Sometimes, the basketball gods get one right. In 2016, they got one right with Yale.
In 2015-16, the Ivy League didn’t quite continue to steady climb it had been on in recent years. It was in a nice up cycle, but this time around, it didn’t have the same feeling not only among the contenders, but also in the middle of the pack. Part of that is because Harvard, who has ruled the league in recent years, dropped off significantly first from graduation losses and then further a key injury. The Crimson still competed, but this was a very different team.
Still, the highlight came as Yale had a storybook ending after an ending to forget a year earlier. We all know how the Bulldogs went from being seconds away from winning the league to not getting into any postseason tournament. It was one of the real travesties of the 2014-15 season – it was bad enough they nearly won the league, made much worse by no postseason play at all. This time around, they won the league, then proceeded to knock off Baylor in the NCAA Tournament before bowing out against Duke two days later.
It was a feel-good ending for a team that a year earlier had to be left with an empty feeling. James Jones, the dean of coaches in the league, is a good man who has done nothing but consistently compete in New Haven, and he’s had some success but had not broken through to get to the NCAA Tournament until now. He has run a solid program that has consistently been overshadowed, first by traditional powers Penn and Princeton, then more recently by Cornell and Harvard as they emerged for multi-year runs at the top.
The league had more postseason success later on. Princeton lost a tough one in overtime at Virginia Tech in the first round of the NIT, but Columbia went on to win the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. It was a good ending to a good run for the Lions, a team that was stung last year when they lost a key player for the year but still competed.
The question now looms as to what the league will do for an encore. The Ivy League will look quite different next season, as three head coaches will be in their first year and a number of the league’s best players have graduated. The Harvard teams of a few years ago aren’t walking through that door, nor are the Penn and Princeton teams of yesteryear or the Cornell teams that came in between.
And as if that’s not enough, the league announced in March that it will have a tournament. No, not the one-game playoff it has had (or the two-game playoff to break a three-way tie the league held back in 2002), but a real four-team tournament at the Palestra over two days. It’s a change few ever imagined would happen in a league so tied to tradition, with tradition in this case meaning no tournament. For years, they referred to the league schedule as a “14-game tournament.”
The coaching changes came for a couple of different reasons. Kyle Smith left Columbia to go back to the West Coast Conference as the head coach at San Francisco, and is succeeded by Jim Engles, a former Columbia assistant who was most recently the head coach across the Hudson River at NJIT (and ironically, Columbia knocked off NJIT in the CIT semifinals). Cornell let Bill Courtney go and Dartmouth cut ties with Paul Cormier. Courtney is succeeded by former Princeton assistant Brian Earl, while Dartmouth hired former Northeastern assistant and Stonehill College head coach Dave McLaughlin.
The Ivy League has been a little different in recent years when it comes to the standings. The league will look more different next year as a whole. For now, at least, the basketball gods got one right with one of the league’s teams.
Player of the Year: Justin Sears, Yale
Rookie of the Year Evan Boudreaux, Dartmouth
Coach of the Year: James Jones, Yale
Defensive Player of the Year: Agunwa Okolie, Harvard
Henry Caruso, Jr. F, Princeton
Maodo Lo, Sr. G, Columbia
Makai Mason, So. G, Yale
Justin Sears, Sr. F, Yale
Brandon Sherrod, Sr. F, Yale
- Yale, a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament, knocked off No. 5 Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
- Yale placed three players on the All-Ivy League First Team, marking just the eighth time in league history that a team had three players on the first team.
- Columbia won the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
- Brown big man Cedric Kuakumensah graduates as the Ivy League’s all-time leading shot-blocker with 311, and is the only player in league history to score 1,000 points, grab 800 rebounds and block 200 shots. He topped each of those marks by more than 100.
What we expected, and it happened: Columbia rebounded from a tough year to contend. The Lions were still pretty competitive a year ago with Alex Rosenburg missing the season, but having him back with a core that was a year older was a blessing for this team.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Brown figured to be better this season if the Bears could stay healthy, after experiencing growing pains a year ago. Instead, the Bears finished last in the league.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Dartmouth had the league’s top newcomer, but finished in the second division. Progress during Cormier’s tenure came in fits and starts, and the lack of it this season probably had a lot to do with the school parting ways with him.
Team(s) on the rise: Harvard. The Crimson weren’t likely to be down for too long, and with all they have returning next season to go with a great recruiting class, they should be among the early favorites. Also, Penn, as Steve Donahue has the Quakers’ prospects very much looking up already.
Team(s) on the decline: Columbia. Jim Engles can coach, so they made a solid selection, but the Lions lose two of the league’s best along with Grant Mullins, so there is likely to be a step back before a step forward.
2016-17 Ivy League Outlook
With Siyani Chambers returning, Harvard should once again contend, especially since Yale loses significant pieces in Sears and Sherrod from this season’s team. Mason declared for the NBA Draft, but withdrew, so they have one of their studs back. The Crimson have a lot more coming back, too, from Zena Edosomwan to Corey Johnson to Tommy McCarthy. They aren’t without a few key departures, but on balance they look like one of the favorites.
Yale shouldn’t fall far, but the Bulldogs will hardly be the same team. Princeton should be right there with much of their team returning, and Penn isn’t far from contending, either. The Quakers will miss Darius Nelson-Henry, but he is the only significant loss. It means an early projected top four would be Harvard likely followed by some order of Princeton, Yale and Penn.
If you’re looking for a sleeper, it would be Brown. The Bears lose the league’s all-time best shot-blocker, but have some other pieces that are looking to reverse the program’s slide. Cornell was young, but has a new coach. Dartmouth and Columbia are wild cards with new coaches that inherit some pieces.