By Jesse Kramer
In the last few seasons, Harvard has not only risen to the top of the Ivy League, but to national prominence. The Crimson won the conference last season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32, and this year it will once again be the favorite.
Penn, Brown, and Princeton all have the pieces to pose a challenge, but it would not be surprising to see Harvard steamroll through the Ivy League to a 14-0 record.
After winning the program’s first NCAA tournament game last season, Harvard will be even more improved. The Crimson return four starters, and it also adds seniors Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry.
Casey and Curry were supposed to be co-captains last season, but they had to temporarily leave the program due to their involvement in a cheating scandal. Both were forces in the Ivy League as juniors, with Casey averaging 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and Curry averaging 7.9 points and 4.9 assists.
From last year’s club, the Crimson return Wesley Saunders, Siyani Chambers (pictured), and Laurent Rivard, their three leading scorers. Saunders and Chambers will both be in the running for Ivy League Player of the Year this season, and Rivard is one of the league’s best three-point shooters.
Harvard will also return forwards Steve Moundou-Missi (7.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Jonah Travis (6.2 ppg, 59.5 FG%), and Kenyatta Smith (5.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg).
Penn returns everyone from last year’s team, which showed promise but limped to a 6-8, fifth-place finish in the Ivy League. The Quakers bring back their starting backcourt of senior Miles Cartwright and sophomores Tony Hicks and Jamal Lewis. Cartwright made the Ivy League’s second-team while Hicks received All-Ivy honorable mention. Although less known, Lewis had a solid freshman campaign with 3.5 points, 2.4 assists, and 1.4 steals per contest.
In the frontcourt, the Quakers return senior Fran Dougherty and sophomore Darian Nelson-Henry. Dougherty played only 13 games last season due to an injury, but he averaged 12.8 points on 50.8% shooting and also grabbed 7.5 rebounds per game. In the first 10 games of the season, he had four double-doubles.
Nelson-Henry struggled a bit early in the season, but once he got his footing he had a huge impact in the Ivy League. In 13 conference games, he averaged eight points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks.
Princeton graduated Ivy League Player of the Year Ian Hummer, but it returns its other key pieces from last year’s team, which went 10-4 in conference play.
Guard T.J. Bray and forward Denton Koon, both potential Ivy League first teamers this season, will lead the Tigers’ charge. Bray made the second team All-Ivy last season, and Koon received honorable mention.
Bray, who has size at 6’5″, averaged 9.9 points and team-bests 3.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He was also a very respectable three-point shooter at 37.1%.
Koon averaged 10.5 points and three rebounds per contest while shooting 53.2% from the field. He ranked in the nation’s top 100 in true shooting percentage.
The Tigers also return 6’10”, stretch-four Will Barrett, who averaged 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds, and was Princeton’s best three-point shooter at 51.6%. In addition, Princeton will bring back sophomore forward Hans Brase and junior guard Clay Wilson.
Brown’s top four players are as talented as anyone’s, except Harvard’s. However, the Bears’ lack of depth will keep them from actually challenging the Crimson for the league title.
The Bears graduated leading scorer Matt Sullivan and sixth man Stephen Albrecht from their backcourt, but returning is point guard Sean McGonagill. McGonagill was first on the team with 3.9 assists and second with 14 points and 1.3 steals per game. He also led the team with 61 made three-pointers.
Brown’s frontcourt will be headed by junior Rafael Maia, sophomore Cedric Kuakumensah, and senior Tucker Halpern.
Maia was robbed of All-Ivy League honorable mention last season. The 6’9″ center averaged 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, ranking in the nation’s top 25 in offensive rebounding percentage.
As a freshman, Kuakumensah (pictured) won Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year with 2.4 blocks per game and ranking No. 23 nationally in both block and defensive rebounding percentage. He also produced 6.9 points per contest, albeit on 40.4% shooting.
Halpern, a stretch four, averaged 9.1 points and shot 36.5% from beyond the arc.
Cornell has one of the conference’s best forwards in Shonn Miller and best shooters in Nolan Cressler, but after that the Big Red does not have much this season.
Miller made the Ivy League’s first team last season after averaging 11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 1.9 steals per game. Over the course of the year, he posted four double-doubles.
Cressler made three-pointers at a 40.3% clip last season and averaged 9.3 points. Against Western Michigan last November, Cressler drained six treys.
These two have the talent to keep Cornell competitive on any given night this season, but they may not have a good enough supporting cast to make a significant push in the standings.
In three years under head coach Paul Cormier, Dartmouth has won only seven Ivy League games. With the return of their top four scorers, this could be the Big Green’s year to make a leap in the standings.
Junior forward Gabas Maldunas was one of the conference’s leaders in rebounds and blocked shots a season ago. Averaging 11.4 points, 6.9 boards, and 1.4 blocks, Maldunas was the Big Green’s best all-around player. He will be joined in the frontcourt by junior John Golden and sophomore Connor Boehm.
The backcourt will be manned by Alex Mitola, Malik Gill, and Tony Melville. Mitola and Melville were the team’s best outside shooters last season, and Gill led the team in assist rate and steals per game.
Yale loses leading scorer Austin Morgan, but all of its other starters return.
Junior Javier Duren will be one of the better point guards in the Ivy League, and forward Justin Sears could become an all-league player following a tremendous freshman season.
The Bulldogs do not have a lot of backcourt depth or outside shooting, which is why the return of Isaiah Salafia is crucial. Salafia, who took a leave of absence from the team midway through the 2011-12 season and missed all of last season, averaged 3.4 points and 1.3 assists per game as a sophomore and shot 48.1% on three-pointers.
Columbia graduated starting point guard and leading scorer Brian Barbour, but the Lions return a talented, although young, backcourt. Sophomores Grant Mullins (9.3 ppg, 37.4 3P%, pictured) and Maodo Lo (6.2 ppg) had very impressive freshman years and should both start this season. An important piece of Columbia’s backcourt will be senior Steve Frankoski, who drilled in 45.5% of his three-pointers last season for the third-best mark in the Ivy League.
The Lions also return skilled small forward Alex Rosenberg, who averaged 9.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists last season.
Ivy League Player of the Year
Wesley Saunders, Harvard
Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year
Cedric Kuakumensah, Brown
Ivy League Freshman of the Year
Anthony Dallier, Yale
Ivy League All-Conference Team
Siyani Chambers, Harvard
T.J. Bray, Princeton
Wesley Saunders, Harvard
Raphael Maia, Brown
Fran Dougherty, Penn
*All advanced statistics are courtesy of KenPom.