Checking in on the… Ivy LeaguePosted by rtmsf on January 16th, 2009
David Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.
Let’s see … what to report from the Ivy League from the last two weeks. Hmm. Cornell beat a team by 54 points. That’s fun – even though they did it to Division III Ursinus. What else? What else? Oh! Yale and Columbia both added to the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s record 50-game Division I losing streak. Good for them. And … I think that’s about– oh wait, I almost forgot! Harvard had probably its greatest win in school history while providing the Ivy League with its best moment in quite some time. That’s probably the big story of the week, right?
When Harvard (9-6) pulled off that shocker over Boston College last week, however, it seemed like there were two overriding sentiments: One was that since B.C. had just beaten then-No. 1 North Carolina, then Harvard should be the new No. 1 team in the land. And two, how ’bout that Tommy Amaker, huh? While I agree that Harvard is the best team there ever was or ever will be, I am hesitant to heap all of the praise entirely on Amaker. Instead, I would like to take a moment to praise former coach Frank Sullivan, a very good man who had little success at Harvard but whose lasting legacy might be leaving the program with Jeremy Lin. Granted, Amaker has brought in a very talented freshmen class, and has probably instilled a newfound belief into his players, but Lin is simply playing at another level right now. Against Boston College, the junior guard scored a game-high 27 points while dishing out eight assists. Here are some highlights of Lin schooling the Eagles.
Amaker has called the win a defining moment for Harvard, but you might say it’s also a defining moment for him. Over 10 seasons at Seton Hall and Michigan, Amaker only got to the NCAA Tournament once. So before you get too caught up in the “Tommy Amaker has changed the Ivy League forever and will lead Harvard to its first conference title” hype, you might want to take a step back, look at Amaker’s track record and then look at how Harvard squeaked by 2-12 Dartmouth in its league opener. The win over Boston College was, and always will be, a great moment for Harvard – and the vote the Crimson got in the AP Top 25 poll is exciting, if not entirely justified. But Harvard is still probably a ways off from making the NCAA Tournament – and if it does get there in the next two years, then Sullivan deserves as much credit as Amaker for wooing Lin from California to Cambridge.
When Temple coach Fran Dunphy visited the Palestra for the annual Big 5 game against his former team Wednesday, he probably saw a few things that were quite unfamiliar to him. For instance, Penn (3-8 ) – the same team he coached to 10 league titles – wasn’t competitive at all, the crowd was small and quiet, and the players he left behind for current Penn coach Glen Miller were, mostly, absent. The scene was quite depressing for those who remember the very good Penn teams, as Daily Pennsylvanian columnist Andrew Scurria points out here. And yet, strangely, I am more confident in the direction of the Penn program today than I was, say, a few weeks ago. Here’s why: The team, for once, has an actual rotation. And it’s a rotation the Quakers can build on through this season and two more, which is an exciting proposition for the optimistic Penn fans – the ones, at least, that still exist. Right now, if you look at the team, there are only three upperclassmen, all seniors, who contribute – Kevin Egee, Brennan Votel and Cam Lewis. At best, these three are role players. At worst, they are quite hapless – as Lewis proved against Temple when he missed an open-court dunk. (Hey Cam, next time stick to what I like to call an “Ivy League dunk” – that is, a very acrobatic finger-roll, or even a high-flying pull-up set shot). For whatever reason, the junior class, Dunphy’s last, has been just about wiped out clean by injury or defection. So that leaves the burden almost entirely on the sophomores and freshmen – Miller’s first two recruiting classes. You can make the argument that most of those guys are not good, but personally I think the core of Tyler Bernardini, Jack Eggleston, Harrison Gaines, Zack Rosen and Rob Belcore has the potential to bring an Ivy title back to the Palestra, though probably not this year. Is Miller confident about the future? After the pretty miserable 25-point loss to Temple, the Penn coach made an interesting comment. “I can’t reinvent the roster here,” he said. “We’re playing with who we have.” At first glance, that seems like a pretty scathing attack on his players. But, upon further review, I believe it to be more of an attack on Dunphy’s final recruits, as well as the lamenting of the injury situation more than anything else. I believe that because on a conference call just one day earlier, Miller basically said that Penn should not be expected to beat good teams with freshmen and sophomores. If that sounds like an excuse, well it is. But, given the situation with the lack of upperclassmen, I think it’s only fair to wait at least another year to judge Miller – though I may be in the minority here since many are already calling for his head. (P.S. If next week the Quakers lose to NJIT, the team with the 50-game Division I losing streak, then I give permission to chop his head off. Not literally. That would be excessive.)
