Darnell Foreman (above) and Penn look like one of the top four teams in the Ivy League heading into the season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2017-18 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 10. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season, click here.)
The Ancient 8’s talent level continues to get better and better with every class that comes in -- just take a look at our preseason All-Ivy team, which has three sophomores and a junior amongst its six members.
At this point, the league is split down the middle: Penn, Princeton, Harvard and Yale are generally recruiting at a higher level than Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth and Brown, and it’ll be a shock if a school other than those first four wins the league’s second-ever tournament in March.
The ultimate goal for the league is the #2BidIvy, which would take one team having a near-perfect season only to be upset in the league championship. Before the Ivy League went to its four-team postseason tournament last year, that seemed a near-impossibility; now, it seems like only a matter of time before two Ivy teams are dancing.
Here’s a look at how we see the Ivy League shaping up in 2017-18:
CoBL’s Preseason All-Ivy League
Bryce Aiken (Soph./Harvard)
A.J. Brodeur (Soph./Penn)
Evan Boudreaux (Jr./Dartmouth)
Makai Mason (Sr./Yale)
Miye Oni (Soph./Yale)
Myles Stephens (Jr./Princeton)
* = Preseason Player of the Year
1. Harvard Crimson
Coach: Tommy Amaker, 10th season (193-105, .648)
Last Year: 18-10 (10-4 Ivy League), lost Ivy League semifinal (Yale, 73-71)
Key Departures: Siyani Chambers (9.9 ppg, 6.0 apg), Zena Edosomwan (7.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Key Returnees: Bryce Aiken (14.5 ppg), Seth Towns (12.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Corey Johnson (7.9 ppg)
Key Newcomers: Mario Haskett (Fr./L.C. Bird, Va.)
Outlook: The Crimson went 66 years between NCAA Tournament appearances, from 1946 until 2012, and then went dancing four consecutive seasons as Amaker has guided Harvard into its golden era of basketball. Now they’re trying to make this drought last a little shorter, after just two years away from the postseason. The loss of Chambers isn’t a small one, as the Minnesota native scored 1,287 points and dished out 601 assists during his four years in Cambridge, but the next generation of talent is more than ready to step in. The 6-0 Aiken and 6-7 Towns were Harvard’s leading scorers last year as true freshmen, and the Crimson’s seven-man sophomore class will be a major part of Amaker’s plans over the next three years; guard Justin Bassey (6.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and forward Chris Lewis (7.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) also had strong rookie seasons. This might not be as dominant a Harvard team as the one that went 13-1 in league play in 2013-14, but no longer is the regular-season champion guaranteed an NCAA spot anymore, anyways; these Crimson should be just as much in the mix to win two games in March as anybody else in the Ancient Eight.
2. Yale Bulldogs
Coach: James Jones, 19th season (272-250, .521)
Last Year: 18-11 (9-5 Ivy League), lost in Ivy League
Key Departures: Sam Downey (11.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Anthony Dallier (9.4 ppg, 4.1 apg)
Key Returnees: Makai Mason (DNP), Alex Copeland (12.9 ppg), Miye Oni (12.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Blake Reynolds (9.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
Key Newcomers: Paul Atkinson (Fr./Westminster Ac., Fla.), Azar Swain (Fr./Rivers School, Mass.)
Outlook: The Bulldogs lose two senior starters in Downey and Dallier but they get one right back in Mason. One of the favorites for Ivy League Player of the Year honors last year, he suffered an injury in the preseason and missed his entire junior year. Due to the Ivy League’s lack of a redshirt, he’s considered a senior this year and has already announced he’ll play the 2018-19 season as a grad student at Baylor. But first, the 6-1 guard from Greenfield, Mass. will try to get back to the form he displayed as a sophomore in 2015-16, when he led the Bulldogs to 23 wins and an NCAA Tournament victory over Baylor, averaging 16.0 ppg and 3.8 rpg. Aside from Mason, the excitement around Yale is in regards to the youth. Oni is a 6-7 sophomore who could become one of the Ivy League’s best players this year, and they’re also excited about a four-man freshman class that features the 6-10 Atkinson, who chose Yale over Dayton and Richmond, among others. It’s clear the Bulldogs will be competing for Ivy titles for quite a few years to come.
