By Kevin Sweeney
Recruiting remains incredibly strong throughout the Ivy League, continuing to propel the league as one of the nation’s best mid-majors. Harvard added to its embarrassment of riches with an elite class, while Yale and Penn each brought in high-major recruits and the rest of the league duked it out with other solid mid-major programs. I’m still skeptical of those pushing for a #2bidIvy this season, but I am a believer in this league being incredibly fun this season.
#1. Harvard– Health has doomed the Crimson in past years despite elite recruiting year after year, but this team is so deep and talented that it’s hard to imagine them not winning the Ivy. Tommy Amaker’s club returns its top eight scorers from last year and adds a top-40 recruiting class that features a pair of four-star prospects. And in case you forgot, they also get Seth Towns back, who was the Ivy’s best player two years ago before missing last season due to injury. Taking better care of the ball is a necessity, but this team has talent that rivals many high-major teams.
#2. Penn– The Quakers are loaded up front, with a stud in AJ Brodeur anchoring things at the 5 and high-upside combo forward Michael Wang an intriguing returner. Add in freshman Max Lorca-Lloyd, who had a bevy of higher-level suitors, and this frontcourt has the chance to control games. It’s in the backcourt where Steve Donahue’s club has its questions, with the graduation of steady floor general Antonio Woods certain to hurt. Much of the offense will run through Brodeur, a terrific passer from the high post, but one more guard needs to step up outside of Devon Goodman and Bryce Washington. The x-factor is Ryan Betley, who projected an all-league contributor before going down with a gruesome leg injury in the team’s 2018 opener. A healthy Betley would do wonders for the this Penn team’s upside.
#3. Yale— While Miye Oni going pro a year early wasn’t an overly surprising move, but it’s still rare for any Ivy team to lose its best player to the pro ranks early. Speedy point guard Alex Copeland and steady four-man Blake Reynolds also depart, leaving James Jones without his top three scorers from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. Still, Jones’ roster is in good shape– we’ll finally get to see uber-athletic forward Jordan Bruner in a featured role, Azar Swain is the tough shot-making guard every coach loves, and Yale has consistently recruited extremely well in recent years. Freshmen EJ Jarvis and August Mahoney both have a chance to make a significant impact from day one– Mahoney as a pure floor-spacer and Jarvis as a sturdy frontcourt piece.
#4. Princeton– It’s officially the Jaelin Llewellyn era at Princeton, as the former 4-star recruit is now the star leading the way with the graduations of Myles Stephens and Devin Cannady. Considering his lofty billing, Llewellyn struggled as a freshman– shooting just 33% from the field and 58% from the line. Still, he’s a guy I believe in big-time in the long term, a shifty lead guard who can create for himself and others. Llewellyn has the luxury of having a steady frontcourt piece in Richmond Aririguzoh to anchor things, and Mitch Henderson is a very good defensive coach. Still, this group will go as far as Llewellyn can take them.
#5. Columbia– It has been a rough start to the Jim Engles tenure at Columbia, with three straight sub-.500 campaigns to open his tenure after taking over for the highly successful Kyle Smith. The central problem for the Lions last season was free throw margin– CU was 3rd-worst nationally at getting to the line and all but 55 teams sent teams to the line at a lower rate than the Lions did. On average, teams took 8.2 more free throws per game than Columbia– a number that pretty much cripples you. When you consider the fact that Columbia lost a remarkable nine games by three points or less (including five in Ivy play), that free throw margin gap becomes even more pronounced. Fix that, and Engles’ team will be in business.
#6. Brown– Coming off the program’s first-ever 20-win season, Mike Martin snagged a contract extension that should keep him with the Bears for the long term. Losing leading scorer Desmond Cambridge (Nevada) and steady wing Obi Okoli (graduation) hurts, but Martin has a veteran squad that should be a tough out for opposing Ivy clubs, especially on the road. Martin doesn’t necessarily have a pure scorer on the roster, but freshman wing Perry Cowan could help there– his AAU stats with the Illinois Wolves were impressive.
#7. Dartmouth– I wrote last year that I thought David McLaughlin was improving this Dartmouth program, but maybe not at a rate fast enough to see improvement in the wins column. Well, I was right. The Big Green were more than 80 spots better in KenPom in 2018-19 than they were the previous year, but still went 2-12 in Ivy play. Dartmouth pretty much runs it back with four double-digit scorers, but again, the talent gap might be big enough that the Big Green can’t move up the standings too much.
#8. Cornell– There’s no way of replacing Matt Morgan– one of the nation’s most efficient scorers who easily eclipsed the 2,000-point mark in his career. He was the one gamebreaker on an otherwise-unspectacular Cornell team that found its way to a .500 league mark in 2018-19. The Jimmy Boeheim/Josh Warren frontcourt pairing is solid, but there just isn’t nearly enough backcourt firepower for this Cornell team to win games consistently.
All-Conference First TEam:
- Bryce Aiken (Harvard)
- Seth Towns (Harvard)
- Jordan Bruner (Yale)
- Chris Knight (Dartmouth)
- AJ Brodeur (Penn)
Player of the Year: Bryce Aiken (Harvard):
Aiken is an absolutely electric scorer who can get buckets with just about anyone in the country. His absurd performance in the Ivy League title game was perhaps overshadowed by how well Yale played, but he proved that day to a national audience what everyone who has watched him has known for multiple years: he can take over a game with his scoring. Aiken has to take care of the ball better and will be looked to as more of a pure point guard with the number of options at Tommy Amaker’s disposal offensively, but he is one of the most dynamic players in the country, regardless of level.
Breakout Player: Azar Swain (Yale)
Swain has served well as a microwave bench scorer the last two years, but could assert himself as a primary option for James Jones’ club this season. To do that, he’ll need to diversify his offensive game: he took just 53 twos last season and often was scouted as a guy you could run off the 3-point line. I love Swain’s toughness and shooting ability– if he expands his offensive game he’ll be a major weapon.
Newcomer of the Year: Perry Cowan (Brown)
Several recruits will be more highly-touted entering the year than Cowan, but many of those are concentrated at Harvard and Penn where minutes will be tight. Cowan has a chance to get immediate run for Brown as a wing scorer after averaging over 9 points per game on 48% shooting on the Under Armour Circuit in his AAU career.