Ivy Preview 2016-17

- Jim Root

Ivy Preview

1.      Princeton
2.      Harvard
3.      Dartmouth
4.      Yale
5.      Penn
6.      Brown
7.      Columbia
8.      Cornell

All Conference Awards

POY: Makai Mason, Jr., G, Yale
Coach of the Year: Mitch Henderson, Princeton
Newcomer of the Year: Seth Towns, Fr., F, Harvard
Freshman of the Year: Seth Towns, Fr., F, Harvard


1.      Princeton

Key Returners: Spencer Weisz, Amir Bell, Henry Caruso, Devin Cannady, Hans Brace, Pete Miller, Steven Cook
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Will Gladson, Richmond Aririguzoh

Postseason Projection: 11-12 seed

For a long time, the Ivy has stood as the last conference to award its NCAA Tournament auto-bid to the regular season champion. With a true double round-robin, many would argue that is the true “best” way to decide the auto-bid (including me - I will be writing extensively on this at some some point this season), with each team getting two cracks at every opponent. Although it is a bummer to see the Ivy switch away from that pure format, the change to a top-4, single elimination tournament creates a fun new wrinkle - it provides the Ivy with its best-ever chance to send two teams to the NCAA Tournament.

It’s a perfect year for that, too. Princeton has the talent, depth, and experience to be one of the best mid-major teams in the country, returning every rotation player from the #65 KenPom finisher last year and adding former starter Hans Brace (back from injury). Though there will be some serious roadblocks, if the Tigers can dominate the regular season and play an opponent close in the tournament final, the possibility exists that they could steal an at-large bid come Selection Sunday.

To make that a reality, the Tigs will have to be good enough, and the roster certainly offers that hope. Henry Caruso was a first-team all-conference player last year, Spencer Weisz was a second-teamer, and Steven Cook earned honorable mention (and Weisz and Cook were both second-teamers in 2014-15). Brace was a regular starter as a sophomore and junior for two good Princeton teams. And yet, it may be that none of those four guys is the most talented player on this roster - sophomore Devin Cannady is already one of the best shooters in the league (and maybe the country), a budding star who flashed immense potential as a scorer last year, averaging 12.8ppg in February and March despite only playing 23mpg. Coach Mitch Henderson has a ton of options, but it will be nearly impossible for him to keep Cannady off the floor if he makes the usual freshman-to-sophomore leap.

Princeton’s strengths are exactly the stereotypes you would place on an Ivy team - great shooting and superb discipline. All of the returning perimeter players can shoot (except sophomore Myles Stephens), and with Brace’s return, they’ll be able to play some scary smaller lineups where all 5 players can shoot (Brace at the 5, Caruso or Cook at the 4, insert Cannady or Amir Bell). The Tigers will take a lot of threes (they scored 36.4% of all their points from downtown, 29th-most in the country), and with this stable of shooters, that’s a great strategy.

Weisz will be the primary ball-handler, a big guard who can see over most PG defenders and compete on the glass. He’ll often be cross-matched against a wing with Cannady on the floor, though that will be dangerous for opponents if it allows Cannady to find shooting space in transition.  The team’s shooting will also provide a lot of driving lanes for Caruso and Cannady (can you tell I’m high on this kid??).

The discipline showed offensively with a relative lack of turnovers and defensively in the team’s work on the defensive glass and avoidance of fouls, finishing in the top 60 nationally in all of those categories. Pete Miller was a big part of the team’s effectiveness on the boards and also offered the team’s only real rim protection; freshman Will Gladson (played high school hoops with Duke’s Jayson Tatum) is a big body who may help, but he’s a little ground-bound for a big fella and may not actually block many shots.

With so many weapons back, it’s hard to pick anyone but Princeton to win the league (even Harvard’s Tommy Amaker said so on Jon Rothstein’s August 30th podcast), and hopes are high in New Jersey. Here’s hoping they don’t get screwed by the Ivy’s new tournament.

2.      Harvard

Key Returners: Zena Edosomwan, Corey Johnson, Siyani Chambers, Corbin Miller
Key Losses: Patrick Steeves, Agunwa Okolie, Evan Cummins
Key Newcomers: Chris Lewis, Seth Towns, Robert Baker Jr., Bryce Aiken, Justin Bassey

Postseason Projection: NIT - maybe bubble?!

