The release of the final preseason projections on this site is still a few weeks away (though the Ivy League will release its official media poll this Wednesday).
It's expected that Harvard will top the preseason list for the first time in the history of the poll, and not to ruin the surprise, the Crimson will probably be favored pretty heavily in this site's release as well.
That (and maybe that Dartmouth will finish last) is where the consensus stops, however. Different prognostications have had Princeton as the number one contender or as far down as fourth. Yale has been tabbed by many as the likely runner up, but by others out of the upper division entirely. Penn is probably the most egregious offender, as some think the Quakers could steal second, while others have them in a fight to avoid seventh.
The purpose today is not to rank the teams, but rather to provide some starting points for thinking about each Ivy team and the league as a whole, which should help better prepare you, the reader, for establishing your own preseason hierarchy.
THE YEAR OF THE BIG MAN?
Frontcourt skill isn't usually an Ivy strong suit.
The common conception around the league is that you win with superior guard play and that big men have a limited role (defend as well as possible and grab some offensive boards) that, while valuable, is hardly the primary fuel that makes the championship engine run.
Maybe that was never really the case. Maybe we overlooked the quality of the big men on some of those championship teams earlier in the AI era. But regardless of whether the Ivies were a guard-dominated league, they certainly aren't this year.
The top three teams in the league this year have their best player stashed away at the 4 or 5 (or both) rather than at the point or on the wing. Harvard has the frontcourt duo of Kyle Casey and Keith Wright, as well as highly touted freshman Kenyatta Smith. Yale has potentially NBA-level center Greg Mangano as well as rising sophomore, and potential breakout candidate, Jeremiah Kreisberg. Aside from shooting guard Doug Davis, most of Princeton's returning talent is above 6'7, including the team's best player, Ian Hummer.
The teams loaded with backcourt talent fall in right behind. Penn's backcourt trio of Zack Rosen, Miles Cartwright and Tyler Bernardini seem to be comparable with other Quaker championship teams, but even average frontcourt play, if Penn can find it, might not be enough with the quality of Harvard, Yale and Princeton's bigs. The same goes for Cornell, which was Top 50 in three-point shooting last year, but was Bottom 50 in both two-point shooting percentage and two-point shooting percentage allowed - a stat that traditionally has far more of an impact on offensive and defensive rating than three-point percentage.
Once again, regardless of whether Ivy followers incorrectly discounted the quality of their post players, most years the expected overall rankings very closely mirrored the rankings of team backcourts. This year, that would leave Cornell, Harvard and Penn as the top three in some order. Only one of those three is likely to rise above fourth in Wednesday's poll.
This is the trickiest part of projecting the season. A Greg Mangano comes along and takes a woebegone Yale team, reeling from the loss of All-Ivy forward Michael Sands just before the season began, and makes it a postseason team (an invitation the Bulldogs opted to decline).
The good news is that, on the whole, there are far more consistencies year-over-year than breakout players (or on the opposite side - flops), which means that only the most acute cases can really mess up one's predictions.
Among the sophomores, Jeremiah Kreisberg appears to be the most ready for a monster campaign, as Mangano returns to draw most of the attention up front. If he fulfills that promise, the Bulldogs could be almost impossible to stop in the post. Other second-year players that could be poised to step up are Dockery Walker of Brown, who needs to learn to shoot free throws but otherwise looked strong in limited action, and Tyler Melville of Dartmouth, who needs to do a little less on offense.
There are a few likely breakout candidates among the upperclassmen as well (though breakout is a more relative term, as the following players already have a history of solid production). Look for Brandyn Curry, completely healthy for the first time in his Harvard career, to become more than just a setup guy. Columbia forward Mark Cisco has a solid post game and should become more of an offensive force this year. Finally, Andrew McCarthy shouldn't need to be a breakout candidate, but if he can limit his fouls, he might see the requisite level of playing time to build the counting stats to go along with his great efficiency.
Under Jesse Agel, the Bears have posted three straight years of Defensive Turnover Rates among the bottom 10 teams in the country. That leaves too many possessions resulting in shots or free throws and leading to points. It shouldn't be any surprise that Brown's best finish in defensive rating was 283rd (107.7) in Agel's first season.