3. Penn Quakers
Coach: Steve Donahue, 3rd season (24-32, .429)
Last Year: 13-15 (6-8 Ivy League), lost in Ivy League semifinals (Princeton, 72-64 OT)
Key Departures: Matt Howard (12.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
Key Returnees: A.J. Brodeur (13.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Ryan Betley (11.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Darnell Foreman (8.3 ppg, 3.4 apg), Antonio Woods (DNP)
Key Newcomers: Eddie Scott (Fr./Gonzaga College HS, D.C.), Jarrod Simmons (Fr./Moon Area., Pa.)
Outlook: The Quakers looked dead in the water early last February, after a 15-point loss to Princeton at home left them 0-6 in Ivy League play. Then the insertion of two freshmen into the rotation in 6-4 wing Betley and 5-10 point guard Devon Goodman helped things click, and Penn won six of its last eight to sneak into the four-team playoff, where the Quakers gave the Tigers quite a scare before falling in overtime. The only loss from the entire rotation is Howard, and the versatile 6-4 wing is certainly a notable loss, but they’ve got the guns to replace him; look for the 6-8 Brodeur to move to the ‘4’ as the Quakers go with a two-big lineup, while the 6-6 Scott and 6-8 Simmons will jump right into the fray. The return of 6-2 junior Woods to the rotation after a year and a half away from the team is certainly a major X-factor; if he’s playing to his potential, he’s a talented scorer in the backcourt who could help them compete for an Ivy title.
Princeton coach Mitch Henderson (right) has to replace several key pieces from last year's Ivy League championship team. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
4. Princeton Tigers
Coach: Mitch Henderson, 7th season (119-60, .665)
Last Year: 23-7 (14-0 Ivy League), won Ivy League championship (Yale, 71-59), lost NCAA first round (Notre Dame, 60-58)
Key Departures: Steven Cook (13.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Spencer Weisz (10.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.2 apg), Henry Caruso (9.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
Key Returnees: Devin Cannady (13.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg), Myles Stephens (12.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Key Newcomers: Elijah Barnes (Fr./Mater Dei, N.J.), Jerome Desrosiers (Fr./Northfield Mt. Hermon, Mass.)
Outlook: The defending league champions still return plenty of firepower, but they lose a class of five seniors, including do-everything Weisz and Cook, that won’t be terribly easy to replace. The Tigers have already shown they can overcome some of that loss, as seniors Hans Brase and Henry Caruso were both sidelined early in the season, but the 6-5 Cook and 6-4 Weisz each played over 30 mpg and were nearly impossible to remove from the court in close games. Stephens, the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, will have to replace some of that production, as will the 6-1 Cannady, but the Tigers will need to rely heavily on some freshmen to be good right away. Barnes, a muscular 6-8 forward from the Garden State, and Desrosiers, a 6-7 Canadian wing forward, will jump right in and contribute. Though they’re in the No. 4 spot, they’re still closer to No. 1 than they are to No. 5.
5. Columbia Lions
Coach: Jim Engles, 2nd season (11-16, .407)
Last Year: 11-16 (5-9 Ivy League)
Key Departures: Luke Petrasek (15.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Key Returners: Mike Smith (13.6 ppg, 3.5 apg), Nate Hickman (11.8 ppg), Lukas Meisner (6.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Key Newcomers: Tai Bibbs (Fr./West Chicago, Ill.), Myles Hanson (Fr./Chaska, Minn.), Gabe Stefanini (Fr./Bergen Catholic, N.J.)
Outlook: The Lions got off to a good start in Ivy play, winning three of their first four -- a perplexing home loss to Cornell the only exception -- and stood at 4-2 after a win over Brown on Feb. 4, but then lost seven of eight to fall just shy of qualifying for the Ivy League playoffs. Now they’ll need to move forward without Petrasek, a versatile 6-10 forward and 1,000-point club member who served as the lynchpin of the offense. The ball will now be in the hands of 6-4 senior Hickman and 5-11 sophomore Smith, who started all 27 games in his first year in college, setting season highs of 24 points and six assists. Engles’ first full recruiting class is seven men deep, but we’re high on Stefanini, a 6-3 Italian combo guard who can score from all three levels. Ultimately, as many as four or five of the seven could see themselves in the rotation; the more they see might not bode well for this season, but could pay off big time in the future.
