RTC Summer School: Ivy League

Posted by rtmsf on August 13th, 2012

Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the Ivy League.

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

When the final horn sounded, Harvard had finally claimed the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, sending it back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1946. There would be no rushing of the court, no cutting of the nets. In fact, the Crimson team was nowhere to be found. In a situation that can only happen under Ivy League rules, Harvard grabbed its automatic bid by watching one league rival (Princeton) knock off another (Penn). If the result had gone the other way, there would have been a one-game, winner-take-all playoff between the Crimson and Quakers at Quinnipiac University on Conference Championship Saturday. It was the second straight year that the title chase had come down to the final game, as Princeton won at Penn the season prior to earn a playoff against Harvard, from which it emerged victorious, grabbing the Ivy bid.

Harvard Finally Broke Through to the NCAAs Last Season (AP)

With the way the 2012-13 campaign is shaping up, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Ivy League might just go 3-for-3.

Three Key Storylines

  1. Roster Flux - With nearly half of the 2011-12 All-Ivy spots going to graduating seniors, the league had hoped to weather the storm with the return of several key players that missed most or all of last season with injuries. Brown will see 6’8″ forward Tucker Halpern return to the lineup, while Cornell gets back 6’6″ forward Errick Peck. Penn will finally get to see the much heralded forward Greg Louis, who missed his entire freshman season with hip surgery. That’s the good news. The bad news, though, is pretty bad. Columbia had hoped that 2010-11 All-Ivy First Team guard Noruwa Agho would take a second crack at a senior season, but he has opted not to return. The surprises weren’t limited to injury-related situations either. Brown’s roster release came with a huge surprise, as center Andrew McCarthy was dropped from the roster prior to what would have been his senior season.
  2. Conference Tourney Debate – The Ivy League remains the only Division I basketball conference to hand its NCAA berth to its regular season champion, rather than deciding the bid via a postseason tournament. For a while this offseason, that distinction looked to be in serious jeopardy. The eight Ivy coaches unanimously supported a proposal that would have brought the league an eight-team tournament in exchange for each school dropping one non-conference game from its schedule every season.  The eight athletic directors wasted no time in shooting down the proposal before it could even take the final step to the Ivy presidents. For the Ivy ADs, the trade of a game for a tournament missed the point, as they cited the philosophical belief in the superiority of the true round-robin in deciding a champion as the reason for rejecting what had been the most serious attempt at instituting a conference tournament in quite some time.
  3. What Goes Around, Comes Around – When Penn lost Fran Dunphy to Temple in 2006, its exhaustive search for a new head man led it to another institution within its own league, as the Quakers poached then-Brown coach Glen Miller. This offseason, that move came full circle – sort of. Miller is long gone from Philly, fired just a month into the 2009-10 season, but Mike Martin, a Brown alumnus and one of the assistants Miller brought along with him from his previous stint in Providence, remained on with the Quakers even after his former boss’ departure. So, when Brown jettisoned Jesse Agel following an 8-23 campaign, the Bears made Martin a high priority target. It took Brown until the beginning of June to decide on its choice, but the result was bringing Martin back to his alma mater and handing him the keys to a program that has been on a steady decline since Craig Robinson took the squad to the CBI Tournament in 2008.

