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Ivy League Season Preview: Princeton, Harvard and Yale headline as league makes major changes

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Ivy League.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

There will be a major change in the Ivy League that we saw last season and the one that will on display this season: No longer will the conference’s automatic bid be given to the regular season champion. The Ivy was the last conference to hold out, but starting this year, the league will be holding a four-team conference tournament at the Palestra in Philly, an event that should be terrific for college basketball junkies while, at the same time, eliminating the main quirk of the Ivy that made it so unique.

That said, there is some benefit here, as the conference may not be a true contender to get a second team into the dance. Without a conference tournament, the second place team would have to put together a good enough résumé to earn a bid, and that’s not an easy thing to do in a mid-major conference.

That would be significant for the conference, because it has had as much success in the NCAA tournament as any mid-major league in recent years. The league has five wins in the last seven tournaments, all as double-digit seeds, the most recent being Yale‘s upset win over No. 5 Baylor in the first round last year. The Elis lose Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod, but they bring back Makai Mason, the league’s Preseason Player of the Year and one of the best point guards in college basketball at any level. The 6-foot-1 junior averaged 16.0 points and 3.8 assists last season, has been working out with the German national team and made his name nationally with a 31-point performance in the win over Baylor.

Mason is going to need some help to step up this season, and there are options. Seniors Sam Downey and Anthony Dallier should be ready for bigger roles, while James Jones has added a slew of young talent in the last two recruiting classes. Those youngsters will have to step up if Yale is going to beat out Princeton and Harvard for a second straight league title.

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 19: Henry Caruso #21 of the Princeton Tigers dribbles past Melo Trimble #2 of the Maryland Terrapins during the second half at Royal Farms Arena on December 19, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Maryland Terrapins won, 82-61.(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Henry Caruso of the Princeton Tigers (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Last season, Princeton was probably good enough to win the league. They finished 12-2 in the regular season, which, in most years, would have been enough to at least earn a shot at a playoff. Not so last year, but the good news is that the Tigers return essentially everyone from last season: Henry Caruso, Devin Cannady, Spencer Qeisz, Steven Cook, Amir Bell. They also get Hans Brase, a double-figure scorer in 2014-15, back from a torn ACL and return a myriad of young talent for depth. To me, Princeton is probably the favorite to win the Ivy this year.

But Harvard isn’t all that far behind, assuming that Siyani Chambers returns from his torn ACL at 100 percent. Chambers has been a star in the league since his freshman season and led the Crimson to a pair of NCAA tournament wins, but as a senior, he sat out following the injury. Tommy McCarthy had his moments in a promising freshman year starting in Chambers’ place, and that duo, combined with Zena Edosomwan in the middle, perhaps the best inside-outside punch in the league. The key for Edosomwan is consistency, and if he shows up to play every night, Tommy Amaker has enough talent around that trio to win any game on any floor in the league.

After those three, the Ivy is fairly open, which makes things interesting. Remember, that fourth-place finisher gets the last bid to the Ivy League tournament and a shot at the NCAA tourney.

With former Cornell coach Steve Donahue leading the way, Penn was much better late in the year than they were early in the season. And keep in mind, Penn would be playing home games at the Palestra. A team with 11 freshmen and sophomores returns four starters and may be the best of the rest. Dartmouth‘s Evan Boudreaux, who averaged better than 20 points and 10 boards in league play as a freshman, should at least keep the Big Green relevant, and the same could be said of Cornell‘s Matt Morgan, a sophomore that averaged 22.6 points in league play last year.

Both Cornell and Dartmouth underwent coaching changes this offseason, as did Columbia, who saw Jim Engles replace Kyle Smith. The Lions are in a bit of a rebuilding stage with the graduation of Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg. Brown brings back four starters, but they do so from a team that finished tied for last in the conference.

