassey, and Seth Towns (who all started Saturday while Aiken did not). Sophomore Corey Johnson added 12 points for Harvard as well.
Some tend to confuse playing slowly with automatically being poor offensively in basketball circles, but there are many, many teams (looking at you TCU, Virginia, and Saint Mary’s) who play deliberately, but are among the most effective offenses in the country. You can’t really put Yale in that category, but while most of the attention went to their defense (33rd and 70th the last two seasons), they have been a very solid offensive team the last three seasons.
Friday against Dartmouth, they again showed why. With the Big Green taking away the perimeter, Yale went to the basket, making 24-of-40 on two-point shots. While senior captain Anthony Dallier was held to 5 points (and only 3 shots), Alex Copeland stepped up with 14 points on 7-12 shooting. With Miye Oni held to 9, Trey Phills stepped up with 10.
Everything was coming up Brown Friday night at Lee Amphitheater, as the Bears – who haven’t had a winning Ivy League record in nine seasons – were going to take a giant step toward that (and qualifying for the inaugural conference tournament) by ending Yale’s 20-game, 2-year long home win streak.
Brown was scoring at will, had plenty of swagger, Mike Martin was pumping his fists, the Yale crowd was quiet, and the Bears led 60-51 and had the ball with 10 minutes left, and there was nothing on either end of the floor that looked like a young Yale team was going to be to remedy the matter quickly.
The uniforms said “Yale” on the front, but you’ll be forgiven if the players inside them were unrecognizable to the fans at Jadwin Gym Saturday night. The defending champ Bulldogs again came in as possible Ivy League contenders, but did so like a Broadway show whose original cast had moved on to bigger and better things.
Yale’s only Ivy loss last season came on Feb.19 in Princeton, but of the 200 minutes used by James Jones in that contest, only 9 were on the floor Saturday, with Sam Downey being the only Yale player to participate in both games.
Yes, the Bulldogs were going to have to rebuild after graduating Justin Sears, Brandon Sherrod, Nick Victor, and Khaliq Ghani (who accounted for 122 of those minutes, and doesn’t even take into account Jack Montague, who was not on the team by then), but preseason Ivy Player of Year Makai Mason (37) broke his foot, and current captain Anthony Dallier (34) became ill after Friday’s game at Penn and did not play.
Alex Copeland officially played 4.2% of possible minutes last season as a freshman for Yale, and even that is generous, perhaps 99% of that came in blowouts or just as the final horn was about to sound in a game already decided (yes, that’s Copeland entering as James Jones emptied his bench in the Ivy League clinching win over Columbia in March).
This season, Copeland expected his role to be increased after four seniors graduated. But point guard Makai Mason still remained, as did Trey Phills and Anthony Dallier, the next two on the Yale depth chart when practice opened in October.
James Jones knew, even if he did have a healthy Makai Mason playing for him, that he was going to have an extremely inexperienced team this season. But Jones forgot a little how painful the process of gaining that valuable commodity can be. Yale ranked 27th and 21st nationally in experience the last two seasons and played a big part in their 45 wins, two Ivy League titles, and last season’s NCAA Tournament victory.
This season: 280th. So you get stretches like the second half last week at Bryant where the Bulldogs blew a big second half lead and lost. And the first half Thursday at Sacred Heart, where Yale couldn’t execute a basic pick and roll and turned the ball over 11 times in 34 possessions.