Reader’s Take

Summer Team Notes

  • Brown (2011-12 record: 8-23, 2-12 Ivy) – Rookie coach Mike Martin takes over the reins of a program in quite a bit of disarray. The Bears spent four years under Jesse Agel on a vacation from defense, posting Defensive Ratings (opponents’ points scored per 100 possessions) between 107 and 111, and now their most credible and consistent interior presence won’t play his senior year. With Tyler Ponticelli and Dockery Walker being the only serviceable true post players returning, McCarthy’s departure puts a lot of pressure on newcomers Cedric Kuakumensah and Rafael Maia, who both have size but might be too raw offensively to avoid being liabilities on the court. Brown should light it up from the perimeter on offense with Sean McGonagill, Tucker Halpern, Matt Sullivan and Stephen Albrecht all having made at least 56 three-pointers in a single season, but none of those four is particularly adept at keeping opponents in front of him on the defensive end, which should severely strain the Bears’ interior players.
  • Columbia (15-15, 4-10) – A team that saw no fewer than three heartbreaking Ivy losses crush hopes of a postseason berth and would be returning a former All-Ivy First Teamer had every right to fancy its chances in this year’s Ivy title race. Then came the stunning announcement. Noruwa Agho would be returning to Columbia, but just to complete his degree and not to play basketball. That still leaves the Lions with no fewer than three All-Ivy caliber players in reigning All-Ivy First Team point guard Brian Barbour, sharpshooter Meiko Lyles and center Mark Cisco, as well as forward Alex Rosenberg, who had a solid freshman season. The question now is depth, as a thin Columbia team becomes even thinner with the loss of Agho. In a league that wages its conference battles on back-to-back night, a shallow bench is often the first thing to be exposed.
  • Cornell (12-16, 7-7) – Cornell can’t shoot? For anyone who watched the Big Red dismantle Temple and Wisconsin by draining bucket after bucket, it’s almost impossible to imagine, but with the departure of Chris Wroblewski and Drew Ferry, who made 126 of Cornell’s 217 threes last year, Cornell’s most prolific remaining shooter has knocked down just 48 trifectas over the past two years. Errick Peck returns for the Big Red after missing a year with injuries and has a decent shot for a combo forward, as does reigning Rookie of the Year Shonn Miller. The Big Red has enough large bodies to keep opponents from getting easy buckets, but those post players must do a better job of avoiding giving away free points from the line. The 3-4-5 spots look pretty solid for Cornell, but between point guards that turn the ball over at an alarming pace and shooting guards that can’t really shoot, the Big Red has a lot to figure out in the backcourt before November arrives.
  • Dartmouth (5-25, 1-13) – Finally, the Big Green might be headed in the right direction. It’s not just that Dartmouth snuck into the Top 300 of the Pomeroy Ratings for the first time since 2007, but the Big Green actually has young talent on the roster and intriguing recruits on the way. If Dartmouth can dig a point guard out of the freshman class, it has the remaining pieces to put together a competitive starting five. John Golden and R.J. Griffin each knocked down 38 percent of their three-point attempts, while J’Vonte Brooks and Gabas Maldunas each finished among the league’s 10 best offensive and defensive rebounders. While Paul Cormier is doing a great job bringing talent to Hanover, the Big Green should still be incredibly thin on players who are ready to contribute this season, but another step forward for the program wouldn’t be surprising.
  • Harvard (26-5, 12-2) – Another year, another top recruiting class for Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. For the first time since being at Harvard, though, he’ll need it to stay on top. Other than Drew Housman and that Jeremy Lin guy, Amaker hasn’t had to replace a senior getting at least 60 percent of the team’s minutes since arriving in Cambridge. Both times he’s done it with aplomb, as then-freshman Brandyn Curry grabbed the point guard duties from Housman and a general team quality upgrade allowed the Crimson to absorb the production of do-everything Lin. It will be hard to replace vocal team leader Oliver McNally, but at least Harvard has clear answers in the backcourt. Former Ivy Player of the Year Keith Wright is a completely different story. Wright was a true center, and Harvard’s only options there are junior Ugo Okam, sophomore Kenyatta Smith or freshman Mike Hall – all of whom have little to no experience. The Crimson can cover with 6’7″ forwards Kyle Casey and Steve Moundou-Missi, but will need to develop at least one credible center to keep opponents from dominating the paint.
  • Penn (20-13, 11-3) – All Penn has to do is replace a sharpshooter, a defensive specialist and one of the best offensive seasons in Ivy history. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? The good news for the Quakers is that there’s some buzz surrounding the squad’s freshmen and sophomores, and Penn still hangs on to dynamic guard Miles Cartwright. With 55 percent of last year’s total possessions gone, though, whichever four players join Cartwright on the floor will be seeing a minutes load far beyond what they’ve ever seen at the college level. The Quakers aren’t playing for 2012-13, which is always tough for a proud Penn fan base to hear, but the development of forwards Henry Brooks and Greg Louis and rookie guards Tony Hicks and Jamal Lewis will provide a window into a much more competitive 2013-14 campaign.
  • Princeton (20-12, 10-4) – Much like Cornell, a lot of three-point shooting walked across the stage at graduation this past June, as Douglas Davis and Patrick Saunders combined to sink 120 trifectas at over a 40 percent clip. It is Princeton, however, so there are always shooters-in-waiting. T.J. Bray and Jimmy Sherburne likely won’t be shy about launching from deep, and even 6’8″ Mack Darrow hit 36 percent of his attempts last season. The Tigers also return a Player of the Year candidate in forward Ian Hummer, whose 32 percent usage rate was 17th highest in the nation last season. With big bruiser Brendan Connolly and Denton Koon joining Hummer down low, the Tigers have solid depth at seemingly every position. It’s hard to see Princeton falling short of its three-year average of 11 Ivy wins this season, especially with a few of the other league teams taking steps back.
  • Yale (19-10, 9-5) – The Bulldogs won a very intriguing recruiting battle for 6’7″ Justin Sears this offseason, which should help along what will be a painful rebuilding process after losing fringe NBA prospect Greg Mangano and guard Reggie Willhite to graduation. As usual, Yale coach James Jones has been silently amassing quality under-the-radar prospects to prepare himself for those losses, as guard Austin Morgan and forward Jeremiah Kreisberg have All-Ivy potential and Brandon Sherrod and Jesse Pritchard could be poised for breakout seasons. The Bulldogs still don’t have a point guard who can hang onto the basketball and will struggle mightily when forced to go the bench for extended stretches. Yale fans can get excited about one thing, though. Somehow Jones talked Florida into coming up to New Haven for a visit, marking one of the rare occasions when a power conference school steps into an Ivy gym not named The Palestra.

