Let’s be honest, when you think “Ivy League”, you don’t think quality basketball conference. Well…you probably don’t, and if you do that’s weird. But let’s make something very clear: the Ivy League has become a quality basketball conference. This winter, the conference will be deep, very strong at the top, and will be anchored by a Harvard team that should be among the best in the nation. Yale and Brown will also challenge for the title, with Penn and Princeton lurking as potential dark horse candidates.
Below are College Sports Town’s picks for how the league will shake out and also our predictions for the league’s awards:
1. Harvard– (No. 23 in our national preview)
To get an idea of how good Harvard is this year: If you took away Harvard’s starting 5, the remaining team would probably still be competitive in the Ivy League. The return of Kyle Casey should allow the Crimson to move away from the three guard lineup they used last year (assuming that Wesley Saunders shifts to small forward). This, coupled with the addition of Zena Edosomwan, should help shore up Harvard’s rebounding and give them more of a post presence, their biggest weaknesses last year. The biggest issue for coach Tommy Amaker and the Crimson will be figuring out how to get all of Harvard’s good players minutes. Kenyatta Smith, Steve Moundou-Missi, and Jonah Travis were all major contributors last year, but all will see their playing time cut this year due to the additions of Casey and Edosomwan. In the backcourt, Brandyn Curry may not even start despite being a team captain. Clearly, this team has the talent, athleticism, and depth to roll through the Ivy League. An undefeated season is definitely not out of the question.
2. Yale– Get excited about Yale basketball. Fresh off a season in which their young squad improved dramatically between November and March, the still relatively green Bulldogs are ready for big things. The team from New Haven is coached by James Jones, who has been at Yale since 1999 and is fantastic on a chalkboard. His team is athletic, fairly deep, and has loads of size. Their frontcourt should be the league’s best. Senior forward Jeremiah Kreisberg (it seems like he has been at Yale forever) is terrific at carving out space down low. Justin Sears should build on a fantastic freshman campaign. Meanwhile, bigs Matt Townsend and Brandon Sherrod are also both rugged and skilled. The Bulldogs’ backcourt is strong too, although not as deep: Javier Duren is good at both ends of the court, Armani Cotton has great size and a diverse game, and sophomore Nick Victor is good too. Senior forward Greg Kelley should do it all for the Bulldogs in a supporting role. This Yale team would probably be the class of the Ivy League most years.
3. Brown– The feisty Bears might have finished at .500 in league play last season and under .500 overall, but those winning percentages belie what a strong season of progress it was for Brown and their energetic 31-year-old coach, Mike Martin. The Bears, who had really struggled since their 19-10 ‘07-08 season, had plenty of good moments last winter, including wins over Providence and Princeton. They also fought valiantly in a thrilling double overtime loss to Harvard in Beantown in early February and were a couple of points away from winning their final five games. With outstanding do-it-all guard Sean McGonagill returning for the Bears and a solid post game thanks to such stalwarts as Rafael Maia, Cedric Kuakumensah (an absolutely terrific defender), and Tucker Halpern, Bears fans should see more marked improvement from their team. The battles in the paint between Yale and Brown will be delightful!
4. Penn– As a two-time Ivy League player of the year, ex-NBA shooting guard, and Penn alum, Quakers coach Jerome Allen knows a good backcourt when he sees one. Although Penn lacks a true point guard, this year the Quakers can expect to have one of the strongest guard combos in the Ivy League–Miles Cartwright and Tony Hicks. Cartwright and Hicks both scored the ball well at times last year, although both had struggles with consistency. If the duo can manage to find their stroke consistently this year, Penn will always be competitive. Patrick Lucas-Perry can spell both Hicks and Cartwright as needed, providing an efficient scoring punch off the bench. Perry may find his way into the starting lineup, with Cartwright moved to small forward. Down low, Fran Dougherty is the star. He averaged 12 and 7 last year. Darien Nelson-Henry is our pick for breakout player of the year. He averaged 8 points and 4 rebounds in just 18 minutes per game last year. Given more playing time, the sophomore big man should excel. Junior Henry Brooks can also provide productive minutes. The main concerns this year for the Quakers are Depth and consistency. Relying on two inconsistent players for outside scoring isn’t ideal, and the options on the bench are limited. But, as Harvard showed last year, a few stars are all that’s needed in the Ivy. If all falls right for Penn, the Quakers could challenge for the title. Even if things don’t, it’s hard to see them falling too far down the standings.
5. Princeton– No matter what, Princeton will always have this. Every time I (Harvardfan94) watch it, I beg Oliver McNally not to bite on that fake. But he does. Every single time. (I shouldn’t be too critical because McNally is one of my favorite Harvard players of all time.) This year, Princeton lost its star player in Ian Hummer, and he will be tough to replace. Mitch Henderson is stuck with a team that lacks a game changer. T.J. Bray is good, and he’ll put up good numbers, but he is not the type of player who can dominate a game the way Hummer could. The rotating cast of big men like Denton Koon and Will Barrett (who is actually a nasty three point shooter) doesn’t appear to be good enough to replace Hummer’s contributions down low. Princeton should play solid, mistake-free basketball, but don’t expect too much from this Tigers team.
6. Cornell– Bill Courtney’s team was hit hard by the injury bug late last season, as the Big Red dropped their final six games. This season, they should end stronger, although things could be rough early as Cornell attempts to recover from some considerable personnel losses. Guys like Johnathan Gray and Eitan Chemerinski will be missed, but there are still some real good players on this Cornell team, like Shonn Miller, Nolan Cressler, and Devin Cherry. The Big Red will also be…well… big, which could allow Courtney to employ a halfcourt, grind it out style of play that might be conducive to knocking off the conference’s elite.
