Men's Basketball Tabbed First in Ivy League Preseason Poll

Published by Troy Boccelli on October 22, 2017 at 5:04PM
Bass to Pass

Sophomore wing Justin Bassey feeds the ball inside during Crimson Madness last Friday.

{image id=1325384 size=full caption=true align=center}

Coming off a season that saw its hopes of postseason basketball crushed in the first round of the inaugural Ivy League tournament, the expectations for the underclassmen-heavy Harvard men’s basketball team are fairly high—first place in the Ivy League high, to be exact.

Picked to finish first ahead of Yale and Princeton—the two teams that competed in the championship game of last year’s Ancient Eight tournament—the Crimson earned six first place votes in the preseason media poll. The Bulldogs finished three points behind the Crimson in the poll, earning eight first-place votes, with Princeton and Penn rounding out the top four.

Leading the way for the Harvard squad is its young core of sophomores—a class ranked 10th in the nation by ESPN in 2016. Sophomore guard Bryce Aiken, who was the first Crimson guard since Siyani Chambers ’17 to earn both Ivy League Rookie of the Year and first team All-Ivy honors, led the way for Harvard last season, averaging nearly 15 points a game.

Also in the talented class of sophomores are forwards Seth Towns, Chris Lewis, Robert Baker, and guard Justin Bassey. Aiken, Towns, Lewis, and Bassey all carved out starting roles last season for a team that went 18-10. Baker chipped in meaningful minutes off the bench near the end of the season.

All told, Harvard returns nearly 75 percent of its scoring from the previous year.

The sophomore class returns with plenty of experience from a season ago—after starting the season 1-4, with losses to Stanford, UMass, Holy Cross, and George Washington, the Crimson went on a 10-1 run that saw meaningful time for not only the three freshman who typically started, but also for much of the freshman class off the bench.

While Aiken and Towns came to be the Harvard’s go-to players on offense, Lewis carved out a role as a solid rebounder with strong moves in the post and Bassey established himself as the Crimson’s top defender.

Harvard returns three sophomores who all averaged over 25 minutes per game the previous season. Much like the year before, what will likely be the Crimson’s bench also brings plenty of depth—Baker, captain Chris Egi, junior forward Weisner Perez, and sophomore Henry Welsh all showed flashes of talent last season in their time on the floor.

Much like Harvard, Yale brings back plenty of talent from last season’s squad—this in the form of juniors Alex Copeland and Blake Reynolds, along with sophomore Miye Oni. Perhaps most notably, however, the Bulldogs bring back senior guard Makai Mason. Mason—who scored 31 points against Baylor in the 2016 NCAA tournament to give Yale a win in its first appearance since 1962—returns after a season where he didn’t see the hardwood due to a broken foot.

While the Crimson was unable to down the Bulldog’s in the Ivy Tournament last March, Harvard came away with two wins against Yale in the regular season, including the Bulldogs’ first home loss in over two years.

Princeton also returns some key pieces from last year’s squad including a talented backcourt in juniors Devin Cannaday and Myles Stephens as well as senior Amir Bell, but also lost some key pieces with the departure of Steven Cook and Spencer Weisz. The Tigers come off a season in which they went undefeated in conference—including two last-minute wins against the Crimson.

Penn, for its part, returns a talented duo in sophomores AJ Brodeur and Ryan Betley. The Quakers, however, did lose a talented guard following the graduation of Matt Howard—the then-senior dropped 24 points against Harvard in his team’s last game of the regular season to earn a spot at the Ivy League tournament.

Rounding out the bottom four spots is Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, and Brown. Last season, the four combined for a total of one win against Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. The advent of a new season wouldn’t indicate that much will change.

—Staff writer Troy Boccelli can be reached at troy.boccelli@thecrimson.com.