Buzzworthy: Zena Edosomwan

Not a Princess Warrior, But Still Buzzworthy

The stunning news that sent shockwaves across the Ivy League last Selection Sunday had nothing to do with Harvard seeing its name in the NCAA Tournament bracket for the first time since 1946. Instead, it was a commitment from a Harvard-Westlake power forward named Zena Edosomwan, who the Crimson had been endlessly pursuing on the recruiting trail. Edosomwan had failed to meet the league’s stringent Academic Index standards, but decided to reclassify to 2013 and take a prep year at Ivy pipeline Northfield Mount Hermon in order to gain admission to Harvard. While Edosomwan was hardly the first player with Ivy aspirations to eschew other offers to prep for a year in order to achieve his goal, he was the first Top 100 recruit to do so. Another strong summer has sent Edosomwan’s stock soaring even higher, and his arrival for the 2013-14 campaign should help Harvard cope with the loss of forward Kyle Casey.

Look Ahead

Last year, it was the insanely strong top four teams dragging the Ivy League to new heights. With Penn and Yale potentially taking huge steps back, the hopes of remaining a Top 20 conference this season hinge on the performance of the second-tier squads. Brown and Dartmouth could and should take a healthy step forward. Even without Agho, Columbia should be improved as well. If Cornell can solve its issues at guard, it could sneak into the Top 200. The extent to which those teams can collectively cancel out the fall of the Quakers and Bulldogs will dictate where the league lands as a whole.

Much like the 2010-11 season, the league race this year is shaping up to be Harvard versus Princeton and then everybody else. The Crimson seeks its third-straight RPI Top 50 finish, while the Tigers try to crack the RPI Top 100 for the third time in as many years. Harvard arguably has more talent but hasn’t won at Princeton since 1989. Losing there again would put a lot of pressure on the Crimson to hold serve at home against the Tigers and the rest of the league. If Harvard can snap the streak, though, it will be incredibly hard for any team to catch.

The rest of the Ivy pecking order is a bit of a jumbled mess, but don’t confuse that for weakness. None of the remaining six teams will likely be consistent enough to sustain a title run, but each has the ability to knock off one of the favorites on any given night. Cornell and Columbia look to have the inside track to a top four finish in league play, but if Penn’s newcomers are as good as some believe, it could be right in the mix with the Lions and Big Red. Brown’s defensive woes will likely keep it from moving too far up the Ivy ladder, and Yale probably lost too much in Mangano and Willhite to stay in the league’s upper division. Dartmouth should continue to draw closer to the rest of the league but is likely at least one more solid talent infusion from leaving the Ivy cellar for good.

NBC Sports Network Provides Additional Exposure

ESPN is ESPN, but for Ivy fans, ESPN3 was a little too far from the mothership to be hogging most of the league’s premier games. Both end-of-season Harvard-Princeton matchups in 2011 had been relegated to ESPN’s online streaming outfit, as had this past season’s title-deciding Princeton-Penn matchup. While ESPN3 was a convenient ad hoc dumping ground for games that had suddenly garnered national interest, the constant placement on the internet-only network only served to ignite heated discussion regarding the need for a permanent TV solution. Responding to the fans’ demands, the Ivy office began aggressively shopping a TV package for basketball, similar to the one it already had in place for football.

Sure enough, NBC Sports Network, which was renegotiating that aforementioned football contract this offseason anyway, picked up the basketball rights as well, agreeing to broadcast six-to-10 games, while maintaining the right to sublease more contests to other providers if interest existed. It was the first package for Ivy basketball games since the league’s deal with YES expired after the 2007-08 season. Unlike the YES deal, however, there are fewer egalitarian demands in the current agreement, which should allow NBC to focus more on showcasing interesting and important games rather than juggling the need to pencil every team into the rotation every season. Another potentially intriguing aspect of the deal is that the rights extend to non-conference home games as well, which brings Penn’s Big 5 games and power conference visitors to Ivy gyms fair game for NBC Sports Network.

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