CIO… the Ivy League

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2012

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

Reader’s Take


Looking Back

  • No Experience Necessary – For a league that doesn’t routinely grab players from the scouting services’ Top 100 lists, breakout freshmen are usually just lightly sprinkled around the league with only a few really contending for the title of Rookie of the Year. This year, however, the Ivies might need an All-Rookie Team. Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers has gotten the most publicity with back-to-back 14-point, seven-assist performances against Massachusetts and Manhattan, but he’s not the only Ivy freshman to impress. Yale’s Justin Sears has managed a workhorse-like 27 percent usage rate, while mustering an offensive rating above 100, and Brown rookie Rafael Maia has been a dominant interior presence for a team so badly in need of one. Cornell and Dartmouth have a pair of talented freshmen guards in Nolan Cressler and Alex Mitola, respectively, while Penn has two of its own in Tony Hicks and Jamal Lewis, who have played well aside from struggling to shooting the ball to start the season.
  • Slip-Sliding – Sure, Yale blew a 24-point lead to Sacred Heart before losing in overtime, but that was about all Ivy fans could complain about after the first weekend, which saw the league go 7-1 with three road victories. Over the next 24 games, league teams won just five times, including several losses by four points or fewer, as the Ivy RPI fell to dead last among Division-I conferences. No one expects the league to stay in the cellar for long – most models now have the Ivies rising to right around 20th – but the early evidence seems to point to a much weaker league top-to-bottom than last year’s version, which got four teams into postseason play.

    Siyani Chambers has thoroughly impressed so far (Harvard Athletics)

  • Lights, Camera, Action – The first season of the Ivy League’s NBC Sports Network package kicked off on November 14th as Cornell fell to Saint Bonaventure 72-68 at Newman Arena. Television appearances have been plentiful this season, and not just because of the new deal. Yale’s overtime loss to Sacred Heart was carried by SNY, while Massachusetts’ buzzer-beating win over Harvard was part of ESPN’s college basketball kickoff marathon. So far, Ivies have been broadcast seven times with the only downside being their 1-6 mark in those games. A few of the contests have made for great television, though, as three of the losses were decided by four points or fewer.

Power Rankings

  1. Columbia (3-1) – Another year, another bizarre non-conference run. After two dominant performances to start the year, Columbia again dropped a disappointing game to an improved, but solid underdog, Marist squad. Then, it walked into The Pavilion and completely shut down Villanova. Preseason First-Team All-Ivy pick Mark Cisco has struggled a bit, but the Lions supporting cast of sophomore forward Alex Rosenberg and freshman guard Grant Mullins have stepped up in big moments, especially against the Wildcats. With tricky trips to San Francisco and Long Island preceding a visit from Bucknell,Columbia has a real opportunity to establish itself as the Ivy favorite.

    Big man Mark Cisco (55) has struggled a bit so far this season, but he’s gotten help from his teammates (IvyHoopsOnline)

  2. Harvard (2-2) – After sleepwalking through the opener against Division III MIT, the Crimson appeared to be exactly the team that the Ivy media thought they would be – an Ivy contender, but clearly not the class of the league. A few more games have provided little extra clarity. The close loss at Massachusetts and blowout of Manhattan seemed to bode well for Harvard, but after a no-show performance at Saint Joseph’s, the Crimson became another Ivy contender with an up-and-down resume. Harvard’s schedule is littered with enough Top 75 games that its true ability should be easy to gauge by the time league play starts in January.
  3. Princeton (1-2) – The opening win at Buffalo was a little bumpy at times, but the Tigers superb defense combined with some timely buckets helped Princeton escape. Clutch scoring has evaded the Tigers since, however.Princeton led Northeastern in its home opener 66-59 with just over three minutes to play, only to watch the Huskies score the final eight points of that game to steal a win. Then, trailing 50-46 with 5:45 to play against Rutgers, the Tigers scored just one point over the next five minutes as the Scarlet Knights cruised to a victory. Princeton’s defensive prowess continues to be impressive, but the Tigers will struggle to win games without more consistent production from their guards.
  4. Cornell (14) – One could make an argument to re-arrange spots four to eight in this poll in a variety of different ways. The Big Red might be the league’s most inept offense, but it also might boast the league’s best defense. The 73-40 loss to Wisconsin might have been embarrassing, but holding the Badgers to 73 points on 72 possessions is actually quite an accomplishment. Cornell followed that up by holding Arizona State to 64 points on 73 possessions. Why the Big Red insists on packing 70-plus possessions in a game is a different question entirely. Cornell’s offense would benefit greatly from a much more deliberate pace with a strategy to build toward one of a few potential good shots. All too often the Big Red appear to be interested far more in getting the quickest look than the best one, and that has killed Cornell’s offensive efficiency.
  5. Penn (1-5) – On a team that looked like it might struggle to find a star to replace Zack Rosen, the Quakers have stumbled upon two of them – juniors Miles Cartwright and Fran Dougherty. The problem is the supporting cast has been completely absent. Cartwright has been almost impossible to defend off the dribble, as the point guard has been able to get to the line at will. Dougherty’s only flaw has been shooting the three ball far too much, as the 6’8″ forward has been nearly automatic converting in the post. For Penn to scoot up the rankings, it needs to get a couple more players to be passable offensively, something that hasn’t materialized yet.
  6. Yale (1-4) – Speaking of teams with two stars and little else to speak of, the Bulldogs have been searching desperately for role players to support senior sharpshooter Austin Morgan and freshman Justin Sears. Of the remaining players, only one has posted an effective field goal percentage above 50 percent, while four are sitting at 30 or below. Jeremiah Kreisberg and Michael Grace, both starters on last year’s CIT team, have regressed dramatically this season, seeing the court for less than 40 percent of Yale’s minutes. The Bulldogs need offensive weapons badly, so losing production from seemingly proven veterans is very disappointing.
  7. Brown (2-1) – The sudden departure of senior forward Andrew McCarthy and season-ending injury to fellow post player Dockery Walker seemed to doom the Bears to the league’s basement. While Brown’s defense has stuck with the historical trend of being terrible, the Bears have found enough offense to eke out a couple road wins at Binghamton and Maine. Senior guard Matt Sullivan and rookie Rafael Maia have been impressive thus far, while junior point guard Sean McGonagill has been his usual high usage/below-average efficiency self. Brown won’t go very far with its abysmal defense, but it has enough firepower to pull surprising upsets here and there.
  8. Dartmouth (1-1) – There’s something fitting about the Big Green playing two very similarly rated opponents from the same conference within three days of each other and beating one by 13 before losing to the next by 14. Such is the essence of a young, but talented, team. If the Big Green were measured on promise, they might rank much higher on the ladder, but when it comes to production, Dartmouth still has a long way to go. Any of the four core players – guards John Golden and Alex Mitola and forwards Jvonte Brooks and Gabas Maldunas – is capable of having a big night, but it’s what they can do on the average night that will define the Big Green’s season.

