Checking in on the… Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on January 30th, 2009

David Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Ivy League, its regular season is unlike any other. For starters, it is the only league without a conference tournament, thus making it the only league whose regular-season winner gets an automatic invite to the NCAA Tournament. The debate has long raged over the merits of having a conference tourney and while I don’t really want to get into that timeless argument, I will say that I appreciate the uniqueness of the Ivy League and firmly believe that the best way to crown a champ is over 14 games, not over three in the final week. That said, teams that stumble early are often dead by midseason. The Ivy League schedule is structured in a way (for academic and travel reasons) so teams play back-to-back games every Friday and Saturday. As you might expect, many seasons have been lost in single weekends alone. The dreaded weekend trip to Penn and Princeton, for example, has been a virtual death sentence for many NCAA Tournament hopefuls.

But the winds of change have swept through the Ivy League. Penn and Princeton, which combined to win every league title from 1989 to 2007, have recently been passed by Cornell as league bully. And as the Ivy season begins its Friday-Saturday routine tonight, the Big Red look to be clear-cut favorites to win the league’s “14-game tournament.”

They will, however, be tested. Here is a look at all eight Ivy teams, their projected order of finish and a case for why they will or won’t be dancing in March:

1) CORNELL BIG RED

Record: 2-0 Ivy, 12-6 overall
This weekend: vs. Brown, vs. Yale

Case for the Big Red: They are, far and away, the best team in the league. In terms of talent, the trio of Ryan Wittman, Jeff Foote and Louis Dale can’t be touched. And, to make things even harder for the rest of the league, sharpshooter Adam Gore will return tonight after tearing his ACL in September. Look for Cornell’s second straight title – and an outside shot at a perfect 14-0 record.

Case against the Big Red: There isn’t much of one. Perhaps being the heavy favorite will take a toll on a team that was one of the league’s bottom-feeders earlier in the decade. Or maybe the team will get locked in its gym for the rest of the season and have to forfeit all of its road games.

2) PENNSYLVANIA QUAKERS

Record: 0-0 Ivy, 4-10 overall
This weekend: at Harvard, at Dartmouth

Case for the Quakers: Despite a dysfunctional non-conference season filled with injuries and transfers, Penn somehow comes into Ivy play as the second best Ivy team according to the Pomeroy rankings. Losing all of its Big 5 games for the second straight year is a depressing thought for most Penn fans, but some think a pretty good showing against St. Joe’s provides a glimmer of hope into the future (http://media.www.dailypennsylvanian.com/media/storage/paper882/news/2009/01/26/Sports/Todres.Miller.Just.What.Doctor.Ordered-3596930.shtml).

Case against the Quakers: As mentioned earlier, the season has been riddled with dysfunction. Now joining Tommy McMahon on the Penn defect list is Remy Cofield, a promising, athletic sophomore who recently decided to leave the program. Head coach Glen Miller released a statement saying Cofield left because of a family situation but Cofield later told Andrew Scurria of the Daily Pennsylvanian that his decision was based more on his role with the team, or rather his lack thereof.  While Cofield was probably never going to be a star, his departure is troubling because it seems to signal that some players are getting fed up with the playing time Miller has been dishing out. The head coach probably isn’t in hot water yet – but at least 10 Ivy League wins will surely help his cause.

3) HARVARD CRIMSON

Record: 1-1 Ivy, 9-7 overall
This weekend: vs. Penn, vs. Princeton

Case for the Crimson: As we know, Harvard made national headlines when they stunned Boston College, and it seems head coach Tommy Amaker has instilled a newfound belief in his players that Harvard can win its first ever Ivy League title. The team is led by star Jeremy Lin, who is averaging 18 points per game. Other teams will have to game-plan for him.

Case against the Crimson: Teams that lose to Dartmouth typically are not teams that go to the NCAA Tournament. It will be interesting to see how Harvard responds after Dartmouth beat them for the first time in nine years.

4) YALE BULLDOGS

Record: 2-0 Ivy, 7-9 overall
This weekend: at Columbia, at Cornell

Case for the Bulldogs: Yale is one of the hottest teams in the league, having won five straight, including their first two league games against travel partner Brown. The senior-laden Bulldogs, led by two of the league’s leading scorers in Alex Zampier and Ross Morin, also played Alabama close earlier in the season. And with James Jones as coach, they’ve typically been in the top half of the league.

Case against the Bulldogs: If you look closer at the five-game winning streak, one of the wins came against MIT and another against NJIT, the worst Division I team. And just before that, they lost five straight games. Also, their head coach says they’re not a great scoring team, which can’t be a good thing.

5) BROWN BEARS

Record: 0-2 Ivy, 6-10 overall
This weekend: at Cornell, at Columbia

Case for the Bears: Brown is usually competitive in the Ivies. Averaging 16.3 points per game, Matt Mullery is the league’s most improved player.

Case against the Bears: Brown has lost four of its last five, including its first two games in the league. The Bears will likely fall to 0-3 after playing Cornell tonight, making it virtually impossible to win the league.

6) PRINCETON TIGERS

Record: 0-0 Ivy, 5-8 overall
This weekend: at Dartmouth, at Harvard

Case for the Tigers: Along with Penn, Princeton is the league’s most storied program. Perhaps freshman point guard Doug Davis, a rising star, can help the Tigers make a run this season.

Case against the Tigers: The decline of Princeton basketball has been hard to watch, even for Penn fans who once enjoyed a glorious rivalry with the Tigers. Since Princeton’s last Ivy title in 2004, the team has won progressively fewer games every season, and the student newspaper has been trying to explore exactly what has gone wrong. Princeton will likely return to glory at some point – but not this season.

7) COLUMBIA LIONS

Record: 0-2 Ivy, 5-11 overall
This weekend: vs. Yale, vs. Brown

Case for the Lions: Starting with two losses will be tough to overcome, but those two losses did come against Cornell and the Lions didn’t play badly. The team should get a boost with the return of point guard Patrick Foley.

Case against the Lions: Columbia hasn’t been over .500 in the league since 1993, and it doesn’t look like they have enough talent this year to break that streak.

8) DARTMOUTH TIGERS

Record: 1-1 Ivy, 3-13 overall
This weekend: vs. Princeton, vs. Penn

Case for the Big Green: Two words: Alex Barnett. He torched Harvard for 30 points, leading another of the league’s premier players, Jeremy Lin, to say Barnett could be player of the year.

Case against the Big Green: Its big win over Harvard aside, Dartmouth has struggled this year – as they have in most years. Before they beat the Crimson, the Big Green had lost eight straight.  It doesn’t look like they have much besides Barnett.

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