In a normal year where Princeton doesn’t have an embarrassment of roster riches, this Harvard squad would be the easy pick to win the league. They bring back 4 starters (two of whom were freshmen and should be much better as sophomores), including the conference’s leading rebounder, and bring back a fifth year senior at the most important position on the floor (point guard). Oh, and they also bring in possibly the best recruiting class in the history of the Ivy League, rated as #10 in the entire country by ESPN.com and 24th by 247sports.com. So yeah, there’s some talent here!

The challenge for Tommy Amaker will be blending all of this together. The previously mentioned point guard, Siyani Chambers, missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and the 7-man (!!!) freshman class will provide at least 4 or 5 rotation players. Chambers will immediately take back over as the floor leader, a seasoned vet who has won a game in the NCAA Tournament (over 3-seed New Mexico) and who has started from the second he walked onto campus in 2012. The sophomores, Tommy McCarthy and Corey Johnson (and to an extent, senior guard Corbin Miller), will need to show improvement and maturity to fight off challenges from the youngsters, particularly Bryce Aiken, a lightning quick little guard whose shooting will get him on the floor right away regardless, and Seth Towns, a long, athletic wing with an elite hesitation move and a nice midrange game. The playing time battles should be a positive in practice, but Amaker will need to make sure chemistry is not negatively affected.

The Crimson frontcourt will be almost unfair for Ivy League competition. Zena Edosomwan is an absolute ox, one of the nation’s best rebounders and a solid rim protector. He’s too powerful for most Ivy big men to defend, but he needs to figure how to hit free throws to take advantage of his physical superiority (48% last year). To add to that, the jewel of the freshman class is Chris Lewis, another physical specimen who will dunk and block shots almost at will. He has soft hands and is relatively skilled; the combination of him and Edosomwan will overwhelm many opponents. The last of their top-100 recruits, Robert Baker Jr., is an ultra-lanky and thin 6'9 forward; normally, you'd be concerned about his lack of strength, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem in the Ivy. He's a good finisher in transition and can stretch the floor a bit at the 4 spot with the occasional three.  

After a streak of 4 consecutive years of winning the Ivy League was snapped last year, Amaker will attempt to re-focus the usually excellent Crimson defense.  The interior combination of Lewis and Edosomwan will be a great asset in that regard, and an influx of more athletes on the perimeter will also heighten the defensive prowess. Amaker’s teams are consistently good across the board statistically on that end, playing a solid, somewhat extended man-to-man (similar to his mentor, Coach Mike “Rat” Krzyzewski). While the focus with the stud freshman class will be on the offensive affect, adding those guys (along with the return of the sneaky Chambers) may have an even larger impact on the defensive end, and Harvard is a good bet to lead the league in defensive efficiency.

With this squad’s overall athleticism, shooting, and the presence of a true floor general, Harvard has the potential to challenge the returning talent of Princeton at the top of the league - and possibly even lead to a 2-BID IVY?! I can dream!!!

3.      Dartmouth

Key Returners: Evan Boudreaux, Miles Wright, Taylor Johnson
Key Losses: Connor Boehm, Malik Gill, Kevin Crescenzi
Key Newcomers: Ian Carter, Jonas Stakeliunas, James Foye

Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/Vegas 16

While the Big Green have struggled in conference play over the past two years, they finally are starting to have some experience up and down the roster, and they sport the conference’s last two Newcomers of the Year in Miles Wright and Evan Boudreaux. Those two players will anchor new coach David McLaughlin’s squad as they attempt to break into the first ever Ivy postseason tournament.

Boudreaux is a hell of an anchor to have, a constant double-double threat who scored inside on everyone even as a freshman, plus showing a bit of an outside shot (41% from three on low volume).  The next step for him will be adding an element of rim protection to his game - he may not ever be a great shot-blocker, but improved positioning could cause opposing finishers problems. He’s going to play a ton of minutes, so any defensive strides would be invaluable. Wright is an athletic wing and the closest thing Dartmouth returns to a “shooter.”

