Checking In On… the Ivy LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on December 23rd, 2011
A Look Back
- Turnaround Experts: Unless your school’s name was Harvard, November wasn’t the best month. High expectations had been placed on a league that suffered relatively few key graduation losses and had vaulted into the teens in the conference rankings. As the calendar flipped to December, however, the Ivies had just two teams above .500 and the league’s overall record against Division I competition was a disappointing 21-28 with one of the nation’s worst strength of schedule ratings to boot. Led by Columbia’s and Yale’s 4-0 Division I mark in December thus far, the Ivy League has gone 20-14 this month and currently has six teams in Pomeroy’s Top 200. Even some of the losses have been impressive, which has buoyed the conference rating in the possession-based ranking systems. Pennsylvania played both Villanova and UCLA tough on the road before ultimately falling, and Princeton gave Drexel all it could handle in Philadelphia before losing by four. Meanwhile, Harvard has paced the league with a 10-1 mark, hanging around the Top 25 in almost every type of ranking and keeping the Ivies in the national spotlight.
- Quality Wins: With almost three-quarters of the non-conference season in the books, the Ivy League has racked up some wins that would make any one-bid conference jealous. Harvard has led the way with neutral-site victories over Florida State and Central Florida en route to the Battle 4 Atlantis title. The Crimson hasn’t been the only team taking down quality opponents, though. The Quakers have come close to a few major upsets – none closer than their overtime loss to Temple – but still have a win over Top 100 Robert Morris to their name. Princeton joined the party with wins over Buffalo and Rutgers and like Pennsylvania came close to a couple others. Finally, Cornell and Columbia have each knocked off some quality teams from the one-bid leagues – Lehigh and Manhattan, respectively. Depending on the rating system, the Ivies have registered as many as 21 of their 41 wins against the Top 200, including 10 in road or neutral settings, and the average ranking of the league’s wins is roughly 210. That profile makes the Ivy League the #13 conference in the country according to the Pomeroy Ratings. It also has this year’s edition of the league on pace to be the toughest top-to-bottom since the inception of the Academic Index Floor (a test-score and GPA based system for ranking the academic qualifications of potential admits) in the early 1980s.
- Top Performers: With Harvard cracking the Top 25 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll again this week, you might expect to see a bunch of Crimson players in a section on the league’s top players. Harvard has been so balanced this year though that its highly efficient offensive players including forwards Kyle Casey and Keith Wright and guard Laurent Rivard haven’t been able to post the raw stats that would lead to recognition. Any discussion about Player of the Year to this point starts and ends with Pennsylvania guard Zack Rosen. He’s the only Ivy player to be on the floor for more than 90% of his team’s minutes, and his output has been historically strong with an offensive rating close to 130 and a usage rate of nearly 25%. His backcourt mate, Tyler Bernardini, has been having a stellar senior campaign as well with efficiency and usage rates that may not match Rosen’s but are still easily All-Ivy caliber. Princeton’s Ian Hummer has been carrying the Tigers this season, using 33% of his team’s possessions and establishing himself as the league’s second most productive player behind Rosen. Yale big man Greg Mangano has to be part of the POY discussion, though he’s had a little more support as guards Austin Morgan and Reggie Willhite, along with forward Jeremiah Kreisberg, have all played very well this season. Some other guys to watch as league play approaches are Columbia’s Brian Barbour, Brown’s Sean McGonagill and Cornell’s Drew Ferry, who has stabilized a Big Red team that has yet to get the usual high quality output from its star Chris Wroblewski to this point.
- Cousy Award Watch List: Over sixty players made the annual list of the top point guards and combo guards in the nation, including four from the Ivy League. Seniors Chris Wroblewski and Zack Rosen made the cut along with Columbia junior Brian Barbour and Harvard junior Brandyn Curry. The list of quality point/combo guards in the league hardly stops there. Brown sophomore Sean McGonagill was last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year and is having a fine sophomore campaign. Princeton’s Douglas Davis has struggled a bit before having a monster game last night in a loss at Siena. Finally, Yale’s Austin Morgan has quietly put up First-Team All-Ivy numbers that rival any of the league’s four players that made the Cousy List.
- Harvard (10-1): The Crimson responded well after losing its first game as a ranked team at then-#9 Connecticut, shellacking Boston University at Agganis Arena. Last night’s victory over Florida Atlantic was an adventure, especially on the offensive end, but Harvard clamped down defensively once again, holding the Owls without a field goal over the final 6:24 to win by 12. The three-point shooting has begun to improve, as guards Brandyn Curry, Christian Webster and Oliver McNally have started to pull out of season-long slumps. If those three get going, the Crimson should feel like 26 or 27 wins is a very attainable goal.
- Yale (8-2): If the Ivy League race were a series of 4-on-4 games to 21, the Bulldogs might be the favorites. Reggie Willhite has been an effective slasher, while Austin Morgan has bombed in 29 threes at on nearly 50% shooting from long range. Greg Mangano and Jeremiah Kreisberg have controlled the paint on both ends of the floor. After those four, though, the quality drops off dramatically. Michael Grace has struggled to get shots to fall, while many of the freshmen and sophomores who coach James Jones has tried to squeeze minutes out of have been turnover machines. Lacking depth can be a huge issue in a league where conference play means back-to-back Friday and Saturday night games.
- Pennsylvania (5-6): The Quakers have the second-best offense in the league, or more accurately, Zack Rosen is the second-best offense in the league. That might sell Tyler Bernardini a little short, but it’s hard to point to any more above-average contributors. Guard Miles Cartwright can’t seem to find the net from anywhere on the court, including the free throw line, and Fran Dougherty might be one of the worst regulars in the Ivy League on the offensive end. Meanwhile, all of the bigs are fouling way too much, which has negated much of the defensive improvement from last season. The Quakers will go as far as Rosen and Bernardini can take them though, and thus far, that’s been quite a long way.
