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2016-17 Ivy League Post-Mortem

June 22, 2017 Columns No Comments

The Ivy League in 2016-17 had a few stories that could lead the way. In the end, though, there is one that ultimately tops them all: Mitch Henderson is snakebit no more.

The Princeton mentor has had a good run at the helm of his alma mater. The Tigers have not had the fall that arch-rival Penn had in recent years, though the NCAA Tournament had been elusive. They have had good teams, but have gotten in the hole early, not been able to beat teams that were just a little better, and been struck by injuries. In December, it looked like they would be in line to be derailed again, as key forwards Hans Brase and Henry Caruso both went down with season-ending injuries.

All that did, though, was open the door for others to emerge. Spencer Weisz remained a steady performer en route to Player of the Year honors, while Steven Cook, Myles Stephens and Devin Cannady all became stars. Cook was a unanimous first team All-Ivy selection, while Stephens was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and Cannady was right behind Cook for the team lead in scoring.

Princeton not only won the regular season title and then the tournament, but they never lost a game along the way. Henderson was a part of two undefeated league seasons as a player, and now he has one to his credit as a head coach.

This year also introduced something most never imagined we would see: an Ivy League Tournament. The top four teams gathered at the Palestra – the perfect setting – for a two-day tournament. While most conferences bring all of their teams to the tournament, it’s tough to fault the league for only wanting its top four finishers to have a crack at the automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

While the Ivy League has not kept up where it was a few years ago, when more than half of the schools saw postseason play, the league appears to be in remarkably good shape going forward. There is stability in the coaching ranks, as no schools changed coaches this off-season and only one head coach could be on anything remotely resembling a hot seat. Individual talent is a great story for the league, as six of the 11 all-league selections were either freshmen or sophomores this season. The Ivy League also doesn’t have the same concern as other mid-major leagues about talented players transferring up, so this talent should all return to help the league get better.

Final Standings

Ivy League

League Tournament

The inaugural Ivy League Tournament was all the league could have hoped for with the top four teams in the league. Three close games were the end result, and the regular season champion came out on top.

In the first semifinal, there were plenty of anxious moments for Princeton, as they host Quakers gave them all they could handle. It took overtime to decide the game, and in the extra session Princeton took over for a 72-64 win. In the second semifinal, arch rivals Harvard and Yale battled right to the end, with the Bulldogs taking home a 73-71 win to advance.

That set up the championship game, where Yale was able to hang in for a while. The Bulldogs went cold in the second half, however, and couldn’t stop the Tigers. Yale shot below 38 percent from the field, with their starting guards combining to shoot 6-21, and Princeton pulled away for the only double-digit win of the tournament, a 71-59 decision to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Postseason Awards
Player of the Year: Spencer Weisz, Princeton
Rookie of the Year: Bryce Aiken, Harvard
Coach of the Year: Mitch Henderson, Princeton
Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Stephens, Princeton

All-League Team
Bryce Aiken, Fr. G, Harvard
Siyani Chambers, Sr. G, Harvard
Steven Cook, Sr. F, Princeton
Steven Speith, Sr. F, Brown
Myles Stephens, So. G, Princeton
Spencer Weisz, Sr. F, Princeton

Season Highlights

  • Princeton ran the table in league play, including winning the league tournament. It is the sixth undefeated league season in program history, half of which Mitch Henderson has been a part of (two as a player).
  • Bryce Aiken became the first freshman to lead Harvard in scoring in nearly 30 years.
  • Five of the league’s top seven scorers were freshmen or sophomores, and the same is true for three of the top five rebounders (including the top two).

What we expected, and it happened: Harvard was once again one of the teams to beat. The Crimson showed well in non-league play, and Bryce Aiken was an immediate impact player along with Chris Lewis. There is a lot of reason to think they will be contending again next season and beyond.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Yale looked to be in a tough spot when Makai Mason was injured before the season and had to miss the season. Not unlike what happened with Princeton, his absence merely opened the door for others like Miye Oni to emerge.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Princeton won the league by four games. It’s not a surprise that the Tigers won, but to do so by four games was a surprise, especially given the big injuries they sustained in December.

Team(s) on the rise: Penn. Steve Donahue’s team lost six of seven once the calendar turned over, including the worst Ivy start in program history at 0-6. After that, though, the Quakers played much better, winning seven of eight to close the regular season before giving Princeton all they could handle in the league tournament. Moving up in the standings will be a tall order, however.

Team(s) on the decline: None, really. Even the bottom teams are basically standing pat or ready to get better, with none clearly on a decline. Holding steady isn’t great when you’re in the bottom half of the standings, but it’s better than being on a clear decline.


2017-18 Ivy League Outlook

Looking ahead to next season, favorites have to start with the teams that played at the Palestra this season. Harvard might be the pick, as they return the dynamic duo of Aiken and Chris Lewis while Princeton loses Weisz and Cook, but the Tigers still return Stephens, Cannady and Amir Bell to lead the way.

Yale will get Makai Mason back after he missed the season due to injury, so the Bulldogs should be right there, and Penn will being back a lot from the team that really grew during league play. It will be a tall order for the Quakers to leapfrog the Bulldogs, though, or the Tigers or Crimson, for that matter.

With the bottom four teams, moving up will be tough given that the top four teams have plenty returning. Brown appears to be the most likely to take a step back, as the Bears have some young talent but will certainly miss departing seniors Tavon Blackmon and Steven Speith in the immediate. The league has a lot of good young talent, so there is reason to believe the league will be well worth watching next year and beyond from a competitive standpoint.

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