By Kevin Sweeney
The Ivy League has certainly raised its game as a whole over the last few seasons. At the core of the league’s improvement has been the outstanding job Ivy League coaches have done recruiting high-level talent, and that trend seems to only be growing stronger in the last couple of classes. Combine this influx of talent with the added drama of the Ivy League’s addition of a 4-team conference tournament beginning last season, and intrigue around the Ivy is at an all-time high.
- Yale- There’s been a ton of debate among college hoops writers this offseason as to who should be the favorite in the Ivy, but I’m on the Yale bandwagon. The Bulldogs get Ivy POY candidate Makai Mason back after he missed all of last season with a foot injury, and he joins a strong young core that shined a season ago in Mason’s absence.
- Harvard- The Crimson’s top-25 2016 recruiting class mostly lived up to the hype as freshmen, and after a year of adjusting to the college game will be even more dangerous this season. Remember, this is a team that had 4 freshmen starting by the end of the season, yet didn’t lose a game by more than 4 points after January 2.
- Princeton- I disagree with those who are looking at the Ivy as a two-horse race this season, as in my opinion this Princeton club has a chance to be right up there at the top. They have perhaps the best player in the conference in wing Myles Stephens, a fearless playmaker in Devin Cannady, and a strong recruiting class that should give the Tigers good minutes from the start.
- Penn- AJ Brodeur (13.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.4 bpg) was sneakily one of the better freshmen bigs in the country a season ago. Combine him with a talented young backcourt and a good incoming class, and you get the feeling this Penn team could make some noise.
- Columbia- The loss of Luke Petrasek to graduation will be a difficult one to replace for sure, but I’m not as down on the Lions as some. They’ll definitely be a young club, but they have a scoring guard who makes plays in Mike Smith, one of the top breakout candidates in the conference in big man Patrick Tape, and a pair of freshmen in guard Tai Bibbs and big man Jaron Faulds who should be immediately productive.
- Dartmouth- Yes, the Big Green were very bad a season ago. However, I think this team could make a bit of noise this season. 4 starters, including double-double machine Evan Boudreaux, return for Dave McLaughlin’s club. The x-factor could be freshman guard Isaac Letoa, who put up strong numbers (8.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.6 apg) for New Zealand during this summer’s FIBA U19 World Cup.
- Cornell- Last season was definitely one of transition for the Big Red, as Brian Earl’s first season saw the beginning of a rebuild. I could see them making a few steps forward this season, as they have a pair of all-conference-level players in guard Matt Morgan and big man Stone Gettings.
- Brown- It could be a very difficult season for Brown, as their top 2 scorers from last season in Steven Spieth and Tavon Blackmon graduate. If nothing else, the Bears will be fun to watch, as they will likely sport one of the more exciting offenses in the conference.
The fight for the Ivy League title should be super fun to watch, but I am rolling with the Bulldogs. If Makai Mason returns at 100%, he is the best player in the Ivy League. Between Mason, junior Alex Copeland, and uber-talented sophomore wing Miye Oni, James Jones will have a ton of firepower to deploy in the backcourt. Combine that with a pair of versatile forwards in Jordan Bruner and Blake Reynolds, and this team will have the offensive weapons and defensive versatility to be incredibly dangerous.
Dark Horse: Penn
Penn has some really interesting pieces that will make them dangerous all year, especially in March when they host the conference tournament at the Palestra. The sophomore duo of Brodeur and Ryan Betley will be one of the better pairings in the league, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see freshman forward Jarrod Simmons (offers from Texas, VCU, Pitt, and Temple) to immediately contribute in a big way. The Quakers are certainly not a team to count out in this Ivy race.
First Team All-Conference:
- G: Matt Morgan (Cornell)
- G: Bryce Aiken (Harvard)
- G: Makai Mason (Yale)
- G: Myles Stephens (Princeton)
- F: Evan Boudreaux (Dartmouth)
Player of the Year: Myles Stephens (Princeton)- I’m not sure people realize just how good Stephens was by the time Ivy League play came around a season ago. He averaged over 15 points and 5 rebounds per game in conference play on a hyper-efficient 56% from the field and 42% from downtown. He’s also an excellent defender. The scariest part: he was only a sophomore. A huge year is ahead for Stephens.
Breakout Player of the Year: Chris Lewis (Harvard)- Lewis, a super-athletic forward who posted a strong freshman campaign a season ago, seems ready to blossom into a star. In less than 20 minutes per contest, he averaged almost 8 points and 5 rebounds while blocking 1,3 shots per game. He has a chance to dominate the Ivy League at both ends and become a double-double machine this season.
Newcomer of the Year: Danilo Djuricic (Harvard)- I could have gone in a bunch of different ways, but I’ll go with Djuricic for this one. He may not have the highest upside of the newcomers in the Ivy this season, but he’ll immediately be an excellent contributor as a floor-spacing forward who can play the 3 or the 4. After a strong summer helping to lead Canada to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Cup, Djuricic seems ready to be the type of guy who makes winning plays and hits big shots. He’ll find a role on this Harvard team.