6. Dartmouth Big Green
Coach: David McLaughlin, 2nd season (7-20, .259)
Last Year: 7-20 (4-10 Ivy League)
Key Departures: N/A
Key Returnees: Evan Boudreaux (17.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg), Guilien Smith (12.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg), Miles Wright (9.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Key Newcomers: Chris Knight (Fr./James Madison, Wisc.), Aaryn Rai (Fr./Orangeville Prep, Can.)
Outlook: It’s been a long time since Dartmouth was a significant factor in the Ivy League race. The Big Green last went to the NCAA Tournament in 1959, also the last time the program enjoyed a 20-win season. The last time Dartmouth had even a winning record was 1998-99. McLaughlin at least has a centerpiece in junior big man Boudreaux, as the 6-8 Lake Forest (Ill.) native has already scored 950 pounds (17.6/game) and grabbed 511 rebounds (9.5/game) in his first two years, and he’s a big reason the Big Green were third in the Ivy League in rebounding margin last year. What they need now is a point guard, as they were dead last in turnover margin with nobody on the team averaging more than 2.6 apg. Freshman Isaac Letoa, who averaged 4.6 apg at the FIBA U19 championships this summer for New Zealand, could be the answer.
7. Cornell Big Red
Coach: Brian Earl, 2nd season (8-21, .276)
Last Year: 8-21 (4-10 Ivy League)
Key Departures: Robert Hatter (12.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
Key Returnees: Matt Morgan (18.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Stone Gettings (12.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Key Newcomers: Jimmy Boeheim (Fr./Jamesville Dewitt, N.Y.), Jake Kuhn (Fr./St. Maria Goretti, Md.)
Outlook: Earl, a former Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton (1999) and a nine-year assistant with the Tigers, still is in the early stages of trying to get Cornell back to where it was under Steve Donahue, when the Big Red made a Sweet 16 run in 2010. He does get the majority of his rotation back in the fold, but considering their result last year, they’ll need more than just that to break into the top four in the league. The Big Red will get a nice boost up front with the return of 6-8 junior Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof, who started 25 games in 2015-16 but missed last season due to injury; his absence allowed freshman forward Josh Warren, a 6-8 Downingtown West grad, to step into the rotation and average 5.6 ppg and 3.7 rpg in 17.9 mpg off the bench. Among the freshman is Boeheim, the son of Syracuse’s Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim; the younger Boeheim will begin his college career in the Carrier Dome, facing his dad on Nov. 10.
8. Brown Bears
Coach: Mike Martin, 6th season (62-84, .425)
Last Year: 13-17 (4-10 Ivy League)
Key Departures: Steven Spieth (17.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.3 apg), Tavon Blackmon (11.1 ppg, 3.9 apg), J.R. Hobbie (7.9 ppg)
Key Returnees: Obi Okolie (9.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Joshua Howard (8.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Brandon Anderson (8.2 ppg)
Key Newcomers: Desmond Cambridge (Fr./Hun School, N.J.), Tamenang Choh (Fr./Brooks School, Mass.), Zach Hunsaker (Soph./Snow College, Utah.)
Outlook: Brown’s going to have a lot of work to do in the early part of the year to try to replace the output of Spieth, who finished his Brown his career with over 1,300 points, nearly 700 rebounds and over 330 assists, getting an NBA taste with the Mavericks’ summer league team before ultimately landing in the Argentine pro league. His and Blackmon’s graduation leaves the Bears without a double-digit returning scorer, though they’ve got a pair of sophomores ready to step up into that role in the 6-1 Anderson and 6-6 Howard, as well as 6-5 junior Okolie. Brown’s biggest problem last year was its defensive abilities, or lack thereof, allowing opponents to shoot 50 percent from the floor and 37 percent from 3-point margin while getting out-rebounded by an average of around three boards per game.