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Credit: Zach Sheldon

While the Ivy League slate won't start for another two months, here's a look ahead at the opponents Penn women's basketball will face. A lot has changed in the Ancient Eight since last season, but the same few teams project to be at the top: Penn, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale.

Princeton — 2017-2018 Record: (24-6, 12-2 Ivy)

Biggest loss: Leslie Robinson

Player to watch: Bella Alarie

Princeton comes into the season as the defending champs and the favorites to repeat. Much of that is due to the star power of junior forward Bella Alarie, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year. Alarie was absolutely unstoppable last year, posting a stat line of 13.3 points, 9.4 rebound, 2.3 assists, and 2.6 blocks per game. She was especially impressive against Penn, nearly recording a triple-double in the first game between the two teams. Princeton will definitely miss the steady hand of guard and 2018 WNBA draft pick Leslie Robinson, who paced the team with 4.3 assists per game (apg) and was the only other player to average double-digit points. But the Tigers aren’t as formidable as they were imagined to be a month ago: Alarie is starting the year on the sideline with a broken wrist, while sophomore Abby Meyers, the team’s third-leading scorer, is taking a year off from the school after an academic violation. Much like the Quakers, Princeton has several important returning pieces, but a lot of questions to answer.

Harvard — 2017-2018 Record: (18-11, 10-4)

Biggest loss: Taylor Rooks

Player to watch: Katie Benzan

Third-place Harvard brings most of the pieces back from last year. Leading the way is unanimous first team All-Ivy junior guard Katie Benzan, a lights-out three point shooter and the league's best point guard. Benzan led the team with 13.5 points per game (ppg) and 4.1 apg, but her true talent is beyond the arc; she posted a ridiculous .449 three-point shooting percentage last season, better than her overall shooting percentage. Beyond her, sophomore forward Jeannie Boehm will look to build on a successful freshman campaign, in which she finished sixth in the league in rebounding and third in blocks. Harvard does have a pair of starting spots to fill, due to the graduation of second team All-Ivy guard Taylor Rooks and guard Kirby Porter.

Yale — 2017-2018 Record: (19-13, 8-6)

Biggest loss: Tamara Simpson

Best player: Camilla Emsbo

Yale was the league’s surprise team last year, with its first winning record in conference play since the 2012-2013 season. But a lot of that was due to the dynamic duo of Jen Berkowitz and Tamara Simpson, who have both graduated. Berkowitz was first team All-Ivy last season, posting the league’s best shooting percentage, while Simpson was the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year. With the two of them gone, the mantle falls to junior guard Roxy Barahman, the team’s only other double-digit scorer. Barahman was the team’s primary ball handler last year, finishing fourth in the league with 4.1 apg, but contributes in several other ways, racking up 2.0 steals per game. The Bulldogs also brought in forward Camilla Emsbo, a five-star recruit ranked as the nation’s 34th-best by ESPN, who figures to be the early favorite for Rookie of the Year. If the right people step up, the Elis could be competing for an Ivy tournament title on their home court come March.

Dartmouth — 2017-2018 Record: (15-12, 7-7)

Biggest loss: Kate Letkewicz

Player to watch: Cy Lippold

Dartmouth was one game away from qualifying for the Ivy tournament last year, but it did it with a senior-heavy roster. The Big Green graduated four players who started eight or more games last season, led by second team All-Ivy selection Kate Letkewicz, who finished sixth in the league in scoring. The two returning starters, senior guard Cy Lippold and senior forward Isalys Quinones, finished second and third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.3 and 10.5 ppg, respectively. If the two of them can repeat last season’s success, and younger, less experienced players can step into the roles vacated by the seniors, then Dartmouth can contend for the final Ivy tournament spot.

Brown — 2017-2018 Record: (15-12, 3-11)

Biggest loss: Janie White

Player to watch: Shayna Mehta

Last year, Brown’s high-powered, fast-paced offense wasn’t able to overcome its poor defense. The Bears finished first in the Ivy League with 75.3 ppg, but last with 73.7 ppg allowed. But Brown, unlike most of the other Ancient Eight squads, returns nearly all of its key players. The backcourt duo of seniors Shayna Mehta and Justine Gaziano can penetrate and get to the basket like no one else in the league; they were second and third in the conference with 18.5 and 17.9 ppg, respectively. The Bears also get senior guard Taylor Will, who averaged 17.0 ppg in just 11 games last season, back from injury. Brown did lose forward Janie White, the team’s leading rebounder, to graduation, but senior Erika Steeves (7.4 rebounds per game) is capable of filling the void. Brown has the talent to be a much better team; it just needs to play tighter defense.

Cornell — 2017-2018 Record: (7-20, 3-11)

Biggest loss: Christine Ehland

Player to watch: Samantha Widmann

Cornell really struggled on offense last season, and with most of the team returning, it could finish toward the bottom of the conference once again in that category. The Big Red averaged a measly 55.2 points per game, seven points worse than the next team. The team’s best scorer, and best overall player, is sophomore guard/forward Samantha Widmann, who led the team in points (14.5), rebounds (6.9), and steals (2.2) per game. Despite the poor offense, Cornell posted one of the better defenses in the league, allowing just 63.9 ppg, but even that might be a mirage; the team surrendered an Ivy League-worst .439 shooting percentage. With no major new additions, expect Cornell to stay near the bottom of the league.

Columbia — 2017-2018 Record: (8-21, 2-12)

Biggest loss: Camille Zimmerman

Player to watch: Riley Casey

Columbia is going to struggle this year following the graduation of the program’s all-time leading scorer, Camille Zimmerman. The forward was the premiere offensive threat in the Ivy League last year, finishing with 19.5 ppg, and the Lions’ offense ran through her — she finished the year with 458 field goal attempts, more than one-fourth of the team’s total. She was also the only player in the conference to average a double-double, tacking on 10.2 rpg. With her gone, the game plan will change immensely, leading to more opportunities for the four returning starters. But the problem is those starters, led by sophomore guard Riley Casey, are simply not as talented, meaning that the offense is going to suffer. And without a dominant scorer, this team has no shot at the Ivy title.

For more about the upcoming season, check out the project page for the 2018-2019 Penn basketball preview.

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