The Big Green offense really struggled last year despite the presence of Wright and Boudreaux, and that was primarily due to 2 things: 1) turnover issues for now-departed point guard Malik Gill and returning guard Taylor Johnson, and 2) major spacing issues due to no elite shooting threats. Wright led the team with only 105 attempted threes, a paltry number, and defenses simply started packing in to defend against Boudreaux post-ups and drives by the guards. If any of the newcomers prove they can consistently throw a basketball into the hoop from behind the curved line on the court, McLaughlin will find plenty of playing time for him/them. The turnover issues are a different animal - the guards simply need to be smarter and stronger with the ball, particularly Johnson and presumed-starting PG Cameron Smith.

I’m not entirely sure how McLaughlin will run the offense and defense - he played at Colby College and his only D1 experience is 3 years under Bill Coen at Northeastern. Presumably he’ll be smart enough to have the O revolve around Boudreaux, but how he runs his defense is a mystery. The Green were basically exactly average on the defensive end last year playing an exceedingly aggressive style (led by Gill’s quick hands), but learning under Coen points more towards a half-court, disciplined style of avoiding fouls and taking care of business on the defensive glass. I think that approach would work better with this roster, particularly with no shot-blocker to compensate for gambling guards getting beat on the perimeter.

The biggest challenge here is the lack of shooting - Boudreaux will be one of the conference’s best players, but he’ll be harassed by double- and triple-teams constantly if McLaughlin can’t find a way to generate more spacing. The #3 ranking here is a bet on the individual talent of Wright and Boudreaux, but they’re definitely a couple tiers below Harvard and Princeton.

4.      Yale

Key Returners: Makai Mason, Anthony Dallier, Sam Downey
Key Losses: Justin Sears, Brandon Sherrod, Jack Montague, Nick Victor
Key Newcomers: Jordan Bruner, Eric Monroe

Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/Vegas 16

Yale’s first ever NCAA Tournament victory in 2016 was a major landmark for the program - after a couple years of heartbreak and missing the tourney all together, an experienced, athletic lineup was able to take down Scotty Drew’s Baylor team in a thriller. Though they lose a lot of key pieces (Justin Sears, Brandon Sherrod, Nick Victor, Khaliq Ghani), the Bulldogs do return potential player of the year Makai Mason and back-to-back coach of the year James Jones for an attempted league title defense after thrilling fans (and Yale moneyline backers, like me) last year.

Mason flirted with the NBA Draft, but she laughed at him and walked off with all the popular kids as he went back to the drawing board. The drawing board is not a bad place for Mason, though, as he will be the Big Man on Campus in New Haven (well, behind the other genius students that are winning Nobel Prizes and planning their future presidential campaigns). With Sears and Sherrod gone, Mason could push 20ppg despite Yale’s propensity to play at a slow pace. He’ll have the ball in his hands a ton, especially with little-to-no experience returning around him in the backcourt, and cutting down a bit on turnovers as a junior is a fair expectation. Trey Phills and Alex Copeland both got their toes wet last year, but they (along with freshman Eric Monroe) will be chucked into the pool this year whether they’re ready or not. Anthony Dallier will be back on the wing to provide some experience, but he’s more suited for a defender/complementary role and won’t do a ton of scoring or creating.

Up front, the prospect to get excited about is Jordan Bruner, a highly-regarded freshman. While a bit thin, he’s a superb athlete with baffling wingspan that has nice shooting touch out to the midrange. He’s a shockingly adept passer, too, constantly hitting cutters with no-look passes (even off the bounce). Running some offense through Bruner at the high post (while allowing Mason to work off screens and draw considerable defensive attention) would likely be a beneficial strategy for the Bulldogs. Bruner is a near-sure bet to be on the all-freshman team if healthy.

The staple of Yale hoops last year was elite rebounding on both ends of the floor (5th on offense, 7th on defense), but they lose their top 3 rebounders in Sherrod, Sears, and Victor. Bruner will help some, but as stated, he’s not the burly space-eater that the graduated guys were. Sam Downey is a big breakout candidate, a 6’9 post player whose playing time should balloon - Jones hopes his production will, too. Sophomore Blake Reynolds will also be a key contributor on the glass, a rugged player in the vein of Sherrod.