Looking Ahead

  1. Harvard vs. Vermont (November 27th, 7:00 p.m., NBC Sports Network) – The Catamounts gave the Crimson fits last year in Burlington, as Harvard struggled to score consistently against a stout Vermont defense. Early returns show the Catamounts defense as being even better this season and the Crimson aren’t far off last year’s impressive numbers on the defensive end either. Baskets will likely be at a premium during Harvard’s first home television broadcast as part of the new Ivy League package.
  2. Cornell vs. Stony Brook (November 28th, 7:00 p.m.)– One night after America East co-favorite Vermont visits Lavietes Pavilion to take on Harvard, the other co-favorite, Stony Brook, travels upstate to face Cornell at Newman Arena. For the Big Red, it’s one of just two home games over the remainder of the calendar year, and one of the increasingly sparing opportunities to post another victory. The Seawolves have struggled with turnovers at times this season, and Cornell’s aggressive trapping defense might create enough easy buckets to give the Big Red the edge.

    Miles Cartwright and Penn have a big contest against cross-state rival Penn State waiting in the wings (AP)

  3. Penn State vs. Penn (December 1st, 2:00 p.m., ESPN3) – At times the Quakers have played like a team few thought possible, given their massive losses to graduation, including Ivy Player of the Year Zack Rosen. A full 40 minutes of quality basketball has evaded Penn to this point, as rampant turnovers and poor defensive rebounding have given opponents the extra possessions necessary to put together crushing runs. Better decisions and sharper focus on fundamentals will come with experience, and a game against a manageable Power Six conference opponent should provide a decent measuring stick for the Quakers’ progress.
  4. Columbia vs. Bucknell (December 1st, 7:00 p.m.) – The Lions are no longer just the mysterious third squad in what had been billed by many as a two-team race between Harvard and Princeton. Columbia’s win over Villanova served notice that the Lions might just be the team everyone is chasing. With a Top 40 Pomeroy team visiting Levien Gymnasium, the Lions have the perfect opportunity to make a statement. Columbia is one of the Ivies’ taller teams, so it shouldn’t have much trouble with the Bison’s general size, but whether it can do anything to slow down Bucknell’s superstar center Mike Muscala remains to be seen.
  5. Boston College vs. Harvard (December 4th, 7:00 p.m., ESPN3) – The Crimson hasn’t lost to the crosstown rival Eagles since Tommy Amaker took over at Harvard, boasting an impressive 4-0 mark against Boston College. With Ryan Anderson putting up amazing numbers for the Eagles and a much improved supporting cast, Boston College might finally be poised to send the Crimson home from Chestnut Hill with a loss. Of Harvard’s seven non-conference road dates, this is by far the easiest (the other six come against teams ranked in the Top 75 of the Pomeroy Ratings), so the pressure will be on the Crimson to take advantage of its opportunity.

POY Stock Watch

  • Fran Dougherty, F, Penn – No one ever questioned Dougherty’s strong post play or his knack for rebounding. It was the turnovers, horrendous free throw shooting and inability to convert from close range consistently that confounded fans and media alike. This year, the positives have remained thus far – he’s been tremendously difficult for opposing defenses to stop inside and he’s been a force on the boards. More importantly, the negatives have yet to appear to this point, making him one of the league’s most efficient players.
  • Brian Barbour, G, Columbia – He’s still not a pure shooter, but he does everything else so well that it doesn’t even matter. The senior point guard takes very good care of the basketball, ranks among the nation’s leaders in assists and has thrown in a bunch of steals on the defensive end. He remains the most consistent player on an inherently inconsistent team.
  • Ian Hummer, F, Princeton – The Tigers might have stumbled a bit out of the gates, but it’s hardly Hummer’s fault. With a possession usage rate north of 30 percent for the second consecutive year now, the 6’7″ senior is doing everything he can to put points on the board for Princeton. The supporting cast has been lacking at times, which has led to some disappointing home losses to quality opposition, but if those role players can provide Hummer with some support, expect him to do major damage in Ivy play.
Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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