Conference Preview: Ivy League

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In 1962, Yale won the Ivy League championship and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament where they fell by 10 points in overtime to Wake Forest.  The following season, the Bulldogs tied Princeton for the Ivy title but lost a one-game playoff.  Yale failed to earn even a tie for the Ivy League title again until 2002, when they finished the season in a three way deadlock with Penn and Princeton.  Yale defeated Princeton in the first playoff game, but fell to Penn the following night giving the Quakers the automatic bid.  Last season, for the third time since their last NCAA appearance, Yale again tied for the Ivy League championship.  And again they fell in the playoff, this time losing to Harvard.  The Crimson went on to earn a 13 seed and fall to North Carolina in the Round of 64 by 2 points while Yale’s season was over.  Only Dartmouth, which received a bid to the CIT,  joined the Crimson in the postseason, playing extra basketball for the first time since 1959.

This season, Yale’s streak may finally come to an end as the Bulldogs are among the favorites to win the league.  Yale’s chances increased when Harvard announced that its top returning player, Siyani Chambers, would be lost for the season due to injury.  Without him, the Crimson appear to be a longshot to extend their streak of four straight NCAA tournament appearances.  Princeton will join Yale among the top contenders as the Tigers return all five starters from last season.  However, none of these teams are the pick to win the title.  Yale has not been in the Big Dance since 1962, but Columbia’s streak is almost just as long, not having been in since 1968.  Although picking the Lions to take the conference title may be a bit of a shock, they appear to have all the pieces necessary to do just that.

Predicted Order of Finish

1.  Columbia – The Lions return four starters that gained tons of experience last season including senior guard Maodo Lo.  However, it is not the return of last year’s starters that makes this team the pick to win the conference.  Instead, it is the returns of forward Alex Rosenberg and guard Grant Mullins, a pair of double digit scorers from 2013-14 that both missed the majority of last year with injuries.  When these two are added to the experience and depth of the rest of the returning lineup, the Lions should have all the tools they need to finish the season at the top.

2.  Yale – Even though three starters are gone, Yale does return Ivy League Player of the Year Justin Sears along with Jack Montague and a deep bench.  The Bulldogs may be a popular pick to win the league, and should be right in the hunt for their first tourney bid since 1962.

3.  Princeton – The Tigers return all five starters plus a deep bench from a team that went 16-14 last season.  What’s more, Princeton only has one senior on its roster and is set up to be a serious contender beyond this year as well.

4.  Harvard – Corbin Miller will be called upon to lead the Crimson now that Wesley Saunders and Steve Moundou-Missi are gone and Siyani Chambers has been lost for the season.  The good news is that head coach Tommy Amaker has brought in a very strong recruiting class, meaning that even if they do not return to the NCAA Tournament this season, the Crimson will be a factor next year and beyond.

5.  Pennsylvania – Steve Donahue had tons of success during his last stint in the Ivy League as head coach for Cornell.  He returns to the Ivy this season in Philadelphia and has some solid pieces upon which to begin building up the Quakers program.  Tony Hicks in the backcourt and Darien Nelson-Henry down low both figure to be major factors and there is no reason why they will not rise in the standings this year.

6.  Brown – The Bears will be competitive this season with Tavon Blackmon at guard and Cedric Kuakumensah down low.  However, this team always seems to be on the verge of taking that step into the upper division of the Ivy League but just never seems to get there.  It is hard to pick them to do that this year.

7.  Dartmouth – Playing in the postseason was a nice reward for the Big Green last season, but it is unlikely to be repeated this time around.  The Big Green lost their top two scorers off of last year’s squad and may struggle just to avoid the conference basement.

8.  Cornell – Robert Hatter is the only returning player for the Big Red that averaged more than 4 points per game last season.  This figures to be a very long season in Ithaca.

(Note: My next preview will not be posted until Tuesday, October 20 due to other commitments.)

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