The Ivy League looks to be a three-team race this year between Harvard, Yale and Columbia. To have a chance to capture the title, all the teams will need their stars to contribute. Here are some key players, as well as x-factors, to look out for this season.
No. 25 Harvard is the preseason favorite on the heels of its fourth consecutive Ivy League title. This continued run of dominance points to Harvard’s ability to absorb losses from the previous season’s roster, while also having the power to maintain its dominance year after year.
Player of the Year candidate: Wesley Saunders, Forward
Last year, Saunders claimed the individual title with a time-proven formula: starring as the best player on the best team. The 6–5 swingman certainly had the numbers, posting a team-high 14.2 points per game along with 3.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. With another off-season of improvement under the NBA prospect’s belt, the main hurdle standing in the way of a second straight POY award is another team dethroning Harvard for the conference title.
“Saunders is definitely a big part of what they do,” Yale forward Matt Townsend ’15 said. “He’s a tough matchup for a lot of people because he’s strong and physical, but he also has the skills of a guard.”
X-Factor: Corbin Miller, Guard
The challenge this year for Harvard lies behind the arc due to the departures of Laurent Rivard and Brandyn Curry. The duo combined for 111 of Harvard’s 184 made three-pointers a season ago. That leaves point guard Siyani Chambers as the only returning member with more than 10 made three-pointers last year. But Miller is no ordinary sophomore. Miller’s freshman campaign came in 2011–12 before he embarked on a two-year mission trip for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The sharpshooter proved why head coach Tommy Amaker was willing to bring in the guard, despite the possibility of his temporary departure from the team, as he knocked down 45.6 percent of his three-point attempts in 2011 in 57 attempts. If Miller can pick up where he left off, Crimson supporters may soon find themselves forgetting all about Rivard and Curry.
Yale has finished in the top half of the Ivy League for 14 straight seasons with head coach James Jones at the helm. In order to claim Jones’s first outright Ivy title and the Bulldogs’ first NCAA tournament appearance since 1962, Yale will need to fire on all cylinders.
Player of the Year candidate: Justin Sears ’16, Forward
Sears nearly snatched the title for best player in the Ancient Eight from Saunders last year, despite being on a Bulldogs team that finished four games out of first place. The Plainfield, New Jersey native stuffed the stat sheet all season, especially during conference play, when he tied for the league lead in scoring, led the league in rebounding and recorded the second-most blocks. Sears dealt with a lengthy rehab assignment over the summer following a late-season wrist injury and suffered a thumb injury in a preseason scrimmage, but if he is able to consistently take the court, there is no reason to expect anything less than another stellar year.
“In my mind, it’s hard to make an argument that he is not the best player in the league,” Jones said.
X-Factor: Armani Cotton ’15, Forward
Perhaps no player’s contributions were more indicative of the outcome of Yale’s games last season than Cotton’s. During the regular season, Cotton averaged 11.5 points per game in Yale’s 15 wins while mustering only 5.5 points per game in Yale’s 13 losses. When Cotton excels in his role as a scorer behind Sears and point guard Javier Duren ’15, Yale has a formidable trio on the court. Cotton was hampered in 2013–14 by recurring knee injuries, largely due to his constant hustle on the offensive and defensive boards. Health will play a large role in Cotton’s — and Yale’s — ability to build upon last season.
Whereas Yale will hope to avoid the injury bug, Columbia has already felt its effects. The team’s leading returning scorer, forward Alex Rosenberg, has withdrawn from school following a Jones fracture in his right foot. Along with the loss of two players who elected to no longer play for the team, the Lions will need to rely heavily upon their remaining depth.
Columbia Player of the Year candidate: Maodo Lo, Guard
Rosenberg’s absence does not preclude the Lions from rostering a legitimate POY candidate. Lo was a stabilizing presence in the Lions’ backcourt a season ago, playing the most minutes per game while providing a strong second scoring option behind Rosenberg. Lo’s 14.7 points per game during conference play was seventh best in the Ivy League. Selected to the preseason All-Ivy first team across numerous media outlets, Lo will have the ball in his hands even more this season.
Columbia X-Factor: Luke Petrasek, Forward
Someone on head coach Kyle Smith’s squad will have to make up the brunt of the lost production from Rosenberg, who averaged nearly 20 points per game during conference play. All eyes point to Petrasek, a 6’10” sophomore who clearly earned Smith’s trust a season ago despite not having flashy numbers. Although he only registered 5.3 points per game to go along with 3.2 rebounds per game, Petrasek started 18 games as a freshman.