Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
OUTLOOK: Although they were a non-factor in the league for much of its existence prior to just a few years ago, the Harvard Crimson have risen to the top of the heap under head coach Tommy Amaker with three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. They even put the program on the national radar with a pair of upset victories in the second round in the past two years. Amaker's program has proven to be one of the most dependable in the mid-major ranks, and with the return of several key performers, another league championship seems to be in the cards.
Harvard wasn't the league's only squad to enjoy a little postseason glory last season. Yale and Columbia each won multiple games in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, with Yale advancing all the way to the championship game, while Princeton earned a win in the opening round of the College Basketball Invitational. Although the Ivy League has and will likely continue to be just a one-bid league in terms of the NCAA Tournament field, these three teams showed late in the season that the conference is as deep as ever, and all three are possible threats to dethrone the Crimson at the top.
Filling the promising, up-and-coming team void are Dartmouth and Brown, both of which have some of the best frontcourt talent in the league. The Big Green and the Bears will need to translate their potential into success on the court before they are considered one of the league's best, but at least the pieces are in place for growth.
The same cannot be said of Penn and Cornell, however. Not much is expected to change for last season's league bottom dwellars, as both already-lackluster rosters lost significant talent in the offseason. Cornell is in especially poor shape as one of the worst teams in the nation a season ago (2-26) with no relief in sight.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Harvard
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Harvard, 2. Yale, 3. Columbia, 4. Princeton, 5. Dartmouth, 6. Brown, 7. Penn, 8. Cornell
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
HARVARD: The Crimson have been the class of the Ivy League for the majority of this decade, having won at least a share of the league title in four straight years under Amaker. The team reached new heights in 2013-14 with a school- record 27 victories while finishing 13-1 in league play. As a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Harvard upset No. 5 Cincinnati, 61-57, before falling to No. 4 Michigan State in the third round, 80-73. The squad played excellent on both ends of the floor last season, scoring 73.2 ppg while allowing just 61.0 ppg, and more of the same is expected this time around as it returns its top three scorers and four others who played significant roles. Wesley Saunders is the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year and heads into his senior season trying to improve upon his gaudy all-around numbers (14.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.7 bpg). Siyani Chambers (11.1 ppg, 4.6 apg) and Steve Moundou- Missi (10.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg) also return as mainstays in the starting lineup.
YALE: After finishing up its season in second place with a 9-5 mark in the league, the Bulldogs were invited to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament for the second time in three years. They put together an outstanding run in the event last spring, winning four games prior to its 65-57 loss to Murray State in the championship game to finish up the campaign 19-14. Yale has positioned itself for improvement in 2014-15, as it returns seven players with starting experience, including one of the Ivy League's best. As a sophomore, Justin Sears scored 16.9 ppg on nearly 52 percent shooting from the field while adding 6.9 rpg and 1.9 blocks per contest. Javier Duren (13.6 ppg, 3.1 apg) and Armani Cotton (8.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) are valuable assets, although neither shot greater than 38 percent from the field last season for a team that netted a modest 66.9 ppg.
COLUMBIA: The Lions are heading into their fifth season under coach Kyle Smith fresh off their most successful campaign since making the NCAA Tournament in 1968. They wrapped up their league schedule a solid 8-6 and earned a bid to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, and continuing the trend of Ivy League programs performing well in the postseason, they beat Valparaiso (58-56) and Eastern Michigan (69-56) before falling to rival Yale in the quarterfinals. Columbia will try to build upon a 21-win season by welcoming back six players with starter's experience. Alex Rosenberg (16.0 ppg) and Maodo Lo (14.7 ppg) are both outstanding 3-point shooters, combining for 127 long-range buckets at nearly 44-percent efficiency. Rosenberg was also one of the nation's most active at the free-throw stripe (227-of-276, .822). Grant Mullins (11.7 ppg) is a stellar third option and Isaac Cohen (3.5 ppg) makes up for his lack of scoring with 5.2 rpg and 3.0 apg.