Though the Dogs lose a lot of talent, they have some pieces and a winning tradition now, enough that contending for another NCAA bid wouldn’t be shocking. The young guys will need to come along fast to really challenge Princeton and Harvard, but I will not be counting Mason, Jones, and the rest of this bunch out.

5.      Penn

Key Returners: Matt Howard, Sam Jones, Jack Silpe, Jackson Donahue, Antonio Woods
Key Losses: Darien Nelson-Henry
Key Newcomers: Matt MacDonald, AJ Brodeur, Caleb Wood

Postseason Projection: None

When Penn hired Steve Donahue last season, success in the Ivy seemed inevitable - Donahue had a great run at Cornell, culminating in three straight NCAA Tournament bids in 2008-2010 and a Sweet 16 appearance in ‘10. He used that success as a springboard to the Boston College job, where he was...umm...less successful. He was fired after an 8-24 season in 2014, and his (lack of) recruiting has put that program in the bleak place that it is now. But he’s proven how successful he can be in the Ivy, using a bombs-away approach (and a collection of very good shooters) to build elite offenses. The success at Penn didn’t come immediately, but the indications are there for an uptick in competitiveness over the next few years.

One of the biggest issues last year was the mid-season loss of point guard Antonio Woods to academic ineligibility. Woods has to miss an entire academic year and thus won’t be eligible until the spring semester this season, but his return for conference play should allow the rest of the roster to slide into more natural roles off the ball. Rising sophomore Jake Silpe was pressed into starting duties without Woods, and while he acquitted himself fairly well, his inexperience really showed in his turnovers and weak shooting numbers. (Note: Woods is not listed on the official Penn roster while ineligible per Ivy rules, but as far as I can tell from the internet, he will return for the second semester)

Donahue is slowly building out the shooting prowess of the team; his son, sophomore Jackson Donahue, is a certified gunner, and Fairleigh Dickinson transfer Matt MacDonald should provide a nice complement on the opposite wing at times. Penn experienced similar problems to Dartmouth last year where opponents were simply able to collapse too much onto big man Darien Nelson-Henry (now graduated), so MacDonald’s addition and shooting improvement from Silpe (31%), stretch 4 Sam Jones (33%), Woods, (a gruesome 24%), and leading scorer Matt Howard (28%) would do wonders for the anemic offense. Howard is the team’s best returning offensive player, a versatile wing who can attack and take care of the ball.

Figuring out what to do without Nelson-Henry inside will be a tough task. Max Rothschild is 3 inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter and blocked zero shots last year, but he’s a good rebounder who should get better in his second year. Freshman AJ Brodeur and junior Dan Dwyer will also get chances to earn playing time inside. If either of those guys can provide shot-blocking, they’ll play out of necessity to keep the defense afloat (Dwyer can protect the rim a bit, but he’s a disaster offensively).

Defensively, Donahue teams aren’t going to force many turnovers, but they will extend to chase you off the three point line, which could cause a few problems for the sometimes three-point-happy Ivy. His Cornell teams did an excellent job on the defensive glass, but that never seemed to carry over to BC or Penn - even with Nelson-Henry doing yeoman’s work down low, Penn was a disappointing 6th in the conference in defensive rebound rate. At 6’7, 195, Jones is extremely thin at the 4-spot, but he should still be better than his soft rebounding performance last year.

Penn should continue improving this year, but with only one senior in the rotation (Howard), 2017-18 is likely when Donahue will get the Quakers to make a jump.

6.      Brown

Key Returners: Tavon Blackmon, JR Hobbie, Steven Spieth, Obi Okolie, Corey Daugherty
Key Losses: Cedric Kuakumensah, Jason Massey, Justin Massey
Key Newcomers: David Erebor, Brandon Anderson

Postseason Projection: None

I love the Brown Bears as a school/nickname combo. It’s just so perfect - it’s like if there was a school named “Veloci” that decided to be the Raptors. Kudos to the administration who picked Bears so long ago for making the right choice (Wikipedia tells me they were originally the Burros - lol what?, and also initially had a live bear mascot. Awesome!).  