 

PRESEASON IVY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Makai Mason, Yale

The performance that he had in last year’s NCAA tournament not withstanding, Mason averaged 16.0 points and 3.8 assists for the Elis last season. I think Yale is going to remain relevant in the Ivy League title race, and for them to be able to do that with Sears and Sherrod gone, Mason is going to have to go nuts this year.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-IVY TEAM:

  • Siyani Chambers, Harvard: The ACL worries me, but with his track record, he’s on this list until it’s clear he’s not himself.
  • Henry Caruso, Princeton: Caruso’s numbers won’t jump off the stat sheet like some of the other guys in the league, but he’s a major reason the Tigers are as good as they’ve been.
  • Matt Morgan, Cornell: His numbers will likely take a hit with the new coaching staff and style of play, but this kid, as a freshman, averaged 22.6 points in Ivy League play. That’s nuts.
  • Zena Edosomwan, Harvard: He’s the most talented big man in the conference. The question is whether or not he proves as much on a nightly basis.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ivybball

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Princeton
2. Harvard
3. Yale
4. Penn
5. Cornell
6. Columbia
7. Dartmouth
8. Brown

VIDEO: Top 2018 recruits Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford go head-to-head at adidas

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This weekend is the first live evaluation period of the spring recruiting calendar as college coaches from all over the country are scouting (and babysitting) the top recruits in the Class of 2018 and 2019.

Friday night the adidas Gauntlet in Dallas opened with a marquee matchup of two star players as five-star forward Zion Williamson and five-star guard Romeo Langford went head-to-head in what should be one of the best games of the spring.

Most scouting services have Williamson and Langford as the No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects in the Class of 2018 as the duo didn’t disappoint in front of the huge crowd in Fort Worth.

Williamson helped his team to a win with 26 points and seven rebounds while Langford had 28 points, four rebounds and four assists. You’ll be hearing plenty about both of these guys over the next few months as both are still wide open in the recruting process.

(H/t: Ball is Life)

Report: Coppin State hires Juan Dixon as new head coach

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Coppin State has hired former Maryland star guard Juan Dixon to be its next head coach, according to a report from Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.

The 38-year-old Dixon is best known for leading Maryland to the 2002 national championship as he was the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four that year. Now Dixon will have a chance to lead a Division I program for the first time.

Dixon spent seven years in the NBA and also played professionally in Europe before joining the Maryland coaching staff in 2013 as a special assistant to head coach Mark Turgeon. Not retained by Maryland after the 2015-16 season, Dixon took the head coaching job for the women’s team at the University of the District of Columbia last season as the Division II program finished only  3-25.

Coppin State finished last season with an 8-24 record after losing its first 12 games of the season. While Dixon will generate some positive local buzz given his background, he’s going to have an uphill battle trying to rebuild that program.

Nebraska scores important Class of 2017 commitment from four-star guard Thomas Allen

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Nebraska landed an important commitment from the Class of 2017 on Friday as four-star guard Thomas Allen is heading to Lincoln next season.

The 6-foot-1 guard is considered the No. 99 overall prospect by Rivals in the national Class of 2017 rankings as Allen was previously committed to N.C. State before head coach Mark Gottfried was fired.

A scorer with a good amount of skill, Allen has a chance to come in and make an immediate impact at Nebraska as he can play a bit on or off the ball. Allen should help offset the loss of senior Tai Webster in the Husker backcourt.

Allen joins wing Nana Akenten in Nebraska’s Class of 2017 recruiting efforts.

North Carolina lands four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks

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North Carolina pulled in a late Class of 2017 commitment to begin the weekend as the Tar Heels secured a pledge from four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Brooks was previously committed to Mississippi State, but he was granted his release this spring to explore other opportunities.

The Tar Heels pounced as they’re getting a low-post threat who could develop into a potential double-double threat. A solid rebounder who isn’t afraid to play with physicality, Brooks has a chance to earn some immediate rotation minutes with seniors like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks exhausting their eligibility.

Brooks is regarded as the No. 120 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, as he is a four-star prospect. The native of Auburn, Alabama joins a North Carolina recruiting class that includes point guard Jalek Felton, shooting guard Andrew Platek and big men Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley.

Report: NCAA ‘anticipates’ hearing UNC case in mid-August

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Today, the AP churned out a story on Greg Sankey’s involvement with the NCAA’s investigation into the academic scandal at North Carolina, and buried within that story is this little nugget:

UNC must respond to the latest charges by May 16. The NCAA enforcement staff then has until July 17 for its own response. Sankey wrote that his panel will hear the case in August with “anticipated” dates of Aug. 16 and 17.

Rulings typically come weeks to months later.

We’ve been down this road before, as the current iteration of the Notice of Allegations is the third that the NCAA has provided the university. The first was given out back in May of 2015 for an investigation that began back in 2010.