The more things change, the more they stay the same. Ivy League basketball seems to be improving by the year, four-star recruits are more willing to forego scholarships in exchange for an Ivy League education and the competitiveness (at least in the upper half of the standings) is ever-climbing. Last year’s excitement set the stage for another interesting season in the northeast. But who will come out on top?
Ivy League Preseason Power Rankings:
I picked Yale first, not because of what they were last year, but because of what they can be.
Yale just doesn’t lose much talent. The team graduated only two seniors: Anthony Dallier, who averaged 9.4 points and 4.0 assists per game, and A.J. Edwards, who played sparingly.
In addition to a talented recruiting class, Yale will also add Makai Mason back into the mix. In his sophomore campaign in 2015-16, Mason led the Bulldogs in points and assists per game with 16.0 and 3.8, respectively. He then led Yale to a first-round upset over No. 5 seed Baylor in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
But Mason broke his foot before last year began, ending his junior season before it started. He will transfer to Baylor after this season to play his final year of eligibility. First, he has unfinished business at Yale, and his return means the Bulldogs will add one of the Ivy League’s best players to an already talented squad.
I expect Princeton to take a slight step back. The team graduated six seniors last year, including Ivy League Player of the Year Spencer Weisz — a significant loss. He and Steven Cook were the only players unanimously selected to the Ivy League First Team.
That said, I kept them high because Princeton returns Myles Stephens, who was named Defensive Player of the Year last year as a sophomore. Stephens and Devin Cannady, a proven scorer who averaged 13.4 points per game, will be the junior duo at the helm of this Tiger outfit, keeping Princeton toward the top.
A perennially good team, Harvard will be pesky once again as it returns Ivy League Rookie of the Year Bryce Aiken. Aiken averaged 14.5 points per game in his first year in Cambridge in 2016-17, and I only expect him to become more prolific. Notably too, Harvard picked up three-star recruit Mario Haskett. Haskett chose to join the Crimson over Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, and VCU among others.
4. Penn Quakers
Just below the always-relevant HYP triumvirate sits Penn. Last year, the Quakers lost their first six conference games and looked like they would spend the season at the bottom of the leaderboard. But they turned it around in early February, winning five straight contests and sneaking into the conference tournament with a 6-8 record.
The loss of seniors Darnell Foreman (who led the Quakers in assists with 3.4 per game) and Matt Howard (the team’s second-best scorer) might be tough, but Penn returns a pair of freshman standouts in Ryan Betley and A.J. Brodeur. Brodeur was the best scorer and rebounder on the team, and Betley ranked third for the Quakers in those two categories. The two large sophomores will help keep Penn in contention.
There is a big drop off between the upper and lower half of the conference. That said, not much separates the next three teams. I put Columbia fifth — the best of the worst — but it wasn’t an easy decision. New York’s Ivy League squad lost its best player, 6’10’’ forward Luke Petrasek, to graduation. In his place, Columbia recruited another 6’10’’ forward — Jaron Faulds, an ESPN four-star recruit. Petrasek leaves big shoes to fill, but Faulds probably has pretty big feet. Also, Columbia will return Mike Smith, who cemented himself as a solid scorer last year as a freshman.
I picked Dartmouth sixth because of Evan Boudreux, and only because of Evan Boudreaux. On a team that started off last year 0-9 and kicked off conference play with an 0-5 record, Boudreaux somehow shined. The forward averaged the most rebounds per game in the Ivy League (9.5 RPG) and the second-most points (17.5 PPG). I am also willing to give Dartmouth a little bit of a pass for the slow start, as it was David McLaughlin’s first year at the helm of the program.
Cornell’s Brian Earl was also in his first year at the position last year, and Cornell also underperformed. But fans of the Big Red have reason to be cautiously optimistic. Matt Morgan, who led the Ivy League in scoring last year with 18.1 points per game, will be returning as an upperclassman. Also, Jim Boeheim’s son, Jimmy, will be with the team next year as a freshman, so you might get to see good ole Jim in the stands.
Other than that, though, it might be another slow year for those in Ithaca.
8. Brown Bears
Last year, the Bears’ position in the conference floated just above the murky depths thanks to the efforts of Ivy League first-teamer Steven Spieth. Without him, the outlook is bleak. Brown also graduated starting point guard Tavon Blackmon and sharpshooter JR Hobbie. Spieth and Blackmon were the team’s only double-digit scorers. Even with these three, the team won just four games after Dec. 30.
Rookie point guard Brandon Anderson looked good at times, but he didn’t appear ready to lead the Bears for an entire game. Sophomore big Travis Fuller was solid for the Bears off the bench, but Fuller was often outmatched inside by bigger, stronger posts. This year, the scoring is probably going to have to come in large part from Joshua Howard, Juwan Howard’s son, who was good-not-great as a freshman. If the five incoming freshmen aren’t able to come in and produce immediately, this team could be in trouble fast.