Historically, the Ivy League has had some of the most competitive conference play in all of college basketball. The teams all have historic rivalries with each other, and the high level of academics draws some players who normally may not have gone to a school in such a small conference. Add that the conference is only eight teams, and that they were the last conference without a postseason tournament for a March Madness bid (they switched to their current, four-team playoff format in 2017), and there are all the ingredients for a fierce slate of matchups.
While the early season dreams of a multi-bid Ivy may not come to fruition, Yale, Harvard, and Pennsylvania all look to be locked in a fierce contest for the league title and a shot to go dancing.
Here’s what you can expect from three of the four teams likely to play in Boston in March.
The champions in the regular-season and the winner of the tournament in 2019, the Bulldogs look to be the favorite despite Ivy League Player of the Year Miye Oni leaving for the NBA after last season.
While they’ve fallen just short against several power conference opponents this season, James Jones may have his best squad yet this year. Yale’s bread and butter is the defensive end, where they force teams into difficult shots, ranking in the top 40 nationally in 2P% against (36th), 3P% against, (6th) and EFG% against (6th).
The frontcourt tandem of Jordan Bruner and Paul Atkinson has given many of their opponents fits on both ends of the floor, possessing deft shooting touches as well as an imposing presence in the paint, combining to average nearly four blocks a game. Even thought Azar Swain hasn’t quite maintained his long-range efficiency from last season (down 34% from 41%), if he gets hot, then the Bulldogs can play with anyone in the country. While the conference will be a brutal battle to the end, don’t be surprised if Yale wins 12 games in conference play and goes into the tournament with a leg up on their opponents.
Yale certainly won’t get that title without a dogfight.
The Crimson, led by Tommy Amaker, has consistently recruited the top talent in the league during his tenure with the team, and this squad is no different. Despite losing 2018 Ivy League Player of the Year Seth Towns to injury, and senior leader Bryce Aiken in a walking boot for the foreseeable future, this squad has gone 4-0 without both of them, including an impressive overtime win at San Francisco. This team has survived based on its depth and experience surrounding sweet shooting Canadian Noah Kirkwood. Four-year starter Chris Lewis has been rock-solid at center, shooting 64% from the field while consistently providing leadership for the squad.
This team’s strength is its versatility: Even if one player has an off night, there are four other people there on the court to pick up the slack. The Crimson likely have the highest floor of any Ivy League team, and if they can keep this level of play up without Aiken, his return could lead to a very interesting conference tournament.
The only team listed to have begun conference play, the Quakers looked lost in their game against Princeton, falling 78-64 in the Palestra. Senior center and leading scorer AJ Brodeur made a meager five shots on 18 attempts, and the team shot only 13% from beyond the arc.
This is by no means a reason to count them out. Penn-Princeton games seemingly always have unexpected results, whereas Penn is a proven commodity in the Ivy League at this point; the Quakers have made the conference tournament in every year of its existence. Freshman Jordan Dingle has been an excellent second banana to Brodeur, and his poise and skill as a freshman are a sign of what may be to come in a post-Brodeur era.
Penn has some of the best wins in the conference — including wins at Alabama and Providence to show its mettle — but they’ll need to perform better than they did on Saturday to have a fighting chance to make it to Boston in Brodeur’s last ride with the Quakers.