The Bears already could be in trouble, as its defensive rebounding was 27th nationally last year, and it loses its top guy on the glass, Peter Sullivan, to graduation.
If defensive rebounding regresses to the mean, being able to force turnovers will become even more important.
The Lions were even better than Brown on the boards, as Columbia finished seventh nationally, grabbing 72.9 percent of all of the available rebounds on the defensive end. With the losses of Asenso Ampim, Brian Grimes, Max Craig and Zack Crimmins to graduation, that's a lot of quality rebounding departing Levien.
As juniors, Mark Cisco and John Daniels have experience, but neither has played more than 42 percent of team minutes during a season. Beyond them, however, there are a bunch of raw freshmen and a sophomore, something which doesn't portend well for the Lions' ability to control the paint. While the defensive rebounding would see the most violent correction if Columbia can't find quality options in the post, the extent of the damage wouldn't be limited to just that category.
The Big Red might be the most desperate of all the teams with thin frontcourts, as Cornell lived through the carnage for an entire year. Two-point shooting percentage on offense and defense rested in the 290s nationally, free throw rates tanked on offense and soared on defense and the ability to keep possessions alive with offensive rebounds bottomed out.
The reliance on outside shooting made Cornell insanely high variance, which led to an interesting path for the season. The Big Red knocked off Top 100 team Wofford and came close to sneaking a victory out of Minnesota as well. But Cornell proceeded to go 1-2 against teams outside the Top 300. That's the pattern of a team that relies on streaky three-point shooting for its offense and struggles to stop teams from getting consistent points inside, and its a pattern that the Big Red will be looking to break.
It's funny how the alphabetical approach starts us with four teams in desperate need of post help. Last year, the Big Green had three players on the entire roster taller than 6'6.
Now Dartmouth is down to two, but it at least has a few combo forwards in the 6'5-6'6 range that can provide at least some inside presence. While the frontcourt issues are acute, really the Big Green needs Division I talent of any sort. That, and climbing into the Top 300 for the first time since the 2006-2007 season, will be the quest this year.
The most loaded team in the Ivies doesn't have a whole lot to work on, but the defensive side of the ball is of some concern.
Opposing teams sank threes at decently high rates (36.3 percent) overshadowing decent to excellent metrics on defense otherwise. If that trend continues this year, it would be a significant drag on the Crimson's efforts to enter the Top 50 in the Pomeroy Ratings.
With the departure of Jack Eggleston and Conor Turley, the Quakers must replace more than half of their frontcourt minutes with no experienced candidates in-house.
Finding reliable post presences would go a long way toward correcting Penn's abysmal two-point field goal percentage against and its horrendous offensive rebounding. Those frontcourt players must also hold onto the ball though, as the returning posts were all turnover machines last year.
There's no denying that the Quakers have a dynamic backcourt, but as mentioned above, just having stellar guard play isn't close to enough to be competitive in a tougher, more interior focused Ivy League.
The biggest problems for the Tigers are more longterm, as the offseason highlighted. A philosophically driven hand-tying of the program from a resource perspective led Sydney Johnson to jump ship and has slowly dropped the Tigers toward the bottom division when it comes to recruiting.
With Doug Davis and Ian Hummer returning, as well as a few potentially talented supporting pieces, Princeton's regression back to the Ivy League mean shouldn't be as precipitous as Cornell's the year before. To think that the Tigers have the pieces to make a run at a repeat, though, is overly optimistic.
The goal for Princeton should be a return to the slow-paced ways of the past and a focus on rebounding, because with the height the Tigers can put on the floor, they should be very good in that area.
The Bulldogs were an talented, but an extremely inconsistent team last year. A win over Harvard, which dramatically impacted the Ivy race, as well as a victory over Boston College and a three-point loss at Providence showcased what Yale could be, while an overtime escape against Dartmouth and a home loss to Sacred Heart set off blaring warning bells.
The good news is that the Bulldogs lost almost no one off a team that had the third-highest ceiling of any squad in the league last season. If Jeremiah Kreisberg meets the expectations that strong offseason performances have set for him and the freshman class has some potential contributors, then Yale will make a strong case for having the second-highest upside of any Ivy team.
From there, it will all be about whether the Bulldogs can be consistent enough to translate that into becoming the number one contender in the race for the league title.