Penn men's basketball entered last season as the consensus favorite in the Ivy League, but fell far short of expectations with their third place regular season finish and semifinal exit from the Ivy League tournament. Last year’s disappointment, coupled with the loss of several key players, leaves multiple squads ahead of the Quakers heading into the 2023-24 season.
1. Yale (2022-23: 21-9, 10-4 Ivy)
After finishing the regular season with a share of first place in the Ivy League, Yale fell in the finals of Ivy Madness to Princeton. Despite the early end to the Bulldogs' 2022-23 season, the Bulldogs are the favorite to earn the conference’s designated NCAA tournament bid in early media polls.
Yale returns with the majority of the roster that powered last year's best defense in the Ivy League, with three of five starters coming back, headlined by junior guard Bez Mbeng, the reigning Ivy Defensive Player of the Year and anchor of the Bulldogs' defensive schemes. Coach James Jones, last year's Ivy Coach of the Year and Yale’s all-time leader in wins, should be able to put together another strong strategy to limit opponent scoring.
Offensively, Yale has the potential to top 80 points per game after averaging 75.8 last season. Senior forward Matt Knowling, a unanimous first team All-Ivy selection last year, will look to follow up a campaign during which he scored 13.6 points per game while shooting at a ridiculous 62.5% clip from the field. Knowling will be complemented by Mbeng, who averaged 10.1 points and over four rebounds per game last season, as well as sharpshooters such as senior guard August Mahoney and junior guard John Poulakidas.
2. Princeton (23-9, 10-4)
The Tigers put together a run for the ages last March, becoming the first Ivy League team to reach the Sweet 16 in over a decade, after beating Arizona and Missouri in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. However, the shift of Princeton’s roster entering the 2023-24 season lands them below last year’s runner-up.
Forward Tosan Evbuomwan was the heart and soul of the historic Tigers team last season, averaging 15.1 points, leading the team in steals at 24, and tying a school record for total assists en route to a unanimous first team All-Ivy selection and Ivy League Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Despite the loss, Princeton returns a strong cast to build on last year’s run. Sophomore forward Caden Pierce, the reigning Ivy Rookie of the Year, has the potential to take another leap after averaging 8.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. Senior guard Matt Allocco will also strive to build on a strong performance, after his 10.7 points per game earned him second team All-Ivy recognition.
3. Penn (17-13, 9-5)
The Quakers easily suffered the biggest losses in the Ivy League during this past offseason. In 2022-23, guard Jordan Dingle put together one of the most memorable seasons in recent Penn history. Dingle’s 23.4 points per game led the Ivy League and was the second highest in school history and all NCAA Division I for the season. After being named both the Ivy League Player of the Year and Big 5 Player of the Year, Dingle transferred to St. John’s in May. In addition to their leading scorer, the Quakers lost leading rebounder guard Lucas Monroe, who transferred to Drexel, and guard/forward Max Martz, an honorable mention All-Ivy who medically retired prior to the season.
While the hole in the offense left by Dingle won’t be filled by just one player, freshman guard Tyler Perkins fits a similar prototype. Perkins, a highly touted recruit out of Virginia, averaged 24.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2.5 steals per game in his senior season, winning the Interstate Athletic Conference Player of the Year. On the defensive side, junior center Nick Spinoso will look to anchor the paint after being named the Big 5’s Most Improved Player, following a campaign where he averaged 8.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, and was third on the team in both steals and blocks.
4. Brown (14-13, 7-7)
In recent history, Brown has been a mediocre team at best. Their best finish in the past decade was fourth place in 2018-19, which saw the Bears’ only Ivy Madness appearance. Last season was more of the same, with a .500 record in Ivy play and a fifth place finish in the conference. This year, though, they have a chance to break through and not only make the Ivy League tournament, but also find their way into the finals.
Junior guard Kino Lilly Jr. will be the leader of the offensive attack, with the potential to develop into a star. In 2022-23, Lilly averaged 16.9 points and shot nearly 40% from deep, making him the lone sophomore to earn first team All-Ivy honors. Last year, Lilly was complemented by guard Paxson Wojcik, but he graduated, leaving the team in need of a second option, which could be a role filled by junior forward Nana Owusu Anane, a strong rebounder and scorer.
The X-factor for this year’s Bears team is sophomore forward Kalu Anya. Coming from IMG Academy, Anya was a highly anticipated freshman last season, and averaged 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game before his season was cut short due to injury.
5. Cornell (17-11, 7-7)
Cornell’s fast-paced play style leads to a fair share of exciting, high-scoring games. Last season, the Big Red scored 81.7 points per game, while allowing 76, both above the league average. Plenty of forced turnovers were key in creating fast break points, keeping the high-octane offense up and running at all times.
Leading Cornell last year was guard Greg Dolan, who scored 13.3 points per game and led the league in assist-turnover ratio, leading to second team All-Ivy honors as a senior. But with Dolan gone, junior guard Nazir Williams will need to fill that role offensively, building on his All-Ivy honorable mention last year. Defense will be a concern for the Big Red, but if they are able to slow down opposing teams, their dominating offense will lead them to another Ivy Madness appearance.
6. Dartmouth (10-18, 6-8)
Dartmouth — after back-to-back 6-8 Ivy League seasons — is searching for any way to reclaim some relevance in the conference standings. And for the second straight year, last season's leading scorer has graduated. Dame Adelekun was everywhere on the court in his final season, and without his presence, Dartmouth could be slated for a slide from last year’s performance.
Junior guard Ryan Cornish was second in scoring with 12.5 points per game in his first year as a starter, and he averaged 1.2 steals per game. Cornish will likely see his offensive role increase with Adelekun gone, as will senior forward Dusan Neskovic, who averaged 12.2 points, while shooting 42.4% from three in 2022-23. Incoming freshman guard Ben Brown, a British recruit, could elevate the offense as well, as the decorated international prospect will look to make an impact from day one.
7. Harvard (14-14, 5-9)
Generally a slow offensive team, the Crimson has their work cut out for them if they want to improve this season. After averaging only 68.4 points per game last season, they lost their best offensive weapon, guard Chris Ledlum, who accounted for 27.5% of Harvard's points. Another hole in the roster will be left by Idan Tretout, who averaged 12.9 points per game in conference play.
Without last year’s leading guard duo, junior guard Evan Nelson will look to step into a bigger role. Nelson, a strong three-point shooter, averaged 8.4 points and 3.4 assists in 2022-23, shooting just under 40% from three. Incoming freshman guard Xavier Nesbitt has a chance to complete a new strong backcourt pair with Nelson. Nesbitt finished his high school senior season third in Illinois in points per game, and his older brother, Alex, played for Harvard from 2011 to 2015.
8. Columbia (7-22, 2-12)
After an embarrassing 2022-23 season, Columbia should be motivated to turn things around in a big way. Their roster could hold them back, despite an increase in experience this year. Even after finishing last in the conference, the Lions still managed to improve their Ivy record by one win from the prior two seasons.
Junior guard Geronimo Rubio de la Rosa led last year’s roster in scoring, with 13.6 per game. Last year’s strong freshman duo of guard Avery Brown and forward Zine Eddine Bedri need to further elevate their game to help Columbia win more than two Ivy League matchups. They averaged 9.7 and 8.2 points, respectively, but had their fair share of flaws with efficiency and defense. If they don’t improve, Columbia may lead the league in fun names, but end up toward the bottom in everything else.