Checking In On… the Ivy LeaguePosted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2012
A Look Back
- Game of the Year (Thus Far): When Harvard held Florida State to 14 points in the first half earlier this year, pundits marveled at the re-tooled Crimson defense. Well, what about allowing the Seminoles to score just 10 points in a half? Princeton did just that on December 30, jumping out to a 27-10 lead on Florida State at the intermission – the fewest points ever scored in the first half by the Seminoles in Tallahassee. Down 40-26 with just over 12 minutes left, Florida State broke off a 12-0 run and the margin for either side would never balloon beyond five the rest of the way. A Xavier Gibson tip shot brought the Seminoles even for the first time since 2-2 with just 52 seconds remaining and the Tigers couldn’t get a couple potential game-winning looks to fall. Florida State made the first bucket of each overtime, but Princeton responded every time. A 7-0 Tigers run in the second extra session staked them to a three-point lead with under a minute to play, but the Seminoles answered with two free throws, a steal, and another free throw to extend the game another five minutes. Finally, a 10-3 run comprised of two Douglas Davis threes and two Ian Hummer layups gave the Tigers a five-point cushion with under 30 seconds to play, and they were able to salt away the 73-71 win by draining five of six from the free throw line.
- Another Not So Shabby Contest: The students were gone for winter break, but Lavietes Pavilion was still sold out, as Harvard set out to defend an AP Top 25 ranking at home for the first time against St. Joseph’s. The Hawks posted an outrageous 92 eFG% in the first half, and if it hadn’t been for nine turnovers, St. Joseph’s might have buried the Crimson instead of leading by just 10. Not much changed coming out of the intermission. The Hawks matched Harvard shot for shot, holding a 61-50 advantage with just over 10 minutes to play. The Crimson had cut the lead to seven before St. Joseph’s made its biggest mistake of the game, as Halil Kanacevic drew a technical for a post-foul dunk attempt. Oliver McNally drained both and the final seven minutes of the game became the Kyle Casey show. Casey scored 10 of Harvard’s final 16 points, including a dagger three to put his squad up four with 42 seconds left, as the Crimson closed the contest on a 24-8 run to snare the victory. Harvard and Princeton’s performances gave the Ivy League its fourth and fifth Pomeroy Top 100 wins of the year – the third straight season with at least five such victories against non-conference opponents. Just two opportunities remain to tie or break the record of six Top 100 wins, set last season, and both are Pennsylvania’s final Big 5 match-ups with La Salle and St. Joseph’s.
- Conference Play Begins: The nation’s only regular season conference tournament gets underway this weekend as Dartmouth visits Harvard, followed by the first Ivy back-to-backs the following Friday and Saturday nights as Cornell and Columbia host Pennsylvania and Princeton. Usually all but the final weekend of January is reserved for the travel partner games, but because of the Tigers’ exam schedule, it had to move the first back-to-back forward to mid-January. Different sources have released conference title odds projections, which have placed the Crimson’s odds of defending its Ivy title (it lost the automatic bid in a playoff with Princeton) around 90%. For the league to produce a challenger to Harvard, one or two teams from the middle of the pack (Columbia, Cornell, Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale) will have to excel in these 50/50 games. If those five merely split their meetings, that will provide the Crimson the cushion it would need to coast to the NCAA bid. So while Harvard-Dartmouth officially kicks off Ivy play, the next weekend’s games between Columbia, Cornell, Pennsylvania, and Princeton will be the first that have a huge impact on the title chase.
- Harvard (12-2) – If the win over St. Joseph’s was the high point of Harvard’s season thus far, the low point came just three short days later. Unable to crack the Fordham 2-3 zone or shoot over it, the Crimson registered its second-worst offensive showing of the season in a 60-54 loss to the Rams. Harvard point guard Brandyn Curry was in foul trouble for most of the second half, and it has become quite clear that this Crimson offense is nowhere near as good when he is off the floor. While Harvard still is the class of the league, the gap might not be as large as it appeared just a few weeks ago. Fordham showed that this Crimson team can be had on the road, which is something that other Ivies undoubtedly noticed.
- Princeton (8-7) – There isn’t an Ivy team with two better road wins than the Tigers’ triumphs over Florida State and Rutgers. At the same time, only Columbia and cellar-dwellers Brown and Dartmouth have three worse losses to this point. Trying to determine which is the real Princeton team misses the point. The true Tigers squad is indeed both. That’s why Princeton will record some very nice wins during league play, but will also take some really questionable losses. So, despite the Tigers’ decently lofty ceiling and the ability of Ian Hummer and Douglas Davis to take over a game offensively, the league is too strong for a high variance team not to get dinged in games it objectively shouldn’t lose.
- Pennsylvania (7-8) – The blowout loss to Duke came on the heels of five December games in which the Quakers played like a fringe Top 100 team. Tyler Bernardini’s defensive rebounding rates have fallen back toward his career averages, and the big men have not picked up the slack as Pennsylvania is now the worst defensive rebounding team in the Ivies. That’s part of why the Quakers defense, which was the story of the early going, has slipped back and now come to rest around the national average of 100 points per 100 possessions. If Pennsylvania can rediscover that early-season stingy defense, it has a chance to hang around in the race to the end, but failing that, it will likely be relegated to fighting for the top positioning among the similarly capable teams in the 2-6 spots in these rankings.
- Yale (9-4) – It would be hard to argue that the Bulldogs have done anything to deserve dropping to fourth in the Ivy Power Rankings, but that’s just how close this middle pack is in the league. The ACC/SEC road swing almost yielded a split as Yale stormed back from 18 points down to pull within a possession of Wake Forest with just a minute to play. The Bulldogs responded impressively after those two road losses with a 15-point home victory over Holy Cross. The story for Yale hasn’t changed much. The big four are very, very good, but depth remains a huge issue. A sweep of travel partner Brown would set up a tantalizing early season showdown at home against Ivy favorite Harvard.
- Columbia (10-5) – The shaky 18-point loss at Marist instantly had people questioning whether it was rust from an 18-day layoff or a regression to the projected mean. Led by sophomore shooting guard Meiko Lyles and junior point guard Brian Barbour, the Lions stormed back with double-digit home wins over Lafayette and Farleigh Dickinson and a seven-point road victory over Colgate. While all three of those teams are among the bottom 100 teams in Division I, the comfortable wins helped stabilize a Columbia team that was teetering on the brink of falling out of the Top 200. A trip to Elon on Sunday will bring the non-conference slate to a close as the first Ivy back-to-back against Pennsylvania and Princeton awaits the following weekend.
- Cornell (4-9) – Chris Wroblewski has slowly begun to turn around his season, and for the second consecutive year, the Big Red is much stronger than its record. Cornell’s five straight road losses were all by single-digits against opponents ranked in the top half of the Pomeroy Ratings, leading to a disappointing record but a solid showing in the possession-based ranking systems. In a normal year, there is no way a team as talented as this Cornell squad could be sixth in the Ivies, but this has been an abnormally strong year, especially for the middle of the league. The Big Red has its annual Division III game this weekend before it dives into the Ivy slate at home against Pennsylvania and Princeton.
- Dartmouth (3-12) – The five game losing streak has been particularly tough for the Big Green since it has been in, and in most cases leading, four of the five games in the second half. The slide started with a blown three-point lead with just seconds to play at Colgate and continued with a squandered six-point lead with under five minutes to play at Army. After a sizeable loss to Albany, Dartmouth dropped home games against Holy Cross and Bucknell after leading by at least seven in the second half. The Big Green freshmen J’Vonte Brooks, Gabas Maldunas, and John Golden have started getting more comfortable with the Division I game, setting Dartmouth up with a positive future regardless of the outcome this season.
- Brown (5-10) – The win over Central Connecticut was followed by three straight losses to teams outside the Top 200 – two of which came at home. The Bears should close out the non-conference slate with a home win over a terrible Longwood squad, but it’s hard to imagine Brown picking up too many wins in a tough Ivy League. The Bears should improve dramatically next season with the return of Tucker Halpern and freshman Rafael Maia, as well as another potentially solid recruiting class. This season, however, is shaping up to be quite the disappointment for a squad that held aspirations for an upper division league finish.
- 1/7 – Dartmouth at Harvard – The Ivy opener, as it has been in the league’s recent history, may lack the intrigue of the other games on this list, but it’s notable as the kickoff to the only regular season tournament in Division I basketball. Even after the loss at Fordham, Harvard should enter this game as a huge favorite, but the Crimson often struggles in this travel partner series. Last year, the Big Green had Harvard down 12 in the second half on the Crimson’s home court and the year before Dartmouth fell by just four at home. Both seasons the Big Green was ranked outside the Top 300, a level it has managed to crack this season for the first time since 2007.
- 1/8 – Columbia at Elon – The Lions have already recorded an impressive 10 non-conference wins in the absence of Noruwa Agho, but Columbia has one more chance to make a statement before starting league play. Elon has split its two dates with Ivy squads thus far, winning a tight game at Princeton but falling at Dartmouth. The Lions have won 10 of their last 11 games, and while many of those opponents were cupcakes, some of the wins, especially the victory at Manhattan, have been quite impressive. A win at Elon could be another positive step toward a potential postseason berth for Columbia.
- 1/10 – La Salle at Pennsylvania – It’s been two years now since the Quakers have truly been embarrassed in Big 5 play, as Pennsylvania has taken two city opponents to overtime in its last six Big 5 games. But wins have been tough to come by, as senior point guard Zack Rosen is 1-13 in his career against Big 5 foes. This is the strongest Philadelphia basketball has been since 2005-2006, when all five teams were ranked in Pomeroy’s Top 100, but the Quakers still shouldn’t be huge underdogs against either La Salle or St. Joseph’s. The win over the Hawks last season guaranteed that Rosen would graduate with at least one Big 5 victory, and another triumph this season would instantly become a signature win for the Quakers this season.
- 1/13 – Princeton at Cornell; Pennsylvania at Columbia – It’s been a long time since the Ivy schedule pushed such a pressure packed weekend into mid-January. These two games are the league openers for each school, and neither should have a favorite of more than a couple points. For any of these teams to chase down Harvard, they must find a way to post a strong record against their fellow middle-of-the-pack squads. The pairings flip on Saturday night with the Tigers facing the Lions and Quakers meeting the Big Red, and whichever team or teams can survive 2-0 will instantly become the top contenders to duel with the Crimson.