- Princeton (6-7): The league’s second-highest variance team behind Columbia, the Tigers have looked like a contender at times and a bottom-feeder at others. Douglas Davis has been lights out from three but has shot very poorly inside the arc, leaving the offense in the hands of Ian Hummer and a number of role players. Mack Darrow and Patrick Saunders have knocked down some important shots, but neither can carry the attack on his own. Princeton can stay in games with its strong defense, but for it to be the leader of the pack chasing down Harvard, it has to get more consistent production out of Davis.
- Columbia (7-4): Barely past the midway point of an 18-day exam break, it’s almost hard to remember that the Lions will be working on a seven-game winning streak when they finally return. Sure, two of those victories were over non-Division I programs, but triumphs at Manhattan and Loyola Marymount as well as a home win over Long Island are more than respectable. Junior guard Brian Barbour has done an admirable job keeping the curtain up on the offensive end after Noruwa Agho’s season came to a premature end, but the Lions’ key to success has been stellar defense. If Columbia keeps playing the second-best defense in the Ivies behind Harvard, the Lions might wind up behind just the Crimson in the league standings as well.
- Cornell (4-6): The return from exams against the Big Ten didn’t yield any wins, but the Big Red certainly looked decent in defeat. Cornell’s sluggish November doomed it to the sixth slot in the league pecking order, but despite a solid improvement in the team’s play over the past four games, the rest of the Ivies have remained so strong that the Big Red couldn’t advance. The good news is that Cornell has three more chances to prove itself with tough tests at Stony Brook, Bucknell and Maryland. The Terps might be the weakest team of the three and will provide a great opportunity for the Big Red to add another Power Six win to the Ivy mantle this season.
- Dartmouth (3-9): With 10 of its first 13 games in road or neutral settings, it was hard to expect much from a Big Green team that lacked experience and was short on returning talent. Freshmen John Golden, J’Vonte Brooks, Gabas Maldunas and Mack McKearney have combined to play a level of minutes not seen from a quartet of freshmen since Harvard in the 2009-10 season. On the whole the four haven’t been particularly efficient on the offense end, but they’ve made huge contributions defensively, especially on the glass, where Golden, Maldunas and Brooks all rank in the Top 10 in the league in defensive rebounding rate. The present may still be a little gloomy in Hanover, but there’s at least some hope now for the future.
- Brown (5-7): The Bears might have hit rock bottom against crosstown rival Providence in an 80-49 blowout loss, but the 13-point loss to New Hampshire upon its return to the Pizzitola Sports Center didn’t make Brown look much better. With its exam break on the horizon, though, the Bears turned in their finest performance of the season sprinting past a decent Central Connecticut team en route to a 90-80 victory. Junior Tucker Halpern won’t suit up this season and freshman Rafael Maia has to sit the year out as well, leaving Brown a little shorthanded on the personnel front. That has shown up most on the defensive end, where the Bears have been the Ivy League’s softest team by a mile.
- 12/29 – Yale at Wake Forest – It seems like the Ivy League has lucked into a bunch of meetings with the dregs of the Power Six conferences. The Bulldogs will be very slight underdogs on the road against a very big Demon Deacon squad. As long as starters Greg Mangano and Jeremiah Kreisberg can stay on the floor, Yale should match up pretty well inside. Height isn’t a virtue for the bench though, and Kreisberg commits more than five fouls per 40 minutes, so his ability to avoid foul trouble could become a pivotal factor in the game’s outcome.
- 12/31 – St. Joseph’s at Harvard– What looked like a good matchup heading into the season has become a great one with at-large implications, especially for St. Joseph’s (the Ivy League’s lack of a conference tournament makes Harvard’s at-large scenarios longshots). The Hawks have knocked off Creighton and Villanova in recent weeks and have a deadly combination of guards who can shoot and interior players who can dominate the paint. The most talented team left on Harvard’s schedule, St. Joseph’s will have the Crimson’s full attention, as this will be the last chance for it to make a statement before getting into Ivy play. Also, there’s that 20-game home winning streak that the Crimson will be looking to defend.
- 12/31 – Holy Cross at Dartmouth – This contest is winnable for the Big Green, and there won’t be many more of those for Dartmouth down the stretch. The Crusaders are looking for their first win against an Ivy team and with a trip to Yale as the last of their four dates with the Ancient Eight, the game in Hanover might be Holy Cross’s best chance at a victory. Dartmouth’s defense should be able to handle a below-average Crusader team, but the question remains whether the Big Green can find enough offense to close a game out. Unlike the collapses at Colgate and Army, this time Dartmouth is at home, where it has already taken two tight games this year over Bryant and Elon.
- 1/3 – Cornell at Maryland – The Big Red is quite comfortable playing in Power Six buildings now, after staring down Illinois and Penn State already this season. The Terps have some big time talent but are surprisingly thin for an ACC school – though less so now that Pe’Shon Howard is coming back – after a couple of Gary Williams’ recruits backed out of commitments when he retired this past offseason. Maryland makes a living getting to the free throw line, and Cornell is bad at keeping teams from getting there. The team that does a better job in that department will likely win the game.
- 1/4 – Pennsylvania at Lafayette – With four seniors on the roster, there’s nothing the Quakers would love more than to send them off with a postseason appearance. That makes 16-15 the target and places a premium on these 50/50 games. Pennsylvania should have no problem getting its points against a Leopards defense that has been one of the worst in the nation thus far. Lafayette can score quite efficiently itself and will provide a sneaky test for a Quakers defense which has slipped a bit after a strong start. If the Quakers want to keep their CIT or CBI hopes alive, these are the types of games they have to have.