Harvard celebration
Harvard celebration

Ivy League spotlight: Bulldogs aim to surpass Crimson as top dogs

A total of six points in three games separated Harvard and Yale last season in an epic battle for the Ivy League championship, with the Bulldogs again denied the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

But Yale, which finished 22-10 for their most victories since 1948-49, are ready to bounce back from a 53-51 loss to Harvard in the league playoff. The return of league Player of the Year Justin Sears raises Yale's hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1962.

"I like what I've seen so far," Bulldogs coach James Jones said Wednesday during the Ivy League's preseason media teleconference.

Yale was voted the preseason favorite, but in the media poll the Bulldogs received fewer first-place votes (five) than Columbia and Princeton (six each).

"I don't know how much that matters," Jones said when asked what it felt like to be the favorite. "The vote was really very close. Certainly the league is wide open. I certainly feel good with where our team is and I'm glad people recognize it.

"The way things went down at the end of the season for us  it didn't sit well. It pushes us forward. It's a new year now. Last year doesn't matter."

With that, here are five things to watch in the Ivy League this season:
Yale topped the preseason media poll for the first time with 117 points and five first-place votes, ahead of Columbia (second with 114 points and six first-place votes) and Princeton (third with 108 and six). The Bulldogs' previous highest preseason ranking was second on seven occasions. So expectations are high. Less so at Harvard, which lost senior point guard Siyani Chambers for the season with a torn ACL. He averaged 9.9 points and 4.3 assists last season and started since his freshman year, playing more than 35 minutes per game. That relegated the Crimson to fourth in the preseason poll. "Do we have a Siyani on the roster? No we don't," said Crimson coach Tommy Amaker. "Do we have other good players? Yes we do." Dartmouth’s best weapon, Alex Mitola (12.4 ppg), transferred to George Washington.

Mark Adams' take: Seven of the top 10 scorers return.  Harvard and Tommy Amaker’s bunch have won or shared the Ivy title for five consecutive seasons. Harvard was the unanimous choice to win it all last season but it won’t be that way this season. I pick Columbia along with Yale and Harvard to fight it out.
Ivy League prestige, bolstered further by the return of coach Steve Donahue to Penn. Fran Dunphy’s assistant for 10 seasons, Donahue went on to win three consecutive league titles at Cornell and led the Big Red to the Sweet 16 in 2010. After four seasons at Boston College, he's back coaching in the Ivy League. "He has already proven he can win at a high level in the Ivy League, while maintaining the values that are so important to those institutions," said Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. Respect for the league has never been higher, as Yale's Jones said. "I don't know if we'll have a Sweet 16 team or a team that reaches the Elite Eight, but I know from top to bottom all our teams are better." Added Princeton's Mitch Henderson: "I think it's as good of a league as it's ever been."

Mark Adams' take: Contenders are everywhere in the deep Ivy League. ... Donahue has a lot to work with at Penn.
Sears, a senior forward, was the league's reigning player of the year after averaging 14.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season. He is the consensus preseason player of the year. The return of senior forward Alex Rosenberg helped Columbia place second in the preseason poll only for the second time. Rosenberg, who was first-team  All-Ivy League two seasons ago, averaged 16.0 points and 3.7 rebounds in 2013-14. He has recovered from a fractured foot that sidelined him last season. With Rosenberg and senior guard Maodo Lo (18.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Columbia has one of the most prolific duos in the league.

Mark Adams' take: Brown also has Steven Speith, a 6-6 junior who also returns with good credentials scoring 9.9 ppg and grabbing 4.8 rpg. He is the brother of PGA Tour Player of the Year Jordan Spieth, who won two majors and five PGA tournaments this year. Now it is Steven’s turn to shine. ... The other big news is one of the best players from the 2013-14 season returns after a foot injury, Alex Rosenberg from Columbia.

Princeton is in position to win its first Ivy League title in six seasons thanks to the trio of junior forward Spencer Weisz (11.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg), senior forward Hans Brase (11.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and junior forward Steven Cook (10.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg). Harvard will rely on senior guard/forward Aguna Okolie (4.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and junior forward/center Zena Edosomwan (4.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg). Brown junior, Tavon Blackmon (11.6 ppg), senior Cedric Kuakumensah (10.4 ppg) and junior JR Hobbie (10.1 ppg) were all double figure scorers in Ivy League play last season.

Mark Adams take: The key for Columbia is point guard Isaac Cohen, who also returns as one of the best assist men in the league. ... Columbia's Kyle Castlin (10.3 ppg) was the highest scoring freshman in the Ivy League last season. ... Princeton sophomore Amir Bell showed promise running the show last season and his improvement as a shooter and distributor should make the Tigers a solid contender for the title. ... The Ivy league’s Newcomer of the Year, Miles Wright, was clutch while knocking down a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer to help the Big Green beat Yale, 59-58, denying the Bulldogs an outright Ivy League championship. Wright is a big-game weapon for three more years.

ASN will televise 10 Ivy League games starting Jan. 29 with Princeton at Brown at 6 p.m. ET. ASN also will televise two games involving the league's top three preseason favorites — Harvard at Columbia on Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. ET and Columbia at Princeton on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. ET.

Mark Adams' take: It's basketball season!

Vote: Who is your choice to win the Ivy League?
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Above: Harvard coach Tommy Amaker cuts the net after the Crimson beat Yale to earn the Ivy League's automatic bid tto the NCAA Tournament. (The Ivy League/Sideline Photos)

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