CIO… the Ivy LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2012
- Forgetting November – After an opening month which saw Ivy teams go 19-32 and sink into the 30s in Conference RPI rank, the league has mounted a comeback during the first week of December. Ivy teams are 6-4 in their last 10 games, including three victories by minor underdogs (Princeton at Kent State, Harvard at Boston College, and Yale at Bryant). The momentum should help as the league enters another brutal stretch. Starting with the Crimson’s visit to Storrs tonight, league teams will be at least five-point underdogs in 27 out of the next 40 games. Included in those 40 games are 11 showdowns with Power Six schools, as well as a couple meetings with high-octane mid-majors Saint Mary’s and Bucknell. The league’s overall record should continue to suffer, but from a computer ranking perspective, respectable losses should keep the Ivies rising up the Conference RPI ranking ladder and stationary in the Pomeroy Ratings.
- Forever Young – The biggest storyline of the nascent 2012-13 season has been the quality play from the league’s freshman and sophomore classes. Those two cohorts have combined to use 54.5 percent of Ivy possessions thus far at a respectable 0.95 points per possession. The juniors and seniors have hardly been much better, as the former have used just 19.5 percent of league possessions at 0.97 points per possession with the latter sitting at 26.0 percent and 0.99 PPP. While relatively weak production from the upperclassmen doesn’t bode well for this year’s edition of the Ivy League, the rising stars in the freshman and sophomore classes should have the league back in the teens in conference ranking rather quickly.
- Team Ivy – If the Ivy League were to institute a conference challenge, it’s most logical opponent would be its geographic and philosophical neighbor, the Patriot League. It also happens to be the conference that Ivy teams schedule the most anyway with 19 meetings slated for this season. Only six have been played thus far with each side taking three. Given this year’s results, though, the Ivies might want to think about challenging the MAC, as they have gone a perfect 4-0 with just one more contest remaining. The league has racked up the most wins (five) against the America East conference but has dropped six games in that series. While this final record is rarely pretty, it is worth noting that, even in a down year, the Ivies are still a respectable 2-6 against Power Six competition.
- Princeton (3-4) – The win at Kent State last weekend finally showcased the Tigers team most expected to see coming into the season. Princeton yielded just 50 points to the Golden Flashes on 64 possessions, the Tigers’ third-straight game holding an opponent to 0.8 points per possession or fewer. This Princeton squad is a lot like the 2009-10 edition of the Tigers – an inconsistent and generally below average offense carried by its ability to clamp down and generate tons of stops on the other end. As usual Princeton’s offensive inconsistency derives from its reliance on the three-point shot, which it hasn’t shot well in the absence of graduated sharpshooter Douglas Davis, and its inability to get to the free throw line for a steady stream of points.
- Harvard (4-3) – Despite horrendous displays of help defense and what seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of how to guard the pick-and-roll at times, the Crimson has managed to stay afloat against the league’s most difficult schedule. It helps to have four players boasting offensive ratings north of 110, allowing Harvard to cover its defensive mistakes by running up the tally on its side of the scoreboard. Freshman point guard Siyani Chambers and sophomore Wesley Saunders give the Crimson two slashers who defenses have struggled to stop, while junior Laurent Rivard remains on pace to set the school’s single-season three-point record. Harvard has had little luck finding interior production, which is what stands between the Crimson and becoming the clear favorite in the Ivy race.
- Columbia (4-4) – The Lions are a difficult team to figure out, because they do so much right and yet still can’t seem to get positive results. None of Columbia’s starters turn the ball over on more than one in five possessions and the squad ranks in the Top 100 in three-point shooting percentage and free throw percentage. Three of the five starters only play 20-25 minutes a game, though, forcing the Lions to go to a relatively weak set of reserves. Columbia has looked great early in games – never more evident than in its 25-8 lead over Bucknell last weekend – but when forced to dig deep into its bench it begins to struggle. That’s an area that the Lions must address if they want to be considered a contender, because the grueling Ivy League back-to-back weekend games will test the quality of the back end of every team’s rotation.
- Cornell (4-5) – The good news is that the Big Red has won three of its last four after a shaky start to move to within a game of .500 prior to its exam break. The bad news is that two of the victories came against teams among the bottom 10 nationally, and the third wasn’t much better. Trips to Vanderbilt, Duke and Boston University await during a five-day span post break and a visit from Bucknell looms on the horizon. Cornell does still have three games against teams among the bottom 100 of Division I and a non-Division I contest remaining, but it would need to steal one against those four aforementioned quality opponents to finish with a non-conference record above .500.
- Pennsylvania (2-6) – After getting destroyed by Delaware in the opening round of the Preseason NIT, the Quakers have been competitive in every contest, including some against decent competition. Scoring has been an undertaking for the Quakers, though. Forward Fran Dougherty has posted All-Ivy caliber numbers, but hasn’t gotten much help from cold-shooting guard Miles Cartwright and a bevy of freshmen and sophomores who are turning the ball over once in every three or four possessions. Like most young, talented teams, Pennsylvania can put together five to 10 minutes at a time that make it look like an Ivy contender, often followed by a similar span of dreadful basketball. This probably won’t be their season, but the future is bright for the Quakers.
- Yale (3-6) – If it weren’t for that Chambers kid, Justin Sears might be wise to start finding space in his dorm room to display his rookie of the year trophy. Sears ranks third in the league in possession usage, first in offensive rebounding and fourth in fouls drawn. He’s the only freshman in the Top 10 in any of those stats. More importantly, though, he’s carrying the load for a Bulldogs team which graduated its two biggest possession eaters from last year. With guards Austin Morgan, Javier Duren and Jesse Pritchard all struggling to shoot the ball, Sears has often been forced to generate any offense Yale might need on a given evening, and he’s been able to answer the call more often than a freshman should.