PRINCETON: The Tigers finished the campaign at 21-9 (8-6 in the league), their best record in Mitch Henderson's three-year tenure as head coach and their fourth 20-win season of the past five seasons. For the first time since qualifying for the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Princeton was invited to the postseason with a bid to the College Basketball Invitational, even claiming a first-round victory over Duquesne (56-55). Although the team will have to adjust to life without the league's leading scorer T.J. Bray (18.0 ppg), it still has some talent to work with. Hans Brase brought 11.2 ppg and 5.7 rpg to the table, while Spencer Weisz (8.7 ppg), Denton Koon (7.7 ppg) and Ben Hazel (6.1 ppg) will all be expected to pick up some of the slack left by the departures of Bray and Will Barrett (10.3 ppg, 63 3-pointers).
DARTMOUTH: Although Dartmouth has seen improvement with each passing season under coach Paul Cormier since going just 5-25 in 2011-12, it was still one of the Ivy's worst last season, finishing just 12-16 overall and 5-9 in league play. It finished below .500 despite scoring more points (68.0 ppg) than it allowed (66.6 ppg), so perhaps a little bit more consistency in 2014-15 will allow for a change of fortunes. The return of four of five starters could go a long way in achieving that goal. Alex Milota (11.8 ppg) drained a team-best 66 3-pointers at a 41.8 percent clip. Gabas Maldunas (11.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.0 bpg), a much-needed presence in the frontcourt, missed nearly half the season due to injury. Connor Boehm (10.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and John Golden (8.7 ppg) are also expected to be regular contributors once again.
BROWN: Although the Bears could not keep pace with the playoff-bound teams at the top of the standings, they still continued to show improvement in Mike Martin's second year as coach by finishing above .500 (15-14) for the first time since winning 19 games in 2007-08. The squad will need to find a new leader this season, however, as Sean McGonagill (17.4 ppg, 3.8 apg, 93 3- pointers) has graduated. Brown's biggest strength now is in the frontcourt, with Rafael Maia (9.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and Cedric Kuakumensah (9.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.2 bpg) making up the league's most imposing forward duo. Leland King (9.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Steven Spieth (8.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Tavon Blackmon (7.4 ppg, 3.5 apg) give the squad solid depth even without McGonagill.
PENN: The Quakers were once among the league's best and won 20 games as recently as 2011-12, but they headed downhill in a hurry from there. In Jerome Allen's fifth season as head coach in 2013-14, they finished just 8-20 overall, including 5-9 in the league, and closed out the season with losses in seven of their last nine. Penn, which scored 68.2 ppg and yielded 74.8 ppg a season ago, might be in for some more growing pains as it adjusts to life without two of its best players, Fran Dougherty (12.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Miles Cartwright (11.6 ppg). Returning as the leading scorer is Tony Hicks, who netted 14.9 ppg but also had more turnovers (85) than assists (78). Darien Nelson-Henry scored 10.6 ppg on a lofty 59 percent field goal shooting while adding nearly a block per game. Six freshmen are on the roster hoping to help out an inexperienced bunch, with Darnell Forman (6-foot-1, 175 pounds), Antonio Woods (6-1, 180) and Shawn Simmons (6-4, 170) having the most direct path to playing time in the backcourt.
CORNELL: The Big Red's fall from grace has not been pretty. The team won three straight league championships from 2008-10, but it has failed to break .500 in any season since. Last season, coach Bill Courtney's fourth, was the worst in school history, as it finished a woeful 2-26, including 1-13 in the league. Unsurprisingly, Cornell ranked second to last in all of Division I in scoring margin (-14.3), and a quick turnaround will be difficult with the departure of its best player Nolan Cressler (16.8 ppg). Devin Cherry (12.3 ppg) will likely take over as the top scoring option during his senior season, although he'll need to improve upon his accuracy from 3-point range (.250) and the free-throw line (.690). Robert Hatter (9.0 ppg) was solid as a freshman and is expected to take on a much bigger role.