By Kevin Sweeney
There was a long period of time in college basketball that the Ivy League wasn’t nationally relevant. Teams from the Ivy rarely knocked off big time teams in the NCAA Tournament, nor did they compete for upper echelon recruits.
Those times are over.
Thanks to the successes of Harvard and Yale, who have combined to win 3 NCAA Tournament games in the last 4 years, the Ivy League is back on the map. And with a conference tournament for the first time this season, the Ivy should be as wide-open as ever before. For the first time in recent memory, the Ivy League has a realistic shot at receiving 2 NCAA Tournament bids.
After a down year last year, Harvard should once again be among the favorites in the Ivy League. They return star point guard Siyani Chambers, who sat out last season due to a knee injury, and Zena Edosomwan, who averaged 13.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game last season. They also bring in one of the best freshman classes in mid-major basketball history, featuring 4 players who received 4 star ratings from ESPN. This unprecedented class is thanks largely to head coach Tommy Amaker, who has turned Harvard into a destination worth choosing over high-major powers. This group of 4-stars received offers from places such as Michigan, Auburn, Florida, Miami, and Indiana, yet chose Harvard.
Princeton should also be a force to be reckoned with this season. While they may not have cashed in recruiting the way that Harvard has, the Tigers boast an experienced roster that returns the majority of its team from last year, which was ranked in the top 50 of the RPI. If sophomore Devin Cannady builds on his outstanding rookie campaign, the Tigers will be as good as any team in the Ivy League.
Defending champs Yale will look to reload around star point guard Makai Mason. After Yale’s frontcourt punished opponents all season, Mason stepped up in a huge way in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 31 points in the Bulldogs’s upset win over Baylor. Now, it is Mason’s team, and Yale will need him if they have hopes of making a repeat run to the Big Dance.
However, the presence of the new 4-team conference tournament means that the regular season title no longer earns the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. That leaves room for a sleeper, and I think Cornell may be that team. While they struggled mightily last season, winning just 1o games, they have a new coach in Brian Earl, who knows how to win in the Ivy League, and one of the best guard duos in the country in Matt Morgan and Robert Hatter. The duo averaged over 36 points per game combined last season. A high-scoring duo like that can always pull upsets in March.
Overall, we are likely to see one of the most exciting seasons in Ivy League history.