- Brown (3-4) – The Bears’ strongest opponent thus far has been No. 183 Central Connecticut and four currently sit at No. 250 or worse. Brown’s next three games are against No. 21, No. 77 and No. 73. Things get real for the Bears on Saturday when they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame, which is fresh off an easy win over Kentucky. With rookie forwards Rafael Maia and Cedric Kuakumensah, Brown has the size to avoid being completely exposed on the interior by Big East and Big Ten opponents. The Bears badly need their guards to start producing on the offensive end though, as for the first time in a long time, it’s Brown’s inability to score points rather than its inability to prevent them which is the team’s biggest problem at the moment.
- Dartmouth (2-4) – The league’s outlier has once again pulled off something only it can pull off (and has in many recent years). None of the Big Green’s players, including lightly used role players, boasts an offensive rating above a point per possession. That really shouldn’t be a surprise given that as a team, Dartmouth has only eclipsed that mark in a game once this season and has dipped below 0.8 points per possession in half its contests. The Big Green’s average adjusted defensive rating has been second in the league, which has kept Dartmouth from getting embarrassed at times, but without more consistent and efficient scoring, it’s hard to see the Big Green escaping the league’s basement this season.
- December 7 – Harvard at Connecticut, 7 PM, SNY/ESPN3 – The Crimson didn’t do itself any favors with its non-conference road schedule, which includes six games against Top 100 teams. The Huskies have been relatively high variance to this point, beating Michigan State and losing close games to top 30 teams New Mexico and North Carolina State, before scraping past local New England schools Quinnipiac and New Hampshire. Harvard has insisted on playing a small lineup all year – its effective height is 289th nationally – something that could spell trouble against a Connecticut squad that boasts four regulars who are 6’7″ to 7’1″.
- December 8 – Drexel at Princeton, 2 PM – A season of real promise has unraveled quickly for the Dragons, as Bruiser Flint’s squad followed up respectable losses to Illinois State, Saint Mary’s and Xavier with far more questionable defeats at the hands of Rider and Tennessee State. A lot of that could be attributed to the loss of talented guard Chris Fouch, but with talented players like Damion Lee and Frantz Massenat in the fold, Drexel shouldn’t have stumbled this badly. The Dragons defense has been the weak link, which creates an interesting matchup for a Tigers offense that has struggled to get going this season. Ian Hummer has collapsed under the weight of his massive possession load and as of yet, Princeton hasn’t been able to flank him with weapons to relieve the stress.
- December 8 – Villanova at Pennsylvania, 8 PM, NBCSN – The third game of the Philadelphia Big 5 tournament brings the Wildcats to The Palestra to take on the Quakers. Villanova not only started its Big 5 campaign 0-1 after losing to La Salle, but it also bears the same mark against Ivy competition after a surprising upset loss to Columbia last month. Pennsylvania has played remarkably strong defense thus far, given how new many Quakers are to the college game, but has struggled at times keeping opponents off of the free throw line. Avoiding that pitfall will be very important against the Wildcats, which are best in the nation at getting to the free throw line and solid at converting opportunities into points once there.
- December 17 – Cornell at Vanderbilt, 8 PM, ESPNU – The Big Red will enter this contest coming off a 16-day break, which was likely spent figuring out where the team’s offense would come from. Cornell has failed to hit an Adjusted Offensive Rating of 90 in over half of its nine games and has only eclipsed the national average one point per possession mark once. Sophomore forward Shonn Miller is the team’s best offensive weapon, but hasn’t been nearly assertive enough, and fellow sophomore Devin Cherry has shown a knack for scoring, but his production has been inconsistent. For its part, Vanderbilt has been offensively challenged as well, meaning Cornell might be able to hang around deep into this game if it plays to its potential on the defensive end.
Rookie Of The Year Stock Watch
- Siyani Chambers, G, Harvard – The Minnesota product has earned national recognition with his play against Boston College and Massachusetts. He has posted offensive ratings above 100 in every game but one (at Saint Joseph’s) and his overall offensive rating of 119 ranks third in the Ivies. Chambers boasts a Free Throw Rate (free throws attempted over field goals attempted) of over 60 percent, which also ranks third in the league, and he’s deadly when he gets there, knocking down 94 percent of his attempts.
- Justin Sears, F, Yale – Sears has been the lone bright spot for an otherwise disappointing Bulldogs squad. The 6’8″ forward has given Yale quality play on both ends of the floor, blocking shots and grabbing rebound after rebound on the defensive end and keeping possessions alive with his eye-popping 18.1 percent offensive rebounding rate. Sears has yet to win Ivy Rookie of the Week but should take home at least a few of those honors by the end of the year.
- Rafael Maia, C, Brown – Maia is an interesting case, because he’s not technically a freshman. He lost a year of eligibility due to a rule prohibiting foreign transfers who have already graduated from playing two years of high school basketball in the United States. After sitting out his entire rookie season, Maia has been a force for the Bears this year. Much like Sears, Maia has been amazingly adept at clearing the boards at both ends and carries a heavy possession load at above average efficiency. He has also been a rare bright spot on what has been an otherwise disappointing Bears team thus far.
- Nolan Cressler, G, Cornell – After a hot start which earned him the first Rookie of the Week honors, Cressler has cooled off a bit for the Big Red. Still, he’s a quality, high-volume shooter who takes great care of the basketball – something Cornell badly needed after graduating Chris Wroblewski and Drew Ferry.