Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Ivy League.
The Ivy League is the most underrated conference in the country, particularly at the top of the standings. In recent years, Harvard has been the best team in the conference, winning a pair of NCAA tournament games in the last three years, but the league itself has been much more competitive than anyone has given it credit for.
This year, Tommy Amaker’s club is headed for rebuilding mode. Wesley Saunders and Steve Moundou-Missi have both graduated, while star point guard Siyani Chambers tore his ACL and will miss the entire season. That leaves a team that struggled at times with depth without their top three players from a season ago. Amaker has stockpiled some talent — juniors Zena Edosomwan and Corbin Miller, freshman Tommy McCarthy, sophomores Chris Egi and Andre Chatfield — but there will be a lot of new faces in new roles with new responsibilities this season.
That leaves the Ivy wide open this season, and three teams appear primed to knock the Crimson out of the top spot.
The easy pick would be Yale. The Bulldogs missed out on the Ivy regular season title in utterly heartbreaking fashion last season — seriously, Yale fans, DO NOT click this link — and then fell to Harvard in a one-game playoff for the right to play in the NCAA tournament. The Elis lose three of their top five scorers from last season, but they return Justin Sears, the best player in the conference. The key may end up being the development of Makai Mason, who the staff expects to develop into one of the best point guards in the conference this season.
Yale certainly will be a major factor in the race, but the favorite on paper is Columbia. The Lions are led by German point guard Maodo Lo, who may be the best guard in all of mid-major basketball. Coming off of a year where he averaged 18.4 points, 4.5 boards and 2.3 assists, Lo will get help in the form of 6-foot-7 Alex Rosenberg. Rosenberg missed all of the 2014-15 season with an injury, but he averaged 16.0 points in 2013-14. If he returns playing anywhere near that level, the Lions are going to be very dangerous.
Princeton should also end up in the league title race as well. The Tigers have pulled in three terrific recruiting classes in a row, and with a young core built around juniors Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook and sophomore Amir Bell, Mitch Henderson has a bright future in front of him. Their freshman Devin Cannady should be the best newcomer in the league, but if they don’t get tougher on the defensive end, they could be looking at a third-place finish.
The two sleepers to keep an eye on are Brown and Penn. Penn has the talent — they underachieved the last few years — and a coach in Steve Donahue that dominated the Ivy League for three seasons when he was still at Cornell. Brown is led by Cedric Kuakumensah, who might be the best big man in the conference this side of Sears.
- Favorite: “Columbia. Maodo Lo is the best guard in the league hands down, and with Alex Rosenberg back they have the best 1-2 punch in the league. The key is just how good Rosenberg will be after taking a year off.”
- Sleeper: “Penn. They have plenty of talent and it will be interesting to see if they can put it all together after underachieving for the last couple of years. There’s a big drop from the top four to the bottom four unless Steve Donahue can get Penn back into it.”
- Star to watch: “Lo and [Yale’s] Justin Sears will be the Player of the Year. Lo’s great, not a pure point guard but he can flat out play. But I’d go with Sears. He is going to be the best offensive and defensive player in the league.”
PRESEASON IVY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Justin Sears, Yale
Sears is the most dominant front court presence in the Ivy League and has been for quite some time. That’s important for Yale, as the Bulldogs are built around physical play and rebounding the ball. His numbers actually dipped a bit as a junior, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, but that had as much to do with opponents focusing on Sears as anything else.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-IVY TEAM:
- Maodo Lo, Columbia: The German-born lead guard has already scored more than 1,000 points and will, barring injury, become Columbia’s all-time leader in three-pointers made. It’s impossible to ignore his performance in international play for Germany this summer.
- Spencer Weisz, Princeton: A rising junior, Weisz was Princeton’s best player last season. At 6-foot-4, Weisz is a do-it-all guard that was amongst the team leaders in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals last season.
- Cedric Kuakumensah, Brown: At 6-foot-9, 245 pounds, the native of Togo averaged 11.2 points, 7.4 boards, 2.5 blocks and shot 34.7 percent from three.
- Alex Rosenberg, Columbia: Rosenberg was arguably Columbia’s best player prior to missing the 2014-15 season. He’s a typical Ivy League big: High basketball IQ that’s skilled with size and range.
ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ivybball