2009-10 Conference Primers: #28 – Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on October 8th, 2009

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Dave Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League and a featured columnist.   Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials..

Predicted Order of Finish (with projected records in parentheses):

  1. Cornell (14-0)
  2. Princeton (9-5)
  3. Penn (8-6)
  4. Columbia (7-7)
  5. Harvard (7-7)
  6. Yale (6-8)
  7. Brown (3-11)
  8. Dartmouth (2-12)

All-Conference Team:

  • Louis Dale (G), Sr., Cornell
  • Jeremy Lin (G), Sr. Harvard
  • Ryan Wittman (F), Sr., Cornell
  • Matt Mullery (F), Sr., Brown
  • Jeff Foote (C), Sr., Cornell

6th Man. Tyler Bernardini (G), Jr., Penn

Impact Newcomer. Brian Grimes (F), Jr., Columbia

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What You Need to Know.  Fueled by three star seniors (Louis Dale, Ryan Wittman and Jeff Foote), the reigning Ivy League rookie of the year (Chris Wrobleski), and two major transfers (Mark Coury from Kentucky and Max Groebe from UMass), Cornell is coming into the 2009-10 season as the heavy favorite to capture its third straight conference crown — and perhaps win a game or two in the NCAA tournament.  Head coach Steve Donahue’s squad is so deep and talented (they also boast a pair of experienced seniors in Geoff Reeves and Alex Tyler), their toughest challenge may be finding significant minutes for all their heavy hitters. Penn and Princeton, the powerhouses that owned the Ivy League for two decades until Cornell rose to the top, are both trying to return to their glory days but might have to wait a year to make a serious run at the crown. Princeton should improve on its 8-6 league mark with the continued development of point guard Doug Davis, who averaged 12.3 points per game as a rookie last season, and the addition of Ian Hummer, who may be the best freshman in the league. This is an important year for rebuilding Penn, which clears out some mediocre seniors and hands the keys of the team to junior guard Tyler Benardini and sophomore point guard Zack Rosen, the last two Big 5 rookies of the year. Columbia has some nice incoming talent with Brian Grimes, who sat out last season with an ACL tear after transferring in from La Salle, and Loyola Marymount import Max Craig, who is 7 feet tall and not a stiff.  Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has one of the best players in the league in Jeremy Lin and a couple of good recent recruiting classes, but the Crimson are coming off a 6-8 conference season. Yale has been a consistent threat under longtime coach James Jones, finishing above .500 for nine straight seasons. The Bulldogs will need to put a lot of the burden on senior guard Alex Zampier (13.2 ppg) to keep that streak alive.  Matt Mullery shot a ridiculous 60 percent for Brown last year, but the Bears will be hard-pressed to significantly improve their 3-11 league record. And finally, after an impressive 7-7 Ivy season by its standards, Dartmouth should tumble back down the league standings with the loss of Alex Barnett and his 19.4 points per game.

Predicted Champion. There is no conference tournament in the Ivies so Cornell (NCAA Seed: #11) shouldn’t have any problems proving its dominance over the course of a 14-game schedule. The question, of course, is whether the Big Red can win a game in the Dance after being one-and-done the past two seasons. It’s not an easy answer. Penn, for instance, had dominant senior-laden teams in 2000, 2003, and 2007, but the Quakers haven’t advanced to the second round since ’94. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of luck. But if Cornell can stay healthy and draw a favorable matchup, it can certainly provide the Ivies with its first NCAA win since Princeton beat UNLV in 1998.

Top Contenders. With a stifling defense and a good young coach in Sydney Johnson, Princeton appears to be most people’s consensus No. 2, but the Tigers averaged a woeful 57.8 points per game last season. If Darren Smith and Andreas Schreiber return to full strength after season-ending injuries, Penn will have a nice starting five.  But a lack of an outside shooter and the transfer or high-scoring guard Harrison Gaines may leave the Quakers searching for points as well. Harvard and Columbia both may have enough talent to crack into the top echelon of Ivy teams, but both are battling history: Harvard has never won an Ivy crown and Columbia shared one once … in 1968.

Top 5 RPI Boosters:

  • Nov. 14, 18, 20 & 24 – Cornell at Alabama, vs. UMass, at Seton Hall, at Syracuse – How good is Cornell outside the Ivies? We’ll find out after four tough games to start the season.
  • Nov. 17 – Columbia at DePaul – The Lions can show they’re for real when they try to knock off a weak Big East team to begin their season.
  • Nov. 29 – Princeton at California – Traveling across the country is tough. Trying to upset one of the Pac-10 favorites will be even tougher.
  • Dec. 6, 9, & 23 – Harvard vs. Connecticut, at Boston College, at Georgetown – Amaker has guided the Crimson to some nice non-conference wins since arriving in Cambridge, but this is one hell of a three-game stretch.
  • Dec. 31 – Penn at Duke – Put on your party hats and pour the champagne for this New Year’s Eve “showdown” at Cameron Indoor.

Key Conference Games:

  • Jan. 15 – Yale at Brown – Another fun rivalry game between Ivy traveling partners could tell a lot about the conference makeup.
  • Jan. 16 – Columbia at Cornell – This is not an easy Ivy opener for the two-time defending champs.
  • Jan. 19 – Harvard at Columbia – The winner of this early matchup could be set up to make a run at Cornell.
  • Feb. 13 – Cornell at Princeton – The Big Red scored only 41 points in a road loss to Princeton last season, one of their three Ivy losses.
  • Feb. 16 – Princeton at Penn – Even when these two teams are down, one of college basketball’s best rivalries in one of college basketball’s best gyms (the Palestra) still has plenty of juice.

Digging Deeper. When Fran Dunphy bolted for Temple three years ago, Penn decided to hire Brown head coach and former Jim Calhoun assistant Glen Miller to replace him. Though Miller had some success at Brown — the Bears won a lot of games but never a league title — the move puzzled some Penn fans, who figured Penn would keep it in the family and hire a former Dunphy assistant like Steve Donahue, who, like Miller, was trying to turn a once-dormant Ivy League program around. Today, Penn fans are more angry than puzzled as Donahue is on the verge of landing a major head coaching job, while Miller may be on the hot seat.

Fun With KenPom.  Phenomenally, Cornell was the only Ivy League team with a winning overall record last year (21-10).  It makes sense, though, as Cornell was the only team in the league with a top 100 offense; in fact, Harvard was the only other team in the league that ranked in the top 270 offenses in the country.  If you’re looking for seamless offensive efficiency outside of Ithaca, you might want to look elsewhere than this league.

NCAA Tournament History.  The Ivy’s been around a long time, so it’s record isn’t half bad (38-73, .342), but the 2000s were not good to the league.  After a strong  1990s where Penn and Princeton both won NCAA first-round games, no Ivy League team has been very close in the last eleven years.  Maybe Cornell’s recent ascent will raise the overall profile of the league to a point where first round wins might again become a semi-regular occurrence.

Final Thoughts. For most Ivy League fans, it’s weird to see a team that doesn’t begin with the letter “P” as the dominant team. But the affable Donahue has done a remarkable job building a terrific program in Ithaca. Barring Cornell fans showing up to games wearing that awful “Ithaca is Gorges” t-shirt, everything should go Cornell’s way in 2009-10.

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