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Might Harvard be shut out of Ivy POY race?

Feb 22, 2014, 12:28 AM EST

Tommy Amaker AP

The race for the Ivy League title will likely not be decided until the March’s first weekend, when Yale travels north on I-90 to face Harvard, so while there are still a handful of games to be played, it is interesting to speculate which Ivy players are in the lead for the league’s player the year award. The race is more intriguing this season because Harvard, the presumptive favorite for the conference’s auto bid, might not have a player of the year candidate. Sure, names like Wesley Saunders, Kyle Casey, and Siyani Chambers are players the average college basketball fan can identify with, but since neither of the three is having a true POY-type season, Yale’s Justin Sears is worthy of consideration.

If Sears, a 6-foot-8 forward, were to win the award, he would be just the third sophomore to be named the league’s player of the year since the honor’s inception in 1974-75. Sears uses roughly three-quarters of Yale’s available minutes, and is the team’s most efficient player, converting 50 percent of his twos. He is arguably the most athletic Bulldog, a forward who often gets to, and finishes, at the rim. He has also spent a significant amount of time working on his mid-range game — he is taking the same percentage of two-point jumpers as he did as a frosh, but he is now making 35 percent of those attempts (up from 26 percent).

Since those stats reflect what Sears has accomplished overall this season, it is also worth examining how he’s played in the Ivies: while his conversion rate within the arc remains the same, what is most extraordinary about Sears’ play is his ability to get to the stripe at a high clip. His free throw rate in conference play is 90.5 percent, and Sears has put tremendous pressure on opposing teams, compelling squads to foul him to abate his offensive progress. In the Bulldogs’ only match-up against Harvard, a win for Yale, Sears played arguably his top game in 2014 — 21 points and 11 rebounds — and showcased his candidacy for the Ivy’s POY.