As for the hoops team, they tied for last with Cornell last year and lose tower of power Cedric Kuakumensah to graduation and twins Jason and Justin Massey to transfer. So why do I think they’ll get out of the cellar? They were young last year - big Cedric was the only senior in the rotation - and they should be healthier/have a more consistent roster this year as well. Corey Daugherty only played 16 games, Obi Okolie played 19, and the Massey transfer saga was a midseason ordeal in itself (Justin played 9 games before transferring mid-season, where he was eventually joined by Jason at the end of the year).

Brown’s offense will run through senior PG Tavon Blackmon, a fantastic passer who should be an all-conference player if he rounds out the rough edges on his game (a few too many turnovers, needs to increase his deep shooting volume - 47% from deep but only 60 attempts). Coach Mike Martin will spread the floor around Blackmon, allowing him the freedom to run the pick-and-roll with shooters around him. JR Hobbie is the most prolific of those shooters, and though he doesn’t even pretend to try to do anything else on the court, he buried treys at a 43% clip last year. Daugherty and Okolie will also play a lot on the wing, but neither is much of a shooting threat - Okolie will look to attack gaps off the dribble instead, and Daugherty should maybe never shoot again (22% from 3). Steven Spieth is more of an in-between threat - he did hit 26 threes last year, but he’s better used as a high post facilitator when Blackmon isn’t running PnRs.

The loss of Kuakumensah as Blackmon’s roll man is a big blow - he also owned the defensive glass, protected the rim, and could shoot the 3 a bit. Sophomore Travis Fuller is the first candidate to take over that role, but he was sort of a disaster as a freshman. Martin would love to see freshman David Erebor earn playing time in the post. Another option is playing ultra small - the Bears’ defense is already bad enough that playing Spieth as the nominal “center” honestly can’t hurt that much. Despite having a rim protector like Kuakumensah, the Bears were a sieve on that end, so doubling down on offense isn’t the worst idea in the world. Okolie is probably the best option as a smallball 4 in that scenario.

Brown’s offense should be in the top half of the conference, and though the defense will again be bad (maybe even terrible?), I’m banking on more roster consistency and the brilliance of Blackmon to lift the Bears up a few spots.

7.      Columbia

Key Returners: Luke Petrasek, Jeff Coby, Kyle Castlin
Key Losses: Maodo Lo, Alex Rosenberg, Grant Mullins, Isaac Cohen
Key Newcomers: Rodney Hunter, Quinton Adlesh, Mike Smith, Patrick Tape

Postseason Projection: None

No team in the Ivy was hit harder by departures than the Lions of Columbia, as unanimous all-league player Maodo Lo and three other starters all leave town. The lineup holes will be tough to fill for a team that couldn’t quite win the Ivy but ended on a major high note with a CIT championship. The biggest hole to fill, though, is on the sideline, as Kyle Smith skipped across the country to the head gig at San Francisco. The Lions hired Jim Engles from NJIT, who did an admirable job guiding that program through a D1 transition that started as a 1-30 independent and ended as a competitive Atlantic Sun team (with a geographically baffling stop in the Great West conference - huh?). Engles and NJIT actually lost to Columbia in the CIT semifinals last year, so he will have some familiarity with the roster already.

One interesting twist for Engles is that his NJIT teams were always some of the shortest in the country (341st, 337th, and 318th in the country in average height over the last 3 season), but his best player in New York will be 6’10 forward/center Luke Petrasek. Finding the right way to use Petrasek’s talents will be crucial in preventing a major drop from the Lions 10-4 Ivy finish last season. Petrasek is an interesting blend of shooting ability and shot-blocking, hitting 45 threes at an elite 44% rate while also blocking 7.2% of opponent shots in league play, good for second in the Ivy. He’s like an incredibly poor (but insanely smart) man’s version of fellow New York hooper Kristaps Porzingis.

Because his NJIT teams were so small, Engles was usually flush with attack-minded, athletic wing players. That’s not the strength of this roster, though, so he may need to adjust his perimeter-oriented approach. Three 6’8 forwards will play a lot more - Jeff Coby is a force on the glass, while Chris McComber and Lukas Meisner are, like Petrasek, big men who prefer to play on the perimeter (despite McComber being 244 pounds - put your hard hat on and go to work, fella!). Coby is a more natural fit to start as a grinder next to Petrasek’s stretchy offensive game, but I think McComber or Meisner will get their share of minutes due to Engles’s affinity for shooting.