7. Columbia– Columbia was one of the most talented teams in the Ivy League last year. Unfortunately, the talent never manifested itself in league play as the team that blew away Villanova on the road in November had trouble putting together consistent efforts in February. This year, don’t expect the Lions to rebound. The losses of Brian Barbour and Mark Cisco hurt the Lions badly, and there is no reason to think that their road issues are going away anytime soon. Still, there are some reasons for hope in Morningside Heights: Alex Rosenberg, Grant Mullins, and Maodo Lo are all back. All are good. Steve Frankoski is back too and shoots the lights out. Still, there are too many question marks, particularly in the frontcourt, to expect the Lions to have a bounce back season.
8. Dartmouth– Another year, another Last Place finish for the Big Green, owners of one of the worst nicknames in college sports (Cornell’s ain’t good either). For Dartmouth, Gabas Maldunas is the star, but he is not Dartmouth’s only serviceable big, as he is joined by fellow forwards John Golden and Connor Boehm. Alex Mitola is solid as well; the tiny point guard has a good outside shot and picks up his fair share of steals. Tyler Melville can shoot the three, and Malik Gil is one of the fastest guards in the Ivy League. However, Mitola is still the only consistent contributor in the Dartmouth backcourt. Dartmouth appears to be only six deep this year, which is certainly not enough to challenge in most games considering the strength of the Ivy League. Dartmouth will lose big and lose often this year, making it another tough season for the fans up in Hanover.
All-Ivy First Team
G- Sean McGonagill, Brown:
McGonagill was one of the best in the league last year, garnering career highs in points, rebounds, and steals per game. However, he posted a career low assist total. As Brown’s supporting cast improves, so will his assist totals. Expect a big season from McGonagill as Brown fights for a postseason berth.
G- Siyani Chambers, Harvard:
Chambers, a sophomore from Golden Valley Minnesota, emerged as a star for the Crimson last winter as a freshman. Chambers is a blur with awesome handles and a consistent J. Turnovers were an issue at times for him last year and his defense wasn’t always great but, following an off-season of improvement, it is hard to imagine anybody effectively guarding Harvard’s nimble point man.
F- Wesley Saunders, Harvard:
Following a monster sophomore season in which he led the Crimson in scoring, Saunders should again dominate the league as a junior. Saunders is offensively dynamic and provides some spectacular highlights. Some improvement to his perimeter game could lead to an even bigger junior year for the talented wing.
F- Justin Sears, Yale:
This guy is FUN to watch. As a freshman last year, Sears played in a supporting role for Yale, scoring efficiently, rebounding well, and generally impressing at both ends of the court. Expect substantial improvement and a big year for Sears, who should lead the Bulldogs to a finish in the top three.
F- Shonn Miller, Cornell:
The junior power forward has been a contributor since his freshman year, and he looks to build on an impressive season this year. The loss of Evan Peck means that Miller will be the go-to guy for the Big Red this year, and he has the ability to lead the team. Expect him to put up some monster games en route to a great season.
All-Ivy Second Team
G- T.J. Bray, Princeton:
Bray is going to have to lead a Princeton team that will be hurt by the loss of star Ian Hummer. T.J. is a great all-around player, able to bang inside and grab boards and step out and hit a three, all while running an offense. The only concern will be his workload, as he will have to take more responsibility than ever before on a weakened Princeton side.
G- Tony Hicks, Penn:
Hicks struggled for much of last season before turning it on towards the end. He averaged only 10.4 points per game, but again this understates how good he can be. Watching him destroy Harvard last year was scary, and if he can even come close to repeating his performance at the end of last year he will challenge for the league scoring title.
F- Kyle Casey, Harvard:
Casey returns from Harvard cheating scandal exile. He has a great post game and a solid midrange jumper, defending his position well despite being somewhat undersized. Casey should benefit from not being Harvard’s go-to guy all the time this year, as Wesley Saunders and Zena Edosomwan will take much of the scoring load.
F- Fran Dougherty, Penn:
Despite having an absolutely atrocious name, the senior from Penn has managed to dominate the Ivy League, as he average 12 points and 7 boards per game last year. Look for Dougherty to build on those numbers and have another great season for a Penn team that will be looking to surprise some people.
F- Gabas Maldunas, Dartmouth:
The Lithuanian big man will be the go-to guy for Dartmouth this year. Few in the Ivy can match his strength and physicality. Maldunas will be just about the only bright spot for Dartmouth this year.
Player of the Year– Wesley Saunders, Harvard
With an unfair combination of size and athleticism, Wesley Saunders enters this season as the favorite to capture the conference’s Player of the Year award. Saunders can really do it all. If there is a weakness in his game, it is probably his jumper, although Saunders hit some shots in Harvard’s “Crimson Madness” scrimmage that were downright Paul Pierce-esque, right down to his form.
Diaper Dandy of the Year– Zena Edosomwan, Harvard
This guy looks like a player. The freshman big will be an enormous addition to Harvard’s frontcourt. Edosomwan is an incredibly smooth athlete with terrific footwork in the post and a decent midrange game. He’s got the size and skill to dominate in the paint and should draw plenty of double teams. Edosomwan should be a nightmare for opposing Ivy League teams and announcers (it’s Ed-owes-samjuan) all season.
Defensive Player of the Year– Laurent Rivard, Harvard
With all due respect to the sweet shooting guard’s offensive game, Laurent Rivard really shines on the defensive end. Rivard is a big guard at 6-5 who has proven himself capable of guarding four positions. On a team of excellent defenders, the physical Rivard is the best.