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Ivy League preseason power rankings: Harvard is primed for a return to the NCAA Tournament

The Crimson are good. And not just for an Ivy League team.

Ivy League Basketball Tournament - Championship Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Despite suffering through some growing pains last season, the future looks bright for the Ivy League. The top three teams have the potential to be among the elite class of mid-majors this season.

The postseason tournament is moving from The Palestra, Penn’s home court, after the Quakers used the advantage to sneak into the NCAA Tournament last year. In March 2019, the four-team tournament will be at Yale’s Lee Amphitheatre. Could it help the Bulldogs snag a bid?

1. Harvard Crimson, 18-14 (12-2 Ivy), Lost to Marquette in NIT First Round

Harvard looks like not just the best team in the Ivy League, but potentially one of the top mid-major teams in the country. The Crimson are led by an extremely talented junior class that includes the defending Ivy League player of the year Seth Towns, first-teamer Chris Lewis, and dynamic point guard Bryce Aiken. Aiken played only 13 games last season due to injury, but should be back at full strength to start the 2018-19 campaign. Tommy Amaker has assembled an impressive collection of athletes, and Harvard uses that to its advantage on the defensive end, where its overwhelming length makes life difficult for every Ivy League opponent.

2. Penn Quakers, 24-9 (12-2), Lost to Kansas in NCAA Tournament First Round

While Harvard gets most of the attention when looking at the Ivy League, it’s worth remembering that Penn not only won the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but also matched Harvard’s record during the regular season. (The two teams split their regular season matchups before Penn won the playoff final at home.) The hiring of Steve Donahue before the 2015-16 season has worked out just as the Quakers’ brass envisioned. Penn’s biggest question heading into the season is how it will replace gritty lead guard Darnell Foreman. The most likely candidates appear to be junior Devon Goodman or senior Jake Silpe.

3. Yale Bulldogs, 16-15 (9-5 Ivy)

The Bulldogs need to figure out a way to take some of the burden off of Miye Oni in order to be legitimate contenders this season. The 6’6 swingman has proven capable of taking on heavy workloads, but Yale was overly reliant on its star at times last season. Oni used 27 percent of Yale’s possessions when he was on the court and the offense became predictable. Jordan Bruner‘s return should help. Bruner missed the entire 2017-18 season after suffering an injury in a scrimmage against Boston University. It was a big blow considering Bruner was a force both offensively and defensively as a freshman. His return could be the boost Yale needs to compete with Penn and Harvard at the top of the league standings.

4. Princeton Tigers, 13-16 (5-9 Ivy)

What happened to Princeton last season? Mitch Henderson had never had a losing season in six years leading the Tigers before a string of unlucky breaks and a lack of defensive intensity dropped Princeton into the Ivy’s lower half in 2017-18. Hopefully the luck will turn around (Princeton went an unsustainable 1-3 in overtime games in league play last season), but the defense also needs to improve. Myles Stephens was one of the best individual defenders two years ago when he was supported by versatile, ball-hawking wings, but as Princeton’s personnel changed last season, so did its defensive identity. The Tigers allowed 1.07 points per possession on defense in the Ivy League, and on nights when the three-pointers weren’t falling, the offense just couldn’t keep up. Getting back that defensive tenacity (and the addition of one of the Ivy League’s most exciting freshmen, Jaelin Llewellyn, in the backcourt) should help Princeton climb back into contender status.

5. Cornell Big Red, 12-16 (6-8 Ivy)

The departure of Stone Gettings to Arizona as a graduate transfer leaves Cornell thin in the front court, but the Big Red do return Matt Morgan, their go-to guy for the past few seasons. The offense stabilized last season in Brian Earl’s second go-round through the league, but the defense was one of the worst in the country. The problems on that end were multifold, including an inability to force turnovers or grab defensive rebounds. Gettings was Cornell’s best defensive rebounder a season ago, so the Big Red will need Josh Warren and Steven Julian to step up and help control the paint. Cornell may be the biggest enigma of any Ivy League team in the second tier. It’s easy to envision scenarios in which Earl’s team finishes anywhere from fourth to last.

6. Brown Bears, 11-16 (4-10 Ivy)

Brown was fun to watch last season. Sure the defense couldn’t stop anyone, but the Bears played fast and Desmond Cambridge and Brandon Anderson put the ball in the basket. In fact, the Bears were 4-4 in the Ivy League before ending their season on a six-game losing streak and missing the playoff. Mike Martin will need to get a little more from his front court in order to stay in games. If this team does take a step forward it will probably come through offensive continuity. Brown’s top six scorers return this season.

7. Columbia Lions, 8-19 (5-9 Ivy)

The Lions lost a key player when Lukas Meisner decided to go pro in Germany instead of playing his senior season in Morningside Heights. Columbia returns its two leading scorers in junior guard Mike Smith and senior guard Quinton Adlesh, but has a lot of question marks after those stalwarts. The return of Jake Killingsworth, after he missed all but two games last season due to sinus surgery, should give Jim Engles another player to use. But Engles needs to find someone to play in the front court. Portland transfer Joseph Smoyer is sitting out this season, so junior forward Patrick Tapé is the only eligible Lion taller than 6’7.

8. Dartmouth Big Green, 7-20 (3-11 Ivy)

Dartmouth hasn’t been above .500 in Ivy League play since the 1998-99 season. The Big Green have failed to keep up with the rising tide of the talent in the league and had the conference’s worst offense by a wide margin last season. The graduation of the team’s top two scorers in Miles Wright and Taylor Johnson isn’t going to help that problem either. David McLaughlin will have to conjure some offense out of the pieces that remain. The most useful ones are junior guard Brendan Barry, who shot 44 percent from three but just 39 percent on twos, and Chris Knight, a promising sophomore forward.