At NJIT, Engles often employed a zone press to speed the game up and force opponents to take quicker shots than they wanted. Finding the right guys to play that scheme will be tough, but some of the group of CJ Davis, Kyle Castlin, Nate Hickman, Quinton Adlesh, and Michael Smith will step up and get minutes. Adlesh, who barely saw the floor behind last year’s guard depth,  will be an Engles favorite because he is an absolutely pure, effortless shooter with a quick release. Davis, Castlin, and Hickman are my bets to start, but they’ll have a lot to prove after being bit players as well in 2015-16. None of them jumped off the page statistically last year, which gives Adlesh and Smith chances to seize time. Rodney Hunter is the most “Engles-y” wing on the team, but he was nailed to the bench in 2015-16.

With the big man shooting he has on hand, expect Engles to continue to play relatively quickly and to space the floor with a barrage of three-point attempts. Exactly who will be featured in the backcourt is anyone’s guess, but given Engles’s track record for developing guards, it shouldn’t be a major issue. This will be a transition year for the Lions, but if the young guards learn and grow this year, Engles could have them contending again in the Ivy in 2017-18.  

8.      Cornell

Key Returners: Robert Hatter, Matt Morgan, Darryl Smith, David Onuorah, Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof, Troy Whiteside, JoJo Fallas
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: None

Postseason Projection: None

I have to be honest with you, loyal readers - I considered just copy-and-pasting my colleague Ky McKeon’s 2015-16 Cornell preview here, because this is the same exact team. Plus, I don’t think anyone would even notice if I did...jkjkjk. Every rotation player returns and only one new freshman joins the squad, so Cornell will count on internal development and a coaching change to key its improvement from the 10-18, 3-11 Ivy cellar dweller that the Big Red was last year.

Brian Earl comes over from Princeton to take over the program (he was the Tigers’ associate head coach), as his predecessor, Bill Courtney, was never able to manage an over-.500 finish during his 6 years. After experiencing plenty of success at Princeton over the past 9 years (Earl’s alma mater, actually), Earl hopes to give The Office's Andy Bernard and the rest of Big Red Nation something to cheer for again. He will likely have his teams play similar to the ones he helped with at Princeton - intelligent and disciplined with a good amount of shooting on the floor as often as possible. He’ll enjoy the backcourt he inherits, as Robert Hatter and Matt Morgan were two of the most prolific scorers in the conference last year. That scoring is partially due to hilariously high usage - both ranked in the top 35 nationally in percentage of their team’s shots taken while on the floor, and they ranked 1-2 within the Ivy in both shots and possessions used. Neither was exceedingly efficient (Hatter in particular struggled), but with more experience and in a more disciplined system, I’d expect both players’ efficiencies to rise. Earl likely won’t tolerate the long distance heaves that both guys threw up last year, and reining in their shot selection will be a priority. Morgan showed a lot of potential as a shooter and driver for a freshman, though, and only a coach-dictated slower tempo may keep him from hitting the 20ppg benchmark this year.

The fatal flaw of this squad (well, among many other flaws) is the gross disregard for any kind of rebounding. David Onuorah at least gave it the old college try on the defensive end, but the rest of his teammates treated rebounding like a hoarder treats spring cleaning. The Red’s rebounding rates were bottom-15 nationally on both ends of the floor, and inspiring some sort of improvement on that end will be one of Earl’s primary areas of focus. Some of the issue is personnel limitations - the Red were 305th in average height - but rebounding is also partially an effort-based aspect of the game. For that reason, lone freshman Josh Warren will have an opportunity to find playing time on a team that returns everyone. Stone Gettings and Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof are really the only other interior options; last year’s team played a fair amount of smallball with 6’4 Troy Whiteside or 6’3 Joel Davis at the 4-spot - completely out of position for both guys.

With essentially the same roster and a coach in his very first head coaching gig (who wants to play an extremely different style from how this roster played last year), I don’t see a ton of improvement coming for a last place team. Earl was a good hire as someone familiar with how to be successful in the Ancient Eight, but that success won’t come in year 1.