And now some breaking news from a more functional Ivy League team, Cornell. If the Big Red weren’t good enough already with the spectacular trio of Louis Dale, Ryan Wittman and Jeff Foote (all back for another year, too), the team will soon welcome Kentucky transfer Mark Coury to the fold. Coury was a walk-on for the Wildcats, but, still, he played for freaking Kentucky, so this sounds like another major score for head coach Steve Donahue. Meanwhile, Cornell begins its title defense at Columbia tomorrow. Columbia tends to play well on its home floor, but Cornell should win this one easily as the Lions are shorthanded. On an Ivy League conference call this week, Columbia coach Joe Jones said that this is the best Cornell team he’s ever seen, that Wittman is playing as well as anyone in the league and that Foote is, bar none, the best center in the Ivies. Donahue then said this about Columbia: “I have not seen one film of Columbia this year. I don’t even know what their team is doing.” I don’t think it will matter.
Now I will give some other brief tidbits of what all the Ivy League coaches had to say during the midseason conference call (because I listened to it so you don’t have to).
- Brown coach Jessie Agel said everything starts and begins with Matt Mullery, who Cornell beat writer Brian Delaney believes to be the league’s most improved player. Brown (6-8 ) opens Ivy play tonight against Yale, but Agel still only fielded two questions, even though the call’s operator stalled for time and reminded the media, three times, the format for asking questions. Agel then said “Screw you guys, I have one of the best teams in the league” and abruptly hung up. Or at least that’s what he should have done.
- Columbia coach Joe Jones, as previously stated, is quite complimentary of Cornell. He also calls people “Buddy” and reminded everyone about his team’s upset over a very good Penn team a few years back, which, I thought, was pretty insensitive.
- Cornell coach Steve Donahue discussed the development of center Jeff Foote, saying how no coaches (Division I, II or III) thought he was good enough for their program and now how NBA scouts are calling about him. “His development,” Donahue said, “is simply incredible.”
- Dartmouth coach Terry Dunn managed to use the word “progress” three times in his first sentence. Given the fact his team is 2-12, it was surprising that sentence wasn’t, “We are not making progress, but if we are making progress, that progress has come in the form that I might not be living in New Hampshire very much longer.” Just kidding. Dunn has already proved Dartmouth won’t be a pushover in the league, taking Harvard right down to the wire in the opener. Alex Barnett is one of the league’s best players, and Jabari Trotter one of the league’s best freshmen.
- Harvard coach Tommy Amaker obviously talked about what an outstanding week it has been for the program. But when asked about the added media attention, he said it didn’t excite him or move him in any way. I doubt that is true.
- Penn coach Glen Miller confirmed that juniors Darren Smith and Andreas Schreiber are lost for the year, adding he’s not sure how many years Smith, who also missed all of last season, will get back.
- Princeton coach Sydney Johnson said about rising star Doug Davis, “Doug’s good. ‘Nuff said.” But then he explained, in detail, how he’s good, thus making the “‘Nuf said” rather pointless. He also called Zach Finley and Pawel Buczak a two-headed monster at center, which makes sense, because Buczak kind of looks like a monster in this head shot.
- Yale coach James Jones said that he doesn’t think any team in the country is used to playing on the road as much as they are, which, without looking at every team’s schedule, I’ll say is probably untrue. And of course, he managed to segue into his proudest moment at Yale, when he led them to a three-way tie for the Ivy title in 2002 (but he didn’t mention how he had his players cut down the nets in an empty gym, a few days before they lost to Penn in a playoff game for the league’s automatic NCAA bid).
- Western coach Pete Bell said, “Those kids gave it everything. And you know, it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t good enough for me, wasn’t good enough for you, wasn’t good enough for anybody!” Actually, the conference call ended with James Jones saying “That’s it?” but I was hoping for something a little more inspiring, so I threw in a “Blue Chips” quote. Seemed like a better option than the “Sixth Man.”
Until next time!