Ivy League Preview: Can Yale outlast Harvard and Princeton?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Ivy League.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that has paid any attention to the Ivy League over the course of the last half-decade that the top three teams in the league this season look to be Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

Princeton is coming off of a dominant 2016-17 season that wasn’t really expected. The Tigers rolled through conference play with a 14-0 record, earning the league’s first Ivy League tournament title, on the shoulders of Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook, both of whom were seniors; Weisz was the league’s Player of the Year. Those losses, as well as the loss of Henry Caruso and Hans Brase, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries, are even bigger than they seem, as Weisz and Cook allowed Mitch Henderson to switch everything defensively.

The Tigers will still have a chance. The combination of Devin Cannady, Myles Stephens and Amir Bell is as good of a top three as you’ll find in the Ivy. The question Princeton will has to answer is depth. There are a lot of unproven guys returning, and while there are some talented freshmen joining the program – Sebastian Much and Jerome Desrosiers – Henderson is going to have his work cut out for him developing a rotation.

Which is why Yale appears to be the favorite to win the league this year.

Well, maybe that’s the wrong way to phrase it, because the Elis have a shot to be special this season. It starts with Makai Mason, who was the star of Yale’s upset win over Baylor in the 2016 NCAA tournament, who returns to the floor this season after missing all of last year with a foot injury. Due to an Ivy League rule that forbids redshirts, Mason has already committed to Baylor to play as a grad transfer next season.

A dynamic lead guard that hung 31 on the Bears 18 months ago, Mason will be joined in the back court by Miye Oni, a 6-foot-6 sophomore that is starting to generate some NBA attention. That back court is as good as any in the Ivy and better than many high major back courts. Throw in Jordan Bruner, a former top 150 prospect that picked the Elis over Clemson and spent his freshman season battling a knee injury, and James Jones has the pieces to make another run at winning a game in the NCAA tournament.

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Harvard is a little more difficult to figure out. Losing Siyani Chambers and Zena Edosomwan is going to hurt, but there certainly are pieces at Tommy Amaker’s disposal. Sophomores Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns look like future all-Ivy first team players, while sophomore Chris Lewis and senior Chris Egi are more than talented enough to make up for the enigmatic Edosomwan.

With Justin Bassey and Robert Baker getting another year of seasoning under their belt, the Crimson have the pieces to make some noise.

If there is a team that can crack the top three this year, it’s Penn. A.J. Brodeur is a stud and the Quakers return just about everyone from a team that won six of their last eight games a season ago and came within a missed front-end of beating Princeton in the Ivy League tournament. Columbia lost two starters, but they bring back a talented back court headline by sophomore Mike Smith.

Both Cornell and Dartmouth struggled last season, but both also happen to have a first-team all-Ivy caliber star in Matt Morgan and Evan Boudreaux. Morgan averaged better than 18 points in each of his first two seasons while Boudreaux, whose mother was a three-time Ivy Player of the Year, an all-american in basketball and a four-time league champion in the shot put for Dartmouth, has averaged better than 17 points and nine boards the last two years.

Brown is something of an unknown. They lost their top two scorers from last season, including Steven Speith, Jordan’s brother, but return some promising youngsters and add a Junior College transfer in Zach Hunsaker that could end up being an all-league player.

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PRESEASON IVY LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Makai Mason, Yale

The key for Mason this season is going to be his health. After a dominating NCAA tournament performance and receiving this award last season, Mason suffered a foot injury that forced him out for the entire season. As a sophomore, he averaged 16.0 points and 3.8 assists for the Bulldogs.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-IVY FIRST TEAM

  • Bryce Aiken, Harvard: The big question with Aiken is going to be the position he plays. He’s a natural scorer, but with Chambers gone, will he slide over and handle lead guard duties?
  • Miye Oni, Yale: Oni has a shot to be one of the best players to ever come through the Yale program. His length, physical tools and shooting ability has him on the radar of NBA teams already.
  • A.J. Brodeur, Penn: If anyone is going to be able to carry the Quakers into the top three of the league this year, it’s Brodeur, who averaged 14 points as a freshman last season.
  • Myles Stephens, Princeton: Cannady will end up being the guy that makes most of these lists, but Stephens should capably fill the role vacated by the likes of Weisz and Cook.

PREDICTED FINISH

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