Checking In On… The Ivy LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2012
Not Your Older Brother’s Ivy League: By Adjusted Pythagorean Winning Percentage – the same method used by Ken Pomeroy to rank teams – this year’s Ivy League is far and away the best since roaring ’70s, which culminated with Penn’s Final Four run. Turns out, the RPI isn’t far behind. The previous high-water mark for the league was 2002, when Penn won the league in a three-way playoff with Princeton and Yale. That year, the Quakers finished with the highest RPI ranking (#37) that any league team has had since Princeton’s amazing 1998 season. The Tigers wrapped up the season at #79 and the Bulldogs closed their campaign at #98, marking the first time the Ivies had three Top 100 RPI teams. The league’s average RPI was #160, best in the era for which data is available, barely edging last season’s average of #173.
After a rough start, this year’s edition of the league has made an assault on that 2002 mark. Harvard sits comfortably in the RPI Top 50, while Penn, Princeton and Yale are hovering on the cusp of the Top 100 to make four Ivies in the Top 125. The 2012 average RPI currently stands at #169, but that’s primarily because all eight 2002 squads finished ahead of this year’s laggards Brown and Dartmouth. While it’s completely within the Crimson’s control to track down the 2002 Quakers for best RPI since the 1998 Princeton squad, the league’s teams will need a bit of help from their non-conference opponents to claim the mark for best average, since league play tends to be mostly a zero-sum game from a rankings perspective.
Given that the Ivy League does not have a conference tournament, there is no second chance to save a season once a team falls out of the league race. With each Ivy Check-In for the rest of the year, this section will break down which squads’ seasons came to a premature end, and which are sliding quickly into the danger zone.
MAYBE NEXT YEAR:
- Dartmouth (0-4): The Big Green has been full of surprising moments all year, including holding a seven-point lead in the second half at Harvard in each school’s Ivy opener. But Dartmouth got outscored 90-51 over the next 55 minutes to drop both ends of the travel partner series to the Crimson and then blew second-half leads at both Brown and Yale to fall to 0-4.
- Brown (1-3): After getting swept by Yale to kickoff the Ivy campaign, the Bears narrowly avoided the cellar by grabbing a comeback win over Dartmouth at home. Brown had to have a win over league favorite Harvard the next night to stay in the race and hung in with the Crimson for 20 minutes before a 13-0 run gave the visitors all the cushion they would need to cruise to victory. Now the Bears have been relegated to the role of spoiler with Penn and Princeton coming to town next weekend.
- Columbia (1-3): A 20-6 run to pull even with Cornell at 53 seemed to give the Lions new life in what was quite properly referred to as an Ivy elimination game. The Big Red responded with big bucket after big bucket over the final six minutes to withstand the charge and edge Columbia, 65-60.
THE WAITING ROOM:
- Cornell (2-2): A series of mediocre results has the Big Red alive heading into its trip to Boston next Friday, but a win over Harvard is an absolute must to stay in the race. An upset there could give the Big Red a clear shot at 6-2, which would keep it in the thick of things heading into back-to-back road trips including dates with Penn, Princeton and Yale.
- Princeton (1-2): The results weren’t expected to be great for a team with five-straight road games to start Ivy play, but two losses are still just as damaging if they come against good teams or bad. The Tigers now need to sweep a tricky road swing to Yale and Brown and take care of Dartmouth at home to set up an opportunity to get back into the race with a visit from Harvard.
- Harvard (18-2): The site was one which haunted the Crimson last year. The stakes were much higher than most would have imagined in a season where Harvard was supposed to roll. After holding Yale to a season-low 35 points (just 0.57 points per possession – the first time the Bulldogs had been held below 0.8 all year), the questions about the Crimson’s true quality have disappeared – at least for now. Harvard has now held 11 of its last 12 opponents to an Adjusted Defensive Rating of under 100, which has helped cover for an offense that has been good but not great.
- Pennsylvania (11-9): 82 points on 60 possessions. It was easily the Quakers best offensive performance of the season, and it came just when they needed it the most in front of a packed house that wanted it most. Seniors Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernardinimade big shot after big shot and even a strong offensive performance from the Tigers wasn’t close to enough to take down Penn. The Quakers won’t get performances like that from Rosen and Bernardini every night, but the number of stellar showings they actually need is rapidly diminishing as the number of difficult games left on the schedule shrinks accordingly.
- Princeton (10-9) – The road only gets easier from here for the Tigers, but at this point they might be playing for a postseason tournament other than the Big Dance. Junior forward Ian Hummer has carried Princeton all year and Douglas Davis continues to hit clutch shots, but it’s clear how much the graduations of Kareem Maddox and Dan Mavraides have hurt the Tigers. The talent is there, but the depth is still just developing, and that’s not enough to compete with the best teams in a much-improved Ivy League.
- Yale (13-5) – So far, through four Ivy games, the Bulldogs’ Adjusted Pythagorean Rating is second-worst in the league ahead of Dartmouth. A lot of that derives from the complete no-show against Harvard, but that’s not the full story. Yale has barely scraped by Brown and Dartmouth at home, needing second-half comebacks in both games. At 3-1 in Ivy play, the Bulldogs are still very much in the title chase, but with Penn and Princeton visiting this weekend, Yale won’t be around for long if it can’t regain its non-conference form.
- Cornell (7-11) – There’s still very little life from the Big Red offense, something which can’t continue if Cornell wants an upper division Ivy finish. The Big Red has the second-worst Adjusted Offensive Rating in league play – even worse than Yale which has 25 percent of its rating wrapped up in that terrible showing against Harvard. Shots just aren’t falling, as Cornell is connecting on just 25 percent of its three-point attempts in Ivy play. All around solid defense has kept the Big Red alive, but points would be very helpful to keep it in the race.
- Columbia (12-8) – Falling to 1-3 in conference has to be disappointing, but it’s hard to argue that coach Kyle Smith hasn’t gotten everything and more out of his team over the course of this season. The Noruwa Agho show had to be re-scripted as the volume scorer was lost for the season in just the second game. Smith turned the Lions into the league’s third-best defensive team, and Columbia raced out to an 11-5 mark. With Agho returning next season and a seasoned supporting cast joining him, the Lions should be in the top half of the league next year.
- Brown (7-14) – Since hitting bottom by blowing a seven-point lead with under four minutes to play at home against Longwood, the Bears have gone from horrible to possibly mediocre. Brown gave Yale all it could handle at The Church, won at Bryant, grabbed its first Ivy win against Dartmouth and didn’t look terrible in a loss to Harvard. Defensively the Bears are still a mess, as 10 of the last 11 opponents have posted Adjusted Offensive Ratings of over 100, including five above 115. Brown has looked more dangerous offensively of late, though, which could be good news for its prospects of springing a few Ivy upsets.
- Dartmouth (4-16) – Over the past three games, the Big Green has scored 0.77, 0.86 and 0.78 adjusted points per possession. That came on the heels of a six-game run where Dartmouth had been trending right at a point per trip and appeared to be turning a corner. While the freshmen have shown flashes of brilliance, none has the capacity to be a consistently efficient, high-volume scorer at this point, which leaves Dartmouth with no one capable of taking charge when the shots aren’t falling.
- Friday, February 3 – Penn at Yale – The brutal opening stretch nears the end for the Quakers, who will have played four road games and Princeton at home to kick off the Ivy slate. So far, Penn has not only survived but prospered and the trip to New Haven is the Quakers’ most difficult test remaining before a showdown with Harvard at The Palestra. Greg Mangano had a field day against Penn in two meetings last year, averaging 23 points and 10 boards per game. The Quakers still survived both to sweep the Bulldogs, and with slightly better interior defense this season, should be better equipped to deal with Mangano this time around.
- Saturday, February 4 – Princeton at Yale – This one has the potential to be an Ivy elimination match, especially if the Bulldogs fall to the Quakers the night before. The Tigers’ size will match up nicely with Yale’s strong frontcourt of Mangano and Jeremiah Kreisberg. The deciding factor will likely be which team gets more out of its perimeter players. Austin Morgan and Reggie Willhite have each had big seasons thus far for the Bulldogs, while T.J. Bray has been the Tigers decently efficient minutes-leader alongside Douglas Davis, who will continue to hit big shots until his career is done.
- Friday, February 10 – Harvard at Penn – Last year, the Crimson had to beat the Quakers three times before finally leaving The Palestra with a victory, but that brief recap glosses over the most important point – Harvard blew an 18-point lead in the second half. The likelihood of building an 18-point lead over a much improved Penn squad this season is about as slim as the Crimson’s chances of surviving a similar collapse. In a year when Harvard was supposed to coast to the title, it’s weird to use the term “must-win,” but the Crimson certainly doesn’t want to find out how much the landscape will change if it can’t leave The Palestra with a victory.
- Friday, February 10 – Yale at Cornell – That either team will still be alive in the Ivy race by this point is no guarantee. The Big Red will struggle to avoid loss number three at Harvard, while the Bulldogs have back-to-back tough games with the visits from Penn and Princeton. But if this coming weekend doesn’t end each squad’s title hopes, this one will surely serve to eliminate one or the other from the race. It’s Yale’s first true Ivy road weekend, and the trip to Ithaca is no picnic.
- Saturday, February 11 – Harvard at Princeton (ESPNU) – From 1984 to 1989, the Crimson won four out of six visits to Jadwin Gym. Harvard hasn’t won since. That’s 22 consecutive trips to Central Jersey without a positive result. Granted Harvard has rarely been the better team and never by as much as this season. Crimson forward Keith Wright has struggled with big interior players, and Princeton has size in spades. If sharpshooters Laurent Rivard and Christian Webster knock down their open looks, Harvard should snap the streak, but if the Crimson comes out cold from long range, the Tigers have a great shot at extending the streak to 23.