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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

Three LSU players accused of shooting paintballs at pedestrian

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Three LSU basketball players were issued a summons earlier this month for allegedly shooting paintballs at a pedestrian, according to a report from the Daily Reveille.

The incident involving the three players, Galen Alexander, Wayde Sims and Mayan Kiir, occurred on June 16.

“I’m aware of the situation and we are dealing with the matter internally,” first-year Tigers coach Will Wade said in a statement, according to The Advocate. “I’m extremely disappointed in these players and the poor judgement they used. This is no way to represent LSU or our basketball program. They have a clear understanding of what our expectations are as a program both on and off the court.”

Alexander and Kiir are both freshmen while Sims is a sophomore who averaged 6.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 19 minutes per game last season.

Grayson Allen is…funny?

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The last year led to a lot of people having opinions on Grayson Allen. The Duke star invited most of them thanks to his tripping and his outbursts, as well as the simple fact he plays for the Blue Devils, who always seem to attract plenty of hate from the masses.

While Allen is one of college basketball’s best players, he’s also one of its most ridiculed. More people than not probably have a poor opinion about the guy due to his bizarre tripping habit and the bench meltdown from last season. He’s an easy target that brought a lot of criticism on himself with his actions.

This summer, though, Allen has started to show another side to his personality through social media. It turns out he might actually be funny.

The world is full of surprises.

Here’s an example from today, with Allen not only some comedy chops, but some self-deprecation and self-awareness – two important traits for someone who might need some reputation rehab – as he pokes fun of the Internet’s suggestion that he’s a dead ringer for Texas senator Ted Cruz, as well as Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, apparently.

That was just the most recent example, though. Earlier this month, he ribbed maybe the Internet’s only more favorite villain, LaVar Ball.

And before that, he had some fun with the fact that he’ll almost assuredly be tabbed to our Perry Ellis All-Stars team for his final collegiate season this fall.

So, yeah, Grayson Allen’s rep took a bunch of hits last year for some bad behavior. Maybe there’s more there, though.

IUPUI to become Horizon League’s 10th member

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The Horizon League officially announced this week that IUPUI will be replacing Valparaiso as the league’s 10th member. Valpo left to replace Wichita State in the Missouri Valley.

“We are excited to welcome IUPUI to the Horizon League family,” Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone said. “The Jaguars bring us tremendous competitive potential, particularly in men’s basketball, along with an engaged and energized city. Their addition solidifies our broad community partnerships in Indianapolis and is the right school at the right time.”

IUPUI — which stands for Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis — has been a member of the Summit League, which will be left with eight teams now that the Jaguars have departed. They’ve made it to one NCAA tournament, back in 2003, and have been a full-fledged member of Division I for 19 years. That was the year before NBA point guard George Hill enrolled. Current head coach Jason Gardner has been there for three years but has yet to record a winning season; IUPUI has not been over .500 since 2011, when Ron Hunter was still the head coach.

“We are excited about engaging with the other Horizon League member institutions to enhance the overall competitiveness of the league,” said IUPUI Director of Athletics Dr. Roderick Perry. “As an institution and athletics department, our mission, vision, and core values align closely with the Horizon League. This is an important step forward in the life of our athletics department.”

Former Louisville standout Chris Jones shot in Memphis

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Former Louisville point guard Chris Jones was shot while playing basketball in his native Memphis on Tuesday night.

According to a report from FOX 13 in Memphis, shortly after 11 p.m. shots rang out on in Halle Park after an altercation on the court. Two people were taken to the hospital, one with a head injury stemming from a fight. The other was Jones, who was shot in the leg twice, according to the Courier-Journal. His injuries are not life-threatening and he has already been released from the hospital, according to Steve Forbes, his former Junior College coach.

Jones played at Melrose High in Memphis before spending two years at Northwest Florida Junior College and two more seasons at Louisville.

This past year, he spent time playing professionally in Greece and in France, although he played just a grand total of three games in the two leagues.

Perhaps the craziest part about this story is that Jones was shot on a court that is next to a police station. This is a screengrab from FOX 13’s live shot from the basketball courts, and you can see the police cars in the station’s parking lot in the back ground:

Preaching patience, new Pitt AD says hoops program “a complete rebuild”

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Things did not go particularly well for Kevin Stallings in his first year at Pitt. The program, which essentially pushed Jamie Dixon out the door for being consistently good but not often enough great, struggled, going 16-17 overall and 4-14 in the ACC, just two games out of the cellar.

On top of that, six players prematurely left the program this spring.

Not great, especially when you’ve got a new boss that didn’t hire you, as is the case for Stallings with new Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke, who came aboard in March. In her first meeting with Stallings, Lyke asked a rather blunt question.

“Do you want to be here?” according to the Beaver County Times.

Stallings answered that he did, and his new athletic director would appear to be willing to give her predecessor’s hire time to reclaim and rebuild the program.

“It’s a steep climb, if you will,” Lyke said. “It’s not something that’s going to come easy and it takes an incredible amount of work.”

Stallings’ personal reputation took a significant amount of damage this spring when he attempted to block Cameron Johnson from an intra-ACC transfer to North Carolina. NBC Sports’ Scott Phillips called him a “town-deaf clown” in his attempt to keep Johnson from being a Tar Heel, a position he later relinquished, allowing Johnson to head to Chapel Hill.

Losing Johnson certainly won’t help Stallings and the Panthers recover from the difficult first season. Pitt didn’t hit any grand-slams in recruiting but is adding four-star guard Marcus Carr in its 2017 class.

The immediate outlook doesn’t look particularly bright, but Pitt appears to be positioning itself to exhibit some patience.

“If you look at the team, it is a complete rebuild,” Lyke said. “So I do think that (Stallings) is going to need a little time to develop it.

“But, we’ve got to be headed in the right direction. There’s some things that have got to get better and noticeable improvements. I’ve already seen those things start to happen.”