One benefit of Ivy League basketball’s weekend-only game schedule is that it provides ample opportunity for reflecting between games. I do that here, providing five thoughts I had following the men’s basketball team’s losses last weekend at Yale and Brown.
After a three-game suspension following an incident at Wawa in mid-January, senior guard Devin Cannady returned to the floor this weekend. The relative brevity of his suspension caused some controversy on the internet, where some argued he deserved a more severe punishment. My personal view is that those complaining don’t have the full information about the incident and subsequent investigation, and everything I’ve heard indicates that Cannady is an otherwise upstanding member of the Princeton community who made a mistake and deserves a second chance.
What’s not up for debate is that the Princeton offense sorely missed him. The team won both of its Ivy League contests without him, but its 55–43 win over Columbia was quite possibly the ugliest game of basketball I’ve ever seen. It’s overtime win over Cornell, in which Princeton made just two three-pointers, wasn’t much better. Cannady came off the bench against Yale and took some time to shake the rust off, but he scored 24 points against Brown in Princeton’s best offensive performance in the Ivy League this season to date.
The Ivy League has a plethora of talented scorers playing guard — even several of the teams lurking closer to the bottom of the standings possess dangerous offensive weapons. Senior forward Myles Stephens has the responsibility of guarding them. In the past few weeks, Stephens has guarded Columbia’s Gabe Stefanini, Cornell’s Matt Morgan, Yale’s Miye Oni, and Brown’s Desmond Cambridge. For the most part, he kept them contained. Even Oni (more on him later), who dropped 35 points against Princeton, did most of his damage in transition or after getting a different defender to switch onto him.
“I embrace it,” said Stephens of his role as a defensive stopper after the Columbia win. “I came here to play defense. I know when I get my defense going it gets our team going on defense, and then with that comes our offense.”
Stephens earned the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Award, in 2016–17, as a sophomore. If he keeps playing at this level, he deserves to win it again.
Don’t get me wrong — Princeton is a solid defensive team. They’re athletic enough to bother shooters and prevent easy baskets and big enough to dominate the defensive glass and prevent second-chance opportunities. However, some of the responsibility for low scores posted by Princeton’s opponents in its first four Ivy League games can be attributed to those teams’ abnormally poor shooting. Penn and Columbia, in particular, were getting decent shots against Princeton but couldn’t seem to make many of them.
Statistically speaking, Princeton couldn’t expect that trend to last forever, and Yale and Brown finally put an end to it. Friday night, Yale shot 54 percent from the field and 40 percent from three. Saturday, Brown went through a stretch at the end of the first half in which it seemingly forgot how to miss, scoring 39 points in under 10 minutes. Princeton will need to find a hot shooting stretch of its own to get back to winning Ivy games.
Yale’s Miye Oni torched Princeton this weekend for 35 points on 13-18 shooting. The junior guard did not have a single Division I college offer until the spring of his last year in high school but was recently projected to go No. 47 in an ESPN NBA mock draft. At 6-foot-6, Oni has the length and athleticism NBA front offices love to see in a shooting guard and — as Princeton found out — he can create and make shots.
After a particularly nifty step-back three pointer with about five minutes remaining, Oni received a technical foul for flashing a three-point sign with his hand near Princeton men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson ’98. It’s unclear whether Oni meant to taunt the Princeton bench, but his play has earned him the right to be cocky.
Yale is scheduled to host the third Ivy League Tournament this March, but its gymnasium may not be up to the task. The John J. Lee Amphitheater, where Princeton fell to Yale on Friday, seats just 2800 and lacks a dedicated press row. Last year’s men’s championship game, hosted at the Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania, had a listed attendance of 5,564.
More generally, the Ivy League has yet to find a long-term solution for the location of its annual basketball tournament. The Palestra is a desirable venue for its size and historical value, but giving Penn a de facto home court advantage every year is not ideal.
In my opinion, the League should either let the top men’s and women’s seed in the conference host their respective tournament or